Thursday, May 01, 2014

More 'whining' about torture -- from the Catholic Church

In one of my recent posts about Governor Sarah Palin's enthusiastic embrace, not only of water-boarding, but in fact of doing "whatever it takes" -- with no moral limits apparent, because morality is only for what she calls "wusses" -- a sometime commenter had this to say:

The so called torture of "water boarding" is nothing like that or other countries water boarding. We use massive restrictions which harms no one. Fear is created and it has proven effective.


I note in your whining about this that you do not take up the drone issue or the massive intrusion on the constitution and freedom by the NSA. Of course Americans have a lot more to fear in terror from our own IRS and other agencies than the terrorist do of waterboarding. So while you are in your safe nest and out of harms way, how about getting yourself sent over to a terrorist state for a tour of duty as chaplin [sic] and hear what the troops have to say about the issue of waterboarding.

The comments come from a spouse of a "25-year veteran." While anyone with any sense is grateful for the service of anyone in our military, and their families, I'm not aware that only when you have served in combat do you earn the right to speak about the morality of tactics in war.

Or to put it another way: do we really honor our men and women in uniform by saying that Catholic morality doesn't apply to them?

Meanwhile, let's take a closer look at the facts here. Is waterboarding torture. The U.S. government -- when it was using waterboarding -- said no. Do I really need to spell out why that doesn't settle the matter?

What is torture?

Here's how the United Nations Convention against Torture defines torture:

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. (Emphasis added.)

Now, you might say, who cares what the UN says? They're a bunch of communists and ruthless dictators! And while that's a generally accurate description of that bunch, the reason to care is that in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed for the U.S., and in 1990, under President George H.W. Bush, the United States Senate ratified this treaty. 

I guess that makes Presidents Reagan and Bush (a combat veteran of World War II) "wusses" in the eyes of what Mark Shea aptly calls the "rubber hose" true believers.

So what does the Catholic Church say?

Paragraph 2297 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church includes this (I quote the entire paragraph for context):

Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law. (Emphasis added.)

Waterboarding, as practiced by agents of the United States government, and defended by Gov. Palin and commenters on this blog, indisputably includes:

> physical restraint (i.e., "coercion");
> Pouring of water in such a way as to simulate drowning (i.e., "violence," "pain," "suffering");
> Fear ("frighten opponents");
> Danger of physical harm (defenders of waterboarding repeatedly point out that medical personnel are nearby. Why do that if there's no danger of physical harm?)

Not torture? How is waterboarding not torture?

Don't like my "whining"? It's not mine. I'm offering the teaching of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. 

So who am I to say such things?

On the day of my ordination as a priest, I stood before Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, and a packed cathedral, and answered this question from the Archbishop:

"Are you resolved to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, preaching the gospel and explaining the Catholic Faith?"

I promised him, and all present, I would do so.

A priest, when assuming an office such as pastor, also swears an oath. Among other things, it says this:

In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety; I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it, and I shall avoid any teachings contrary to it. . . .

So help me God, and God's Holy Gospels on which I place my hand.

Now, if you don't give a damn what the Catholic Church teaches, well, I'll pray for your soul, but you have the right to reject the teaching of Christ's Mystical Body on earth if you wish. But if that's your position, have the courage and clarity to say so.

And if you sincerely think the Church's teaching doesn't apply to waterboarding, fine. I'm not convinced. You are welcome to try to convince me. 

However -- and this is a big "however" -- I ask that you make clear that you're committed to the Church's teaching. Because what I've noticed in this discussion is some shiftiness: the "it's not torture" argument followed by, "but it's necessary" or "but they're really bad people" defenses of waterboarding -- in short, a justification for doing evil.

If you accept the Church's teaching, then you accept the core moral principle that it is never (as in N-E-V-E-R!) permissible to do evil, that good may result. 

Which means that any use of the "necessity" or "they're bad people" arguments disqualify your defense of waterboarding. Get that? You can't have it both ways. A Catholic can't justify evil because of necessity or the evil of the other side. Evil is never justified. So leave those arguments out.

But, if you don't like a Catholic priest talking about this, that's just too bad. On that score, I don't answer to you. I answer to the Lord.

If you think what I'm presenting here isn't consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Faith, make your case.


Mary Martha said...

I for one think it's great that you are discussing this issue as a Catholic priest. It's an important perspective on the issue.

Hopefully you can do so without denegrating those who disagree with you - calling them names (as Mark Shea does so often) and claiming that they are 'not Catholic'.

As a Catholic I totally agree with you and the Church - torture is wrong.

Now the question is... does waterboarding rise to the level of torture? Some say yes, some say no. I say no.

I hold that any activity that people volunteer to participate in just to make a political point (as Christopher Hitchens did) is not torture. Any activity that a military puts it's own members through in training is not torture. Both these things hold true for waterboarding.

This is an issue where people on both sides can get quite emotional. I don't see anyone changing their minds in either direction but I do see lots of hard feelings and broken dialogue on both sides.

I had to stop reading Mark Shea because of his viciousness towards those who disagree with him. Hopefully you won't fall into that same trap.

Shouting Thomas said...

I certainly didn't say that you were whining or that I object to your performance of your duties.

I said we are likely to fall short of our ideals in this battle for survival, and may God have mercy on us.

Ms. Palin was joking to a certain extent, and she occupies no political position, nor do I think she ever will again.

Christianity differs from Islam. Christ counseled us to love our enemies, and he said that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. Islam seems lost in fratricidal blood feuds and the thirst for revenge.

We're not looking to you to bless the sins we are likely to commit in this war, but we will likely be coming to you for confession, forgiveness and absolution. I don't think anybody is asking you to excuse our moral failures in this fight for survival.

You aren't failing our troops or placing us at a disadvantage. As I said, each man and women will be forced to make an individual decision in their moment of truth.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Mary Martha:

I had to stop reading Mark Shea because of his viciousness towards those who disagree with him. Hopefully you won't fall into that same trap.

Thanks; I hope I don't lose my temper or my charity, as well. If I do, don't hesitate to call me on it.

I must admit, this discussion can be exasperating to me, so I can understand why someone like Mr. Shea would get upset.

Fr Martin Fox said...


My use of "whining" was directed solely at the one who used the term.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Mary Martha:

I'm not convinced by your argument about why waterboarding isn't torture.

You have a point, insofar as for those specific individuals who volunteer for it, or for our military trainees, it isn't torture -- precisely because of those unique circumstances.

But those circumstances don't apply with the terrorists, right? Did they volunteer? Did they do it to make a political point?

The definitions of torture which I supplied -- from both a treaty our country ratified, and also from Catholic teaching -- don't say a word to support your qualifications. They don't say, "it's not torture if someone can volunteer to undergo this."

Have you ever read what happens in the Philippines during Holy Week? People volunteer to undergo crucifixion, don't they?

gramps said...

So let me understand your thoughts on this. If you are in the military and exact same waterboarding is part of the training required, it is not torture as defined by the Church and the UN. Is this correct? If we capture a combatant we are at war with and to extract information use this same waterboarding, it is now torture. Of course OUR waterboarding is nothing like that used by north vietnam or koreans or others we have sent our troops to fight. What they do is clearly torture and it is often used exactly for that purpose alone along with massive other inhumane things.

Do the caught terrorist volunteer to go to jail? If not, is this torture since it is used to punish the guilty, can frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity? Do we let the enemy define what treatment we provide to them when we finally capture one of these nutjob Islamist alive? Lincoln when confronted with the treatment proposed by the confederacy of captured black soldiers said the north would do the same to captured rebels. If they enslave a black captured soldier, we will take a rebel prisoner and do the same at hard labor. If they kill a black prisoner, we will take a rebel prisoner and execute them. suppose we did to Islamist what they do to our captured soldiers? Fair? During WWII, Eisenhower ordered civilian Germans near concentration camps to be forced to these camps and to deal with the diseased and dead of the camps. Was this torture and was it not to civilians not even combatants in the war? War cannot be fought with the same rules one uses in normal civilian life which is why most of the time it is left to the soldiers.

We should not fight a war that is not declared and when we decide it is time to fight, by and large the civilians should turn it over to the military. Should we drop an atom bomb to save millions of lives as we did to end the war with Japan? Should we use drones to kill terrorist leadership or should we put soldiers in harms way to do this and then call them names and put them on trial for what some think is wrong? If we can stop a bomb from going off and save thousands of people by pouring some water that scares a terrorist into talking, I hope someone with common sense will make that call. Meanwhile, you can pontificate from the safety of your home whining about how bad it is and needs to be stopped. If the whacko's do a massive attack again, it will only be just if those attacked are the relatives of the hand wringers.

Fr Martin Fox said...


It should be obvious the difference it makes whether you are receiving pain from:

a) A friend and comrade, who you know is legally prevented from actually hurting, let alone killing you, or

b) An enemy who you know loathes and despises you.

It should be patently obvious the difference this makes just in your own mental state, let alone the actual imposition of the pain and suffering.

Now a question for you, Gramps:

Why do you even ask my opinion? The comments you posted on the other thread, from your daughter, make perfectly clear you deem what I present from Catholic teaching to be "whining" and that because I wasn't accepted into the Air Force when I volunteered, I have no moral standing even to comment on this.

Since that is what you believe (since you posted the comments), why do you even ask what I think?

gramps said...

