Monday, October 02, 2006

Response to Christopher Blosser

Wow ... it is actually possible for someone to write an interesting post on torture, disagreeing (somewhat) with me without acting like a complete jerkwad.

To the principle point of contention, and the one which I'd like to pursue, is one that Chris labels But didn't the Church use Torture? and then saying the Catechism adequately rebuts the charge.

As the person who first brought this point up (I'm pretty confident) in the little circle of St. Blogs comboxes, I'm not sure that the Catechism footnote really addresses the argument that **I made.** It is obviously NOT "some Churchman did it, therefore it was right," like using the Borgia popes to justify bastardy. It was more like, "how can something become an intrinsic evil when the church has affirmatively and authoritatively mandated it." Every word in that sentence is relevant, and brushes away the easiest objections.

The Catechism footnote (Chris quotes it in full) reads ...

In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

... quite seriously understates the Church's practices and the level of authority given them. Here from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Curiously enough torture was not regarded as a mode of punishment, but purely as a means of eliciting the truth. It was not of ecclesiastical origin, and was long prohibited in the ecclesiastical courts. Nor was it originally an important factor in the inquisitional procedure, being unauthorized until twenty years after the Inquisition had begun. It was first authorized by Innocent IV in his Bull "Ad exstirpanda" of 15 May, 1252, which was confirmed by Alexander IV on 30 November, 1259, and by Clement IV on 3 November, 1265. The limit placed upon torture was citra membri diminutionem et mortis periculum -- i.e, it was not to cause the loss of life or limb or imperil life. Torture was to applied only once, and not then unless the accused were uncertain in his statements, and seemed already virtually convicted by manifold and weighty proofs. In general, this violent testimony (quaestio) was to be deferred as long as possible, and recourse to it was permitted in only when all other expedients were exhausted...
In the Bull "Ad exstirpanda" (1252) Innocent IV says:

When those adjudged guilty of heresy have been given up to the civil power by the bishop or his representative, or the Inquisition, the podestà or chief magistrate of the city shall take them at once, and shall, within five days at the most, execute the laws made against them.

Moreover, he directs that this Bull and the corresponding regulations of Frederick II be entered in every city among the municipal statutes under pain of excommunication, which was also visited on those who failed to execute both the papal and the imperial decrees. Nor could any doubt remain as to what civil regulations were meant, for the passages which ordered the burning of impenitent heretics were inserted in the papal decretals from the imperial constitutions "Commissis nobis" and "Inconsutibilem tunicam". The aforesaid Bull "Ad exstirpanda" remained thenceforth a fundamental document of the Inquisition, renewed or reinforced by several popes, Alexander IV (1254-61), Clement IV (1265-68), Nicholas IV (1288-02), Boniface VIII (1294-1303), and others. The civil authorities, therefore, were enjoined by the popes, under pain of excommunication to execute the legal sentences that condemned impenitent heretics to the stake.

Here are the relevant details for my purposes -- a mandate upon the civil authorities upon pain of excommunication, the latter of which is an exercise of the Keys to the Kingdom, not simply a governing practice. Further, a series of popes repeatedly reaffirming torture as a practice, to the point of setting regulations for how and under what circumstances. Further, there's this formal condemnation of a per se moral case against burning at the stake in Exsurge Domine (scroll down to error 33 for "That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit"), which formally lists heresies. Since burning at the stake most definitely inflicts gratuitous torment, and, like all criminal penalties, is always implicitly and sometimes explicitly a threat, burning at the stake necessarily includes "torture."

It's the language (and the resulting rhetorical use) of the term "intrinsically evil" that I find inexplicable (and, rhetoricwise, offensive). "Inadvisable." "Imprudent." "Wrong for our time." "Only in cases of necessity." All of these I could, in principle, buy. There are precedents for all of them -- slavery and capital punishment being the two obvious examples. In Evangelium Vitae, it's quite clear that Karol Wojtyla thinks that capital punishment can never be justified; but Pope John Paul II knows he can't say that. And the Church has carefully defined "slavery," so as to condemn it in some senses, but not others (as a punishment for crimes, say, as secular lawmakers also realize one must do).

As I say, all that is perfectly explicable. But to *become* an *intrinsic evil* -- meaning always, everywhere and without regard to circumstance? No. I'm no expert on the matter of "development of doctrine," but at face value the very things that make it a coherent concept -- different understandings over time and different circumstances -- are taken off the table by the term "intrinsic evil." As Father Brian Harrison has noted in a letter to Crisis that, to my knowledge, Shea has never responded in detail:

It certainly won't do for us Christians merely to cite at this point Vatican II's Dei Verbum , which acknowledges that the Old Testament contains “matters imperfect and provisional.” Divine authorship and divine justice do not seem incompatible with temporarily mandating something imperfect. But something “intrinsically evil”?

Exactly. It's as if the Church once had "abortion providers" or mandated fornication under defined circumstances. There is a much more severe historical problem here than I think even Chris realizes. Once this is all noted and understood, much of the Catechism footnote simply melts away ...

In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture.
This seriously understates the Church's teachings, condemnations and practices (and its justifications in re the latter).

Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy.
But clemency and mercy are not absolute duties, lest any and every criminal punishment become illegitimate, as an avoidance of a thing "intrinsically evil" would have to be absolute.

She forbade clerics to shed blood.
This is of no consequence whatever.

In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order...
This is both historically dubious (in my judgement anyway), and it gives away the "intrinsically evil" game, as it implicitly acknowledges that **if it were** necessary for public order, "torture" would become defensible. Further, unless the Church is going to say that understanding can only get better or increase over time (highly dubious), that "has become evident" statement is subject to later revision, surely.

...nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person.
Then "the human person" has to be understood as a historicized subject, otherwise how could torture have been thought to be in any way "in conformity with" the human person's rights in the past. After all, nobody in the past was so stupid (or had such an undeveloped understanding) as to think that torture was a *good* thing -- the Fathers' condemnations go back to the beginning of the Church, but always in the context of religious conversions or acknowledgement of guilt. But that actually cuts the other way -- that torture was (in some sense) a violation of the person was always obvious.

On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading.
Maybe. But that leads to the "how did we get here" historical problem. In other words, to quote a favorite Sheaism, if "sin makes you stupid," and degrading practices leads to "ones even more degrading," how is it possible to get from a world where torture and/or practices that we consider torture were considered normal, to the one we are in, where the use of the very word indicates condemnation. Whether this change be a good or bad thing in itself, as a historical phenomenon, there is absolutely no doubt (and this applies to much more than just torture) that contemporary Westerners at least are far more squeamish about violence and the use of force than any of our forebearers ever have been. This process of what I call "debellicization" is impossible on this understanding of history.

11 comments:

Christopher said...

Well, Victor -- I think the feeling is mutual, as far as being able to discuss this issue without shouting each other down.

Thank you for taking the time to write a substantial response -- definitely something for me to think about and process.

Christopher said...

I came across an interesting combox discussion on Amy Welborn's circa March 2005 on this very topic. I posted the link and some relevant quotes here.

It is by no means sufficient, but it does plant some seeds for further discussion of this topic. I'll likely do some more reading and research on this matter as well.

Scott said...

Are you really undecided whether less torture (ie less cruel practice) is a good thing? Isn't the banning of these practices in the "West" (ie human rights regimes) one of the reasons you hawks claim superiority over other cultures?

For me the issue of torture is primary evidence that our nation, and especially the GOP, has lost virtually all moral bearings. Torture is morally and strategically indefensible. Sure you can come up with any number of hypothetical cases. But laws aren't created for such cases--in cases of dire and obvious need it is incumbent on certain authorities to break the law--and they have to take responsibility for said lawbreaking after the fact. That's right--if the need is dire enough, than the lawbreaker ought to be prepared to face the consequences of lawbreaking. In the meantime, if you try to justify and legalize torture a la the Bush admin, you are just rationalizing and promoting essentially evil ideas. As a concerned American, I want every officer who violated the Geneva conventions to face a possible tribunal to justify their actions--end of story.

One thinks of Adorno's postwar quote "A German is someone who has to believe every lie they tell". I think, increasingly, the same insight applies to Americans.

And if there aren't enough moral reaons, think of the manifold strategic reasons to forbid torture. Simply put, if we do it, they are going to do it to. The Bush policy puts our men at risk, and places us at a very low moral level at the world stage--which means increased sympathy for and direct aid to our enemies. Increasingly our enemies will ask the question--why not nuke such an empty, legalistic, evil people?

Victor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Victor said...

Simply put, if we do it (torture), they are going to do it to.

Simply put, that is nonsense on stilts.


Increasingly our enemies will ask the question--why not nuke such an empty, legalistic, evil people?

You cannot be serious. Cannot.

Chris Sullivan said...

Victor,

Without looking closely at the historical facts, I'll take your description of the actions of certain Popes in support of torture as read.

I agree with you that the Catechism section on torture, while it is clearly right to proscibe torture and clearly right to say past Church practice was wrong on torture, doesn't go far enough into the matter. But a catechism is a statement of doctrine, not a deep explanation of all the details.

Where your analysis (which I accept as genuienely and sincerely meant) errs is that you make no distinction between the administrative and disciplinary acts of Popes as temporal leaders (acts which are not protected from error) and the doctrinal or dogmatic teachings of the Popes.

There are no doctrinal or dogmatic teachings of any Popes or Ecumenical Councils which authorise torture (I've read Denzinger).

You cannot build a case for doctrine which rests on the disciplinary measures employed by Popes or the disciplinary canons written by Ecumenical Councils. If you did then we'd have to say that excluding the Jews from public office (a canon of Lateran IV) is Catholic doctrine.

You ask how can something become an intrinsic evil when the church has affirmatively and authoritatively mandated it.

I reply: when the something is only "mandated" in a disciplinary or administrative sense as opposed to manadated in a teaching on faith or morals sense.

Hope this helps.

God Bless

Chris Sullivan said...

Victor,

Popes have issued bulls authorizing torture. Other Popes have issued bulls withdrawing this authorization.

See, for example, the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica :-

Torture had ceased to be inflicted before the suppression of the Inquisition, and in 1816 a papal bull [of Pope Pius VII] decreed that torture should cease, that proceedings should be public, and that the accuser should be confronted with the accused.

http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/TOO_TUM/TORTURE_from_Lat_torquere_to_tw.html

This seems to prove that bulls are not always statements of doctrinal teaching on faith and morals.

If you want to say that the Popes have taught doctrinally that torture is OK then you need to establish a papal teaching on faith and morals, and not a papal administrative ruling, which was later withdrawn.

God Bless

Victor said...

Chris:

First, I appreciate your far-superior manners versus others who make similar arguments.

Sure, there is no place, doctrinal or otherwise, where the Church says anything like "we pronounce torture morally licit in itself." But since nobody is arguing that torture or any other particular technique be required as a matter of doctrine, this is no big deal. I'm not trying to build a case for not-X *as Catholic doctrine.*

But the problem of history and tradition is deeper than can be gotten rid of by the administrative-vs.-doctrinal distinction, which I understand. I realize that another Bull can take back a previous one's authorization.

There is the cited encyclical Exsurge Domine, and an Ecumenical Council (Vienna) -- the former of which condemned the notion that God forbade a tortuous execution procedure, and the latter of which plainly presupposed torture's per se licitness.

Even a mere administrative decision like a Papal Bull still presupposes a background moral universe, and it's impossible to see what moral understanding regarding something "intrinsically evil" could ever *require* torture in certain circumstances. And that's what Ad Exstirpanda did, and, as I noted, using the Keys to the Kingdom, not the Pope's secular-administrative power, to back up that requirement. AE is the equivalent of a bull requiring the public performance, subsidy and practice of abortion under certain circumstances. But there is no such document with abortion (or fornication or blasphemy or shitting on the Host or selling your soul or whatever analogy one likes), as there is with torture (and capital punishment and slavery).

As Father Harrison notes, the Church cannot just "come up with" new doctrine. It's supposed to flow organically from what was before and what was always taught. Prior to GS, there was no, zero, nada, tradition against torture per se, as GS, literally-and-fundamentalistically-read, defines it.

Chris Sullivan said...

It's supposed to flow organically from what was before and what was always taught.

The admissibility of torture was never taught doctrinally, only administratively.

Prior to GS, there was no, zero, nada, tradition against torture per se, as GS, literally-and-fundamentalistically-read, defines it

Wrong.

There was "love your neighbour".

That's in the deposit of faith, you know, what Christ taught.

God Bless

Victor said...

The admissibility of torture was never taught doctrinally, only administratively.

Even granting this (and Exsurge Domine and Vienna are not administrative matters), torture had to be presupposed as potentially licit doctrinally, otherwise it could not have been mandated administratively.


There was "love your neighbour".

... which was considered (and could be so today if I were of a mind to) compatible with torture, on a number of fronts.

And your paragraphs betray a double standard -- demanding utmost specificity on the Church's mandates, while claiming that a vague, broad principle never thought to mean X constitutes a viable Tradition on X.

Victor said...

In other words, if "love your neighbor" constitutes a viable Tradition on any subject, then we might as well just all pack in the notion of organic development, and become Mormons, waiting for the latest infallible statement on plural marriage. Everything gets put on the table forever. And this is exactly what development of doctrine does NOT mean.