Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fr. Brian Harrison changes his mind regarding the state of the question about torture

From Mark Shea:

ADDENDUM (to Living Tradition, #119)

After the above article was published, Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech of 6 September 2007 on Catholic prisons ministry, personally endorsed a statement against torture found in the 2005 Vatican Compendium of the Church's Social Teaching. Citing article 404 of this document, the Holy Father said, "In this regard, I reiterate that the prohibition against torture 'cannot be contravened under any circumstances'".

In the above article I have already cited and discussed, in my section A13 and endnote 27, this article 404 of the Compendium, which is a publication of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace. I have pointed out that this and other statements authored by the Commission itself - as distinct from the statements of Popes and Councils which it cites abundantly throughout the Compendium - does not possess magisterial authority; for the various Vatican commissions, unlike the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are not in themselves arms of the Church's magisterium (teaching authority). However, now that Pope Benedict himself has personally reiterated this particular statement of the Compendium, I wish to state that I accept the Holy Father's judgement on this matter, and so no longer hold that Catholics can ever legitimately defend the use of torture - not even in extreme circumstances to gain potentially life-saving information from known terrorists. Accordingly, the last sentence of the above article, regarding "the present status quaestionis" on torture, should now be taken as withdrawn.

If torture is the unjust attack on the person of another (for the sake of eliciting his cooperation), then the very fact that it is unjust would make it wrong. But if torture is defined as the punishment given for non-compliance, it would be different. I do not think torture, defined thusly, has been addressed. I still think that even if this form of punishment is licit, it may not be effective in obtaining the ultimate goal (getting cooperation, information, etc.).

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