On Twitter, Rick Santorum has cited Catholic theologian Rev. Brian W. Harrison on torture.
Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S., is a professor at the Pontifical University of Puerto Rico.
You may recall that Santorum recently stated opposition to the use of torture to extract confessions to crimes but says he supports interrogation of terrorists in order to gain information that saves lives . (See, interview with Tony Perkins.) This use of interrogation to gain information to save lives, as Fr. Harrison points out, is not intrinsically evil.
The entire article by Fr. Harrison is a good overview of Church evolution on this issue. He makes the case that we cannot logically call every form of torture “intrinsically evil” given that even the death penalty is not intrinsically evil.
If even capital punishment is not intrinsically evil — and that remains Catholic magisterial teaching to this day — then lesser punishments such as flogging can scarcely merit that description.
Even though the death penalty is not intrinsically evil, Fr. Harrison says that the use of torture “as a means of controlling crime” cannot be justified per the catechism and the words of St. John Paul II.
Interrogation of terrorists to gain information to save lives falls into a completely different theological realm, however, and one that can be morally justified. No popes and nothing from the catechism have authoritatively condemned this form of torture.
There remains 4(c), torture by civil or military authorities for extracting information from detainees. This, of course, is precisely the kind of torture that lies at the center of the present debate in the context of terrorism. It seems notable that this particular reason for inflicting severe pain is conspicuous by its absence from the list of purposes or objectives that the Catechism says cannot justify torture. If (as I have argued from Scripture and Tradition) severe and intentional pain infliction is not intrinsically evil, this omission from the main contemporary magisterial statement on the subject could be taken to imply that the Church’s jury is still out over the legitimacy of torture in at least the extraordinary emergency of the “ticking bomb” scenario: a known terrorist has been captured who possesses essential information as to how to locate (or defuse) a bomb set to explode very shortly, killing hundreds, maybe thousands, of innocent civilians. John Paul’s words to the Red Cross “nothing could ever justify” torture — would weigh against its legitimacy even in such an extreme case. But then again, it could be urged that this papal statement is an isolated one, was made a decade before the Catechism was promulgated, and has less authority than the latter. (The Red Cross allocution is undoubtedly of very minor magisterial authority. It was never even published in the Church’s main official record, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.)
Father Harrison advises Catholics to form their own opinion on this “probably most difficult” area of teaching.
I suggest that readers form their own opinion on this last and (probably most difficult) point. I also invite them to consult my much longer online article on torture (www.rtforum.org/lt/lt119.html) for my argument that, in spite of initial appearances, we should not read article 80 of John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor as being intended to settle the whole question with a condemnation of all severe and intentional infliction of pain as intrinsically evil.
In summary, while no one may morally hold the position that torture may always be used, in every circumstance, those who support interrogation of prisoners (even to the point of “torture”) in order to gain information to save lives have full freedom to hold such a position and are in no way departing from the teaching of the Catholic Church.
There are plenty of potential candidates for president who support things that cannot be morally justified in any context. Those who launch into crusades to characterize Rick Santorum as departing from Catholic teaching on torture are wasting your time and mine. Depending on how far they take that claim, it can reach the level of calumny.
See paragraph 2477 of the catechism:
Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
Let me say that again, for good measure. Accusing Rick Santorum of immorality for supporting enhanced interrogation of terrorists to gain information to save lives is, by definition, calumny against him.
Though their consciences may tell them that this form of interrogation is wrong, we have full freedom in the Church to take the opposing position for the sake of saving the innocent from mass murder. Our choice is clear. We can take difficult but morally legitimate measures to stop mass murder, or we can sit by and watch mass murder happen. I cannot, in good conscience, sit by and watch mass murder happen without taking all morally licit means to stop it. Neither, I am sure, can Rick Santorum.