Thursday, May 08, 2008

Catholics and Torture

A recent e-mail from Coleen Rowley informed me of her insightful, albeit disturbing, May 5 commentary at The Huffington Post.

Entitled “Why Many Catholics Are Confused About Torture,” this commentary can be viewed as originally published
here or reprinted in its entirety below.


Why Many Catholics Are Confused
About Torture

By Coleen Rowley
The Huffington Post
May 5, 2008

“Torture and the Courage to Be Inconvenienced” was the name of the talk scheduled to be given by University of Minnesota Professor of Medicine and Bioethics Dr. Steven Miles yesterday morning, Sunday, May 4th, at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Minneapolis (which I attend). Dr. Miles is an expert on this topic, having written the book: Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror. But the Catholic hierarchy abruptly canceled Dr. Mile’s talk in much the same fashion as Desmond Tutu’s visit to St. Thomas University was canceled last fall. Miles was “Tutu’d” according to a newspaper columnist.

Leaving to the side the lobbying tactics of the “pro-life” group “Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life” in besmirching Dr. Miles to the Archdiocese that led to his being canceled (because they certainly have a right to their opinions), I think the Catholic Church as a whole (and many other churches) have just been way too silent about how wrong it is for our country to engage in torture and pre-emptive wars of aggression. For instance, a few weeks ago, when Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the United States against a macabre backdrop featuring reports of torture, execution and war, he simply chose not to notice.

The Catholic Church’s overall silence about torture and the Iraq War becomes more glaringly obvious in light of its support of “good Catholics” like Robert Delahunty, David Addington and Antonin Scalia. Delahunty and Addington contributed to formulating what are euphemistically called “combined, harsh interrogation techniques upon our enemies.” Up to organ failure. And Scalia has repeatedly applauded Jack Bauer tactics. Perhaps that is why polls reportedly show Catholics--more than the public at large, more than Protestants, and more than Evangelicals, support interrogational torture. (Secular Americans were most likely to reject interrogational torture.)

No wonder so many Catholics are confused. “Distinguished” Catholic lawyers tell them torture is okay and our country can disregard its own laws, as well as international law against it. The pope’s visit came just after President George W. Bush publicly conceded that he knew about, and approved the dozens of meetings in 2002 and 2003 in the White House Situation Room, at which Vice President Dick Cheney and the most senior national security and legal advisers deliberated on and approved various sets of torture techniques to be applied to certain detainees. Setting this stage was, of course, the Feb. 7, 2002 Action Memorandum in which Bush formally authorized such illegal activity.

Hasn’t torture always belonged in the same “intrinsically evil” moral category like rape, like slavery? If it’s still in that category, the pope surely would have taken a stand on torture, right? Wrong. The pope was not noticing. So, confused Catholics ask, does that mean torture is okay? So long as no life is ended before birth, it seems pretty much anything is permitted. If Caesar says it’s okay, well he knows best. The papacy has come a long way since the hallmarks of Christians was how they loved one another and how they struggled for justice for all.

So all church-goers, (but especially those Catholics who pride themselves as “pro-life”) would do well to listen to Dr. Miles talk. His presentation on torture has been shifted from St. Joan’s to the Carondelet Center (next to the College of Saint Catherine at 1890 Randolph Ave.) in St. Paul, at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Coleen Rowley


NOTE: For photos of Steve Miles’ May 6 presentation at the Carondelet Center, see the postscript to the previous Wild Reed post, An Asinine Decision by the Chancery.

To read the transcript of Dr. Mile’s presentation, “Torture and the Courage to Be Inconvenienced, click here.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Torture is Wrong, Illegal, and it Doesn’t Work - Colleen Rowley,
The Huffington Post, December 21, 2007.


Alexei said...

Robert Delahunty goes to a Baptist Church. He's not a Catholic.

CDE said...

I admit I haven't heard too much talk about the ethical considerations surrounding torture within Catholic parishes.

I assist with an RCIA program in Hollywood, and we spent some time covering the issue of torture during a recent session on double effect and the moral life. It's available online as an audio podcast here.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Thanks for the link to the podcast. I look forward to checking it out.



crystal said...

Another person who has written on torture, though I don't know if she's Catholic, is Elaine Scarry. She was part of an interesting group discussion - The Question of Torture.