EWTN Catholic Q&A
McCain and torture?
Question from MM on 10-27-2008:

Dear Judie,

The NCR says that McCain supports torture and that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says torture is an intrinsic evil. Is this true? Are there gradations of intrinsic evil? Or is everything that is intrinsically evil, just evil. If so, why is abortion more intrinsically evil than other intrinsic evils? (I am not asking this to sidestep the issue -- I am definitely voting pro-life, I just don't understand this). Thanks.

Answer by Judie Brown on 10-28-2008:

Dear MM

Here is what the Catechism says on the general subject of torture:

2297 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.91

2298 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.

First of all, the first quote from the Catechism refers to those who perpetrate crime by kidnapping or hostage taking and then torture their victims. Second, I am not certain, but it occurs to me that the enemies of the state, or people who have already perpetrated heinous crimes against the innocent, are already people who are despicable, so if they refuse to cooperate with a just government, is torturing them a sin? I cannot answer that, but it is clear that without all the facts, nobody can suggest that torture is intrinsically evil.

The circumstances described in the Catechism do not suggest that. Please note that there is a reference to clerics who administered torture, which is a reference to times gone by.

Perhaps you can ask your question of the moral theology forum an get a better response, but my sense is that NCR is wrong. They have a political agenda as you may know.

Judie Brown