Franciscan University – Profiles in Courage!

Franciscan University – Profiles in Courage! May 17, 2012

Franciscan University of Steubenville is in the news this week for all the wrong reasons, a perfect emblem of the depravity of latter-day American neoconservative Catholicism.

In the first place, it decided to stop providing health insurance to students. Now, we are all familiar with the tried-and-tested tactic of using the unborn to serve tawdry political purposes. The Republican party wraps itself in a cheap “pro-life” mantle, which gives it liberty to violate the rights of the born – and indeed the unborn in foreign lands. It was the tactic used during the healthcare debate, when phony Catholics like Thomas Peters conjured up feverish plots against the unborn to attack a law he opposed on grounds on individualism, pope Paul VI’s famous “erroneous affirmation of the rights of the individual”.

And now Franciscan University is ending health care coverage for students, and it is blaming the contraceptive mandate: “we will not participate in a plan that requires us to violate the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church on the sacredness of human life”. But, as Grant Gallicho shows clearly, this is designed to deliberately mislead, for as the university says itself, “the school is retaining its health care plan for employees “. Grant does his homework, and finds that the university’s healthcare plan is unlikely to be affected much by the Affordable Care Act at all, and if it is, it is likely that the school would qualify for an exemption (it predominantly serves Catholics).

No, this is a cynical financial decision hidden behind morality. The university is quite open about this – they object to the requirement to reduce the amount that students could be out-of-pocket after a major health incident (remember, healthcare costs are the leading cost of bankruptcy in this country). So they dropped the coverage, claiming that it would result in higher student premiums, and this would be wrong.

Of course, they don’t mention the money they are saving themselves. They don’t mention that Catholic social teaching regards health care as a right. They don’t mention that are they are cynically passing the buck – as we all know, the Affordable Care Act will allow students to stay on parents’ healthcare plans until age 26. Instead of doing its duty, tying the right the healthcare with the responsibility to provide it in a manner that respects both solidarity and subsidiarity, it washes its hands and blames the Obama administration, while letting somebody else pick up the tab (again, courtesy of the Obama administration).

But it gets worse. Also this week, it turns out that Franciscan University invited Michael Hayden, Bush’s CIA director, to give a commencement address. This is a man who defended torture and implemented the torture regime. As we all know, Catholic moral teaching lists torture as not only intrinsically evil but also gravely evil – ranked up there in Gaudium Et Spes right after murder, abortion, and genocide.

Amid all the furore of inviting “pro-choice” politicians to speak at Catholic universities, let’s be very clear about something. Yes, abortion is more gravely evil than torture. But somebody like Hayden did not just cause scandal by defending torture, he was an acting agent in close proximity to the evil action. If you should invite somebody like Sibelius – and I don’t think you should – then you should certainly not invite somebody like Hayden.

But none of this seems to matter to Franciscan University, who numbered Hayden among those who are “defending our shores, protecting the sacredness of human life, and shaping our form of worship as Catholics”.

Defending our shores? Even if torture were effective, and it most assuredly is not, this would be a consequentialist argument, and thus directly prohibited by any authentic Catholic moral reasoning (Veritatis Splendour).

Protecting the sacredness of human life? Is torturing a person in tune with protecting human dignity and human life?  What about the hundreds of thousands of innocent people killed, and the millions uprooted, by a gravely immoral war supported by Hayden and his ilk? What about the countless Iraqi children – born and unborn – who perished? And if you want to touch on “religious freedom”, what about the virtual annihilation of the Chaldean Church, a Church that has survived and even thrived under thirteen centuries of Islamic domination, only to come undone by the reckless actions of George W. Bush?

Shaping our worship as Catholics? So our worship as Catholics must now be defined selectively and hypocritically? So the witness we give to the world is that our God is the God of American exceptionalism and individualism, the God of war and violence, the God of personal responsibility and self-sufficiency? Not the God who saved and unified the entire human family – collectively. 

It is a great shame and a scandal that this university bears the noble name of the great St. Francis – the man who devoted his life to nonviolence and caring for others.  It is emblematic of  a low dishonest generation of Catholics influenced by pernicious secular doctrines while zealously clothing themselves in false mantles of righteouness and orthodoxy. One can only hope that it is darkest before the dawn!

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  • Mark Gordon

    And note that they only cancelled the coverage for students. They kept the coverage for staff and faculty. They also took their announcement to … you guessed it: Fox News. Deeply cynical and dishonest.

  • johnmcg

    A little research reveals that General Hayden is not the the torture advocate MM makes him out to be.

    General Hayden was appointed Director of the CIA in 2006. General Hayden said that waterboarding may be illegal and prohibited its use in the CIA(,13319,161672,00.html).

    Now, someone in his position probably should have done more to repudiate the tactic, but it does appear that his effect was in the right direction, away from these tactics.

    Now I want people to think about some things.

    How does it make you feel to know that General Hayden really isn’t a torture-loving general, or that perhaps Franciscan University has not erred as egregiously as MM and the linked post make it out to be?

    Are you pleased that this institution and Catholics are not as far gone as you feared?

    Or are you upset that you may be losing this weapon to use against your ideological adversaries? Are you inclined to continue to accentuate the tidbits of bad news. Catholic University! CIA Director! Bush Administration! Hypocrites!

    On the other side, how would you feel if it turned out Sebellius was actually pressuring the Administration to expand the exemption for the contraceptive mandate or do away with the mandate altogether, and ultimately lost?

    This is going to be a rough year. We need to learn to listen to each other, rather than just string together whatever selection of facts suit our purposes.

    It is true that General Hayden was CIA Director in the Bush Administration. It is also true that the CIA in the Bush Administration carried out torture, and the Bush Administration attempted to legally justify it. It is true that torture is intrinsically and gravelly immoral.

    But it is also true that the torture in question happened before General Hayden became Director (though he does seem to agree with the decision to use it then). And it is true that he banned the CIA’s use of torturous techniques shortly after taking his position.

    I will admit that while General Hayden has probably not been the torture advocate MM makes him out to be, it would be dishonest to say he has been a strong critic of it as well. And maybe his action (or inaction) in this regard is sufficient to mean that it is imprudent to invite him as a commencement speaker, even moreso that someone like Secretary Sebellius.

    But the truth is more complex than “Torture Advocate Gives Commencement Address at FUS.” And we need to embrace the whole truth.

    • Their treatment of Cafardi made clear what they there. As usual, you suck up for the side who you nominally aren’t a part, treat people on the other side with contempt, and then in a post yet to come wonder why aren’t seen as the reasonable, neutral observer. Rinse, repeat.

    • So, Mr. JohnMeg, you actually think that this “rough year” in American politics is going to be equally the fault of ther Right and the Left in that country?–really? Well, then, I invite you to look at this video, and to pay careful attention to the clip when it gets to 1:08, and what follows that:

      The animus against Obama in the American election of 2012 is going to be mainly fueled by race hatred, and I’m just darned glad I’m not going to be in that country during it!

      • Maria Combe

        Oh, please. Race hatred? I – and many others – had so hoped Alan Keyes, at one point, and Herman Cain, at another, would be the President we were looking for. Most people are angry at what he does, not his skin color. Conversely, I’ve met African Americans who didn’t care what he stood for, but only what he symbolized – and it was hard to blame them for that, except when they refused to believe his stand on important issues that they would ordinarily have disagreed with because of what he represented to them. I’ve also met African Americans who regretfully voted for his opponent because of what they knew about Obama.

        • Anne

          I don’t know how a certain amount of race hatred can be denied when people stand in front of TV cameras and say, as some have, that they oