13 December 2014

Veritatis Splendor and the CIA

Veritatis splendor is, surely, the high point of the pontificate of S John Paul II 'the Great'. In it he did what Roman Pontiffs are paid to do: he refuted and condemned the errors of the age; he maintained the Great Paradosis; and he showed himself a remora against heterodoxy and heteropraxy and their corrupting innovations.

The principal error that he cast down was in the ethical field. Since the sixties, there have been proliferating and fashionable ethical theories which converge on the notion that there are no moral absolutes. Proportionalism ... Situation Ethics ... Consequentialism ... the Fundamental Option ... But the Holy Pontiff robustly asserted that there are actions "which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed 'intrinsically evil [intrinsice malum]'; they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances" (para 80). Adroitly, he went on to give a list of such acts taken from Gaudium et Spes (para 27). We have at work here, quite clearly and unambiguously, the infallible Ordinary Magisterium of the Church, of the Successor of S Peter and, cum Petro et sub Petro, of the Bishops of the Oikoumene.

This is, surely, where we orthodox Catholics stand. For example: Abortion is wrong, period. Even if the foetus is abnormal. Even if it is conceived as a result of rape, incest, or abuse, or there appears to be a need to act in order to save the life of another human being. Because it is never licit directly to intend to take an innocent human life. Nothing is left to be said. Diximus.

But Abortion is not the only sin listed in that passage of Gaudium et spes which Papa Wojtila made his own. 'Physical and mental torture' is there too. In the last few days, since that Senate Report about the CIA came out, I have witnessed a number of people being interviewed on the British media, who, while deeming Torture to be not normally right, have said that, if torturing a terrorist could prevent another Twin Towers atrocity in which thousands of people would be killed and even more left damaged in mind and body, Torture would be the lesser of the evils.

No. No End ever justifies an intrinsically evil Means. And some acts are intrinsically evil, no matter how much good may prudently be foreseen to be the future likely result of committing them. That is the Catholic Faith. And it applies to the deeds perpetrated in the extra-legal Black Prisons maintained by the CIA ... or by anybody else in the service of any other country ... as well as to the killings of the unborn in those dark Satanic Abortion Mills.

Deeds that are done in secret ...

17 comments:

_ said...

A position reiterated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006:

Public authorities must be ever vigilant in this task, eschewing any means of punishment or correction that either undermine or debase the human dignity of prisoners. In this regard, I reiterate that the prohibition against torture “cannot be contravened under any circumstances" (SOURCE).

Fr PJM said...

What theological note is attached to saying "torture in intrinsically evil"? Has it been "constantly and very firmly" taught? Held "always, everywhere and by all"? Is it in the Bible? Did Vatican II impose it definitively? Did any pope? I am forced to ask the same questions about slavery. If slavery were intrinsically evil, could he in effect say, "Be a good slave"? If yes, could he have said, "be a good prostitute"?
If one can sometimes use *lethat" force to stop an unjust agressor, why not pain to stop a terrorist act?

Noah Moerbeek said...

It can't be intrinsically evil.

St. Alphonsus Liguori cites 10 earlier approved Catholic authors when he endorses torture(de Lugo and others) whose teachings he synthesizes in this section of his own classic work, Theologia Moralis.

I thought when there was a consensus of Theologians from that period according to Blessed Pius IX Tuas Libenter, that the teaching was to be considered infallible.

Father can you reconcile these problems?

Savonarola said...

But good ends do justify wrong means - in actual life, rather than the high abstraction of Pope John Paul's thinking. If it is necessary to kill one person to prevent him murdering several more, his killing is justified. It remains a wrong, but the circumstances make it a justifiable wrong. Moral actions do not take place in a Platonic fantasy higher world, they can only take place in the circumstances of actual life. This is why 'Veritatis splendor,' like others of John Paul's writings, such as 'Theology of the Body,' is too hifalutin to be of much practical use.

Savonarola said...

But good ends do justify wrong means - in actual life, rather than the high abstraction of Pope John Paul's thinking. If it is necessary to kill one person to prevent him murdering several more, his killing is justified. It remains a wrong, but the circumstances make it a justifiable wrong. Moral actions do not take place in a Platonic fantasy higher world, they can only take place in the circumstances of actual life. This is why 'Veritatis splendor,' like others of John Paul's writings, such as 'Theology of the Body,' is too hifalutin to be of much practical use.

philipjohnson said...

Father.God Bless you.I like your writing very much-keep writing!!What are your views on the steady increase in vocations to the Traditional orders?My view is that they are a joy to behold !Philip Johnson.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Wikileaks informs us of the CIA's surprise at the outcome of the 2005 papal election. This mirrors John Allen's shock live on CNN at the time. In his biography of Josef Ratzinger, Allen assured us that his subject could not possibly become pope. Incidentally, Allen's employer (part of the Time Warner communications empire) is worthy of closer examination. Our good friends Karl Rahner and John Courtney Murray both adorned the cover of TIME magazine itself at various points in their careers. Now, what was that about the "virtual council", you ask?

Woody said...

If memory serves, at least one French priest justified their torture and other such activities, e.g. crevettes Bigeard, as essentially consented to by the FLN types when they signed up for combat, mutilation and death on the battlefield, so why not in the jail, or the sea?

Grumpy Beggar said...

Gaudium et Spes was cited by Fr. H at the outset - if one is going to flout its ascendant nature , one must equally flout the ascendant nature of Veritatis Splendor . . .
- "Intrinsic evil": it is not licit to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8)"
- "These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed "intrinsically evil" (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that "there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object"
. . . Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children;"

. . . ::” 'Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8) — in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. ‘ "
I see nothing in the aforementioned content which would encourage or warrant cafeteria catholicism.

Could watching too much TV where torture appears justified, be playing an unwritten role on our consciences? Or are we a little conditioned now by that nice "clinical" sounding government inspired euphemism for torture-"enhanced interrogation?" Maybe we are swayed by certain articles, which articulate towards a definite attempt to draw an imaginary line between the "ticking time bomb" scenario and all other types of torture in an attempt to justify it. ("Pssst. . . It's still a human body - even if you don't like its owner/operator)! "

In my limited opinion, many of these, um, expert opinions being expressed, are predominantly based on a deficient definition of intrinsically evil which ultimately renders their interpretation somewhat shallow.

Not one person in favor seems to have even considered the effects of torture on the human psyche - they believe it perhaps only something physical and temporary. By those standards we could also justify rape (literally BTW: read up on some of the CIA tortures guys) as long as a woman wasn't a virgin. When someone is psychologically traumatized, they are marked for life.

Without getting into how many times torture has failed, and mistaken identities result in innocent people being tortured - even resulting in death and/or suicide combined with unaccountability , I might suggest another way to make the point:
I say we stop flitting about in neutral and get our minds into gear on this one by engaging our imaginations, and let's drive this point home! Please ponder the ensuing:

If you can justify torture , you can justify violating the seal of the sacrament of Confession . . . Yes ! - you can. It follows, logically. You could also torture those who were unwilling to violate that seal . . .

"Waiter - Another cup of your finest mud for all my dear friends . . .and please, make sure it's lukewarm.

Woody said...

Is there a difference between "torture" and "interrogate"? Don't get the two mixed up with respect to the information you are attempting to glean from an enemy who wants to kill you.

William said...

The problem is that for something to be said to be intrinsically evil one needs to be able to define what types of actions are covered by the term, and which are not. Anything which exists on a sliding scale cannot be said to be intrinsically evil unless one is reprobating everything on the entire scale, from the very mildest to the most extreme.

Abortion, for example, can be said to be intrinsically evil because it isn't simply one point on an infinitely graded scale of wrong. It is a very definite step which can be defined pretty clearly. Even those cases which might be regarded as morally marginal (e.g. termination of an ectopic pregnancy) are susceptible of clear factual categorisation. There is no question of drawing an arbitrary line on a grey scale and saying "this side we'll call abortion; that side we won't."

The same is not true of torture. Of course we can all point to certain scenarios (including some in the Senate Report) which one would regard as unambiguously constituting torture. But if every act which causes any physical or psychological suffering or distress is to fall under the same heading, then we would appear to be ruling out any form of punishment, or any degree of pressure in interrogation (besides much else in everyday life that we accept without question). That would seem to me to be an extreme and unsustainable position.

If we are not to take such an absolutist line, then the moral status of a particular act of punishment etc. is dependent on factors such as degree, circumstance and intentions. It may still be "malum", but for there to be any possibility of it being "intrinsice malum" then those factors cannot come into play. There must be a clear and defined threshold such that it can be said, with objective reference to the facts, that "this act constitutes torture, whereas that one doesn't."

Grumpy Beggar said...

If torture were actually so immune to definition, it really would remain one of the world's great mysteries how and why two such dedicated, intellectually and morally-honed pontiffs would ever speak out so adamantly against it. One would be left to surmise they didn't have any tangible accurate idea of precisely what they were babbling on about ; despite the fact they both lived through WW II.

Once one applies the basic principle of St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle that only the guilty can be subject to punishment, and takes the time to re-examine the objections raised, through the lenses of consequentialism and utilitarianism there is hardly a scenario left -abstract or otherwise, which could justify the use torture.

One of the most comprehensive online treatments on the subject I've read to date - replete with in-depth definitions:
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Torture (in 4 parts)

William said...

Grumpy: I'm certainly not suggesting that torture is immune to definition; but rather, that the definitions do not support the use of the term "intrinsically" evil. The SEP article to which you usefully link makes frequent use of quantifying terms such as "extreme" and "severe". No doubt that is sufficient for jurisprudential purposes, and establishes the act as evil. But the evil involved cannot become "intrinsic" simply by being beyond a certain point (not in itself constituting an essential or qualitative step-change) on an otherwise undifferentiated continuum. If the question of whether or not a particular act is evil is conditional upon its degree, then the evil, though real, is not intrinsic to the act itself but dependent upon other factors.

eulogos said...

William, I am very troubled by this, but the bright line you imagine exists with regard to ectopic pregnancies, vanishes when
you consider ectopic pregnancies not in a fallopian tube, but on parts of the body which cannot be removed. There are ectopics on the peritoneum, on the intestines, on other abdominal organs. These can only be scraped off, which cannot be considered a secondary effect, but is a direct attack on the unborn, producing the good effect of saving the life of the mother by a direct attack on the embryo.
Because the bright line evaporates in these conditions, most Catholic hospitals have given up on it alltogether, and now treat ectopic pregnancies in the fallopian tube by flushing the tube with methotrexate (which of course is a direct attack on the embryo and achieves a good end by an intrinsically immoral act.)

Pulex said...

The question is how far the notion of any torture as intrinsically evil belongs to the Catholic "moral tradition". Is there a continuous teaching of the Magisterium, Fathers, approved theologians? Is it obvious from the Holy Writ? VS refers to GS, n. 27. There this passage is not backed by a footnote with further reference (although otherwise GS has many) making one to think that this is something new. Fr. B. Harrison has treated the matter at length (http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt118.html; http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt119.html) and come to conclusion that the Church's teaching on this particular point is still very much under development. GS and VS then could be an important milestones in it.

Simon Platt said...

William says it well.

Grumpy Beggar said...

Hi William. I agree totally that the article linked in my most recent post uses quantifying terms , and I personally found one particular case study presented to be quite compelling ( thanks for taking the time to read it-it wasn't short). As you imply , we use these same quantifying terms in civil law; for example where we speak of “cruel and unusual punishment.” So, it can be reasoned, they are, “accepted” terms today.

I also agree that, as you say, “ the evil involved cannot become ‘intrinsic’ simply by being beyond a certain point”, although, I might use slightly different wording : that way of saying it, in the capacity/context discussed to date, could have an inadvertent tendency to conflate or interchange “evil” with (amount of)” suffering “(inflicted).

Also, I’m somewhat reluctant to readily group torture and punishment together as you appear to have done in your earlier post: “The same is not true of torture . . . then we would appear to be ruling out any form of punishment, or any degree of pressure in interrogation . . . “ , because a principal way we differentiate torture is that it is not a just punishment

But your point that something is either inherently evil or it isn’t, is agreed. That would, at the same time appear to preclude any application of moral relativism as well.

As I see it,the evil is not revealed in the amount of pain suffered, but rather in the intention. If you(or I) torture someone, we have to directly intend to do injury to their person. Conversely for the use of lethal force to be a just means of self-defense, the frustration of the aggressive act and not the killing of the aggressor must be intended. Another way of expressing the intention of torture, would be that the plan or premeditated process that goes on in our mind together with the decision to inflict it on someone, may be called the exemplary cause.
Together with the aforementioned pontiffs, another bright star in Catholic philosophy, theology, morals and ethics who taught and wrote prolifically and who passed away just last year is Rev. Benedict M. Ashley O.P. In his textbook Living the Truth in Love , A biblical Introduction to Moral Theology [Alba House, 1996] ,he clarifies:
[pp 295, 307, 315]
“Since life, spiritual and bodily, is one of the four basic human needs, it is intrinsically and therefore unjust directly (that is intentionally) to do injury to the life of human persons except as a punishment necessary for their spiritual good or the common good of society.
Spiritual injury can still be more serious than injury to bodily life.
“That police power is often abused, however, is also notorious. The police are morally obliged to act within the law, to act impartially, to use no more force than is necessary to defend themselves, prevent crime ,or retain a prisoner, and they must refrain from torture, cruelty and other similar abuses.
“Granted then, that the use of force as punishment can be just, necessary and consistent with the Great Commandment of love of God and neighbor, what kinds of punishment are just ? We have already said that torture and other cruel punishments cannot be defended today.”


And torture always claims at least 2 victims. The act of torturing another can disfigure the soul of the torturer much in the same manner as torture can physically disfigure its victim. BTW, did you notice that the SEP article also inferred that (ironically), in the case of torturing a terrorist, torture itself is a form of terrorism?