Father, from reading your posts over the years, it is obvious to me that you lean to the conservative side in the political spectrum. You have talent to influence others. When you raised this issue, it struck a nerve that we felt should at least have a hearing to show why Palin and many others, Catholic or not, have concerns about treatment of captured terrorist when they hold information which is essential to save lives.

We have raised several points which many on the "no torture side of the equation refuse to answer and I felt in bring them up to you, that you might at least try to address those concerns with an compelling argument. Mark Shea and others refuse to do so resorting to giving those who disagree and bring up arguments that waterboarding is not torture and some method of extracting information is essential to the fight against Islamist terrorist.

I note in your responses that you also refuse to have a serious discussion on the points laid out. If you make a point as you have, why not defend the point and answer serious questions or comments many of those on the other side of the point have raised?

I value your attempt to join the military. However, you have the right to your view if you never attempted it. I value the viewpoint of the Catholic Church on the issue, but have raised questions about how this applies when there are other factors or how the country has handled other situations in the past wars without condemnation by the Church then. In fact, it would seem the Church was active in the support of those serving in those wars. But when raised as questions now on this topic, they are ignored. Why the massive scream on waterboarding and not the condemnation of drone strikes that kill terrorist or keeping the terrorist in Guantanamo indefinitely without trial or other things have raised? Did I miss your column on those things? Is it right for the commander in chief to do drone strikes and put severe restrictions on our troops in war zones that have proven dangerous to their life and limb while whining over waterboarding? Take the time to read the posts left and point by point address them in the total context of the war we fight and in doing so you serve both the Catholic Church so as to bring better understanding to those of us in need of that understanding on the other side. I would think that is also part of your mission as a priest. If I did not respect you, I would not be taking the time to respond.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Look, I’m glad you’re reading my blog, and I’m glad to see you again. I’ve thought about you many times over the years, recalling that you suffered a loss, and I grieve for that. And I want to be understanding.

But I wonder if you realize how off-putting your posts have been? Your comments the other day were pretty insulting. In this comment, there’s no apology for that, but there are accusations that I’m “ignoring” and “refusing to answer” your questions…

Why should I have to put up with that?

My job is to present Church teaching, which I have done. Have I done that? Yes or no?

If yes, then I’ve done my job. If no, then please show me how.

You want to know if I’ve commented on President Obama’s drone strikes, NSA spying, and a number of other issues. Well, I’ve published this blog for 9 years, and I honestly don’t remember what topics I’ve touched on. So if you want to know, use the search function which appears at the top of the main page. You can search for key words or topics.

But whether I’ve mentioned those subjects or not is irrelevant. I don’t have any obligation to cover every topic that may matter to you.

The subject is waterboarding and Gov. Palin’s comments on it. Those other topics will be the subject whenever it seems appropriate to touch on them. You may not like that, but there’s nothing unfair about that, so I’d suggest dropping that complaint. You’re simply out of bounds on that one.

Now, if you want to know what the Church teaches, there are plenty of ways to find that out besides my blog. You can look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the U.S Catechism, both of which – I believe – are available online. You can search online by using terms like “drones” and “Catholic Church” and read what comes up.

It’s not that I’m not interested in those questions; but to accuse me of “ignoring” questions when I can cover what I can cover is, as I said, off-putting. (Continued...)

Fr Martin Fox said...

Now, there is a key issue at the heart of what you and others are saying. And it is when you and others keep pointing to the “benefits” of using waterboarding. That is to say, you point to how much good can come from it, because you get information and you might save lives.

I beg of you to pay very close attention to what I say now. This is absolutely critical, and if you don’t get what comes next, then we’re simply wasting each other’s time.

It is simply a mistake – and a very dangerous one – to try to justify any action on the basis of the good you claim will come from it.

That can be called “consequentialism” or “utilitarianism.” But it really doesn’t matter what term you use…

It’s morally invalid reasoning.

To put it another way: the ends cannot justify the means.

To put it a third way:

It is NEVER (as in not ever, ever, ever) permissible to do evil that good may come of it.

So when you say, but look at all the good results? Look at the “need” for it?

All that’s utterly and completely irrelevant to the morality of the action you are defending.

First you must show that the action you are defending, is in itself, moral. If not. Then no amount of benefits or need will ever make your plan of action moral.

Let me give you an example. Supposed you came to the parish here and said I know you need money for the hungry and homeless in the city. I have a way to raise lots of money. And you go into it.

That’s all great. But if the way you propose is immoral, then FULL STOP.

If it’s immoral:

> It does not matter how much money it will raise. Could raise BILLIONS. No matter.
> It does not matter how much “good it will do.” You could feed every hunger person in the country. But if it’s immoral…
> It does not matter.
> It. Does. Not. Matter.

Got that?

Let me be even more clear: that’s not Martin Fox. That’s Holy Catholic Church saying that.

So back to waterboarding.

If waterboarding is immoral, the question of “information essential to save lives” is IRRELEVANT.

So please – don’t waste your own time, and mine, trying to justify waterboarding (or any other tactic in war) on the basis of the good you think will flow from it, or because claim it's "necessary."

Not until the question I have been posing is answered. Is waterboarding torture? Is it an evil that we are never (NEVER) permitted to engage in?

I’ve stated my reasons already for why I think waterboarding is torture. (And lots of other serious people have made their case. It's not as though this point hasn't been made over and over and over.)

You are welcome to make your case for it not being torture. I’ve cited both the law on the subject (from the treaty which we have ratified) and from the Catechism. I welcome your response to that information.

But for the last time, making that case doesn’t include the good that flows from it, for the reasons I’ve taken pains to explain.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for stating that it does not matter, and that it's not permissible, whatever "it" is if it's immoral. I just feel renewed conviction in turning down a date with a wealthy man...
Being virtuous is more important than anything else.

gramps said...

If I take someone and lock them in a room for the rest of their lives is that immoral? We put people in jail to punish them and to protect society. What about just war? Millions are killed in "just" wars. The Church advises that in voting, we are to vote for the lesser evil when two people are running for the same position who both support evil.

As to waterboarding as used by the CIA in the past, I still do not view it as torture. How about this:
Former prisoner of war Lee Ellis explained the difference between the torture he experienced during the Vietnam War and modern-day waterboarding, and said that if he were president, he would approve the use of waterboarding.
“In waterboarding, you’re trying to find out the truth that’s going to save a lot of lives,” Ellis explained to The Daily Caller’s Ginni Thomas. “What the communists did to us was torture us to say a lie, to make a statement against our government, to make propaganda for their cause to defeat our country. So to me, there’s a huge difference there.”
“And waterboarding is not going to kill somebody. The idea is that they think they’re going to be killed, but obviously they’re not. We’re not going to let them die,” he continued…. “I think it can get us the information that may save thousands of lives, and if I were the commander in that situation, I would approve it and I would have it done,” Ellis said. “Use it very carefully — wisdom always helps — but I would certainly do it.”
While the media has focused on John McCain’s opposition to the practice, the fact is many of his former comrades from the Hanoi Hiltondisagree vehemently with him. Col. Bud Day, who received our nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic escape from a North Vietnamese prison camp; Col. Leo Thorsness was awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism during the Vietnam War; and Adm. Jeremiah Denton, the POW who famously winked the word “T-O-R-T-U-R-E” in Morse code during a North Vietnamese propaganda interview — the first message to the outside world that American prisoners were being tortured.
These real torture victims know torture when they see it — and they say waterboarding is not torture. Now another of their comrades has come forward to add his voice to theirs in support of our courageous CIA interrogators.

As you have pointed out Father, the intent plays a part in the decison on evil. The Vietnamese used it as part of the torture package with the intent to get the people to say what they wanted them to say, not to reveal truth. They also intended to hurt them including maiming them for life. The intent of the CIA was to get info and when they got the intel, the waterboarding would stop right then. Also, the CIA used very carefully controlled timing limits and had it monitored by doctors to insure no real harm. Intent was clear that it was not to cause harm.

As to the Church and its moral authority on the issue of invalid reasoning, what was the reasoning on moving priest found to have molested kids? What is the reasoning on allowing Catholic politicians like Nancy Pelosi to receive communion despite her ongoing and repeated in your face support of the grave evil of abortion clearly violating canon law?

One last point and then I am moving on. When Palin talks about using enhanced interrogation with the intent to only use it for terrorist we believe have intel that can save lives, should she run for office against Obama who supports the use of drones to kill anyone he alone decides is worthy of killing for terrorist acts and who supports abortion in every way possible, which would be the best to vote for using the Catholic view one voting? Palin would only put those on the court who would vote against abortion and she would fight for marriage between one man and one woman. Knowing that the vote really is only between these two for President, which would you vote for? Did you vote for Bush against Obama? Bush was for enhanced interrogation. Obama was the most pro abortion president in history.

Fr Martin Fox said...


I voted for neither Bush nor Obama, due to many problems with both of them.

I have voted for third party candidates for president since 1992.

It is not correct to say the Church tells people they must vote for the lesser of two evils. I am not aware of the Church ever saying, voters must vote FOR any candidate or position. Rather, the Church frequently delineates those things that cannot be endorsed.

It's not a minor distinction. There are only certain actions that the Church commands us to perform, and endorsing political candidates is not one of them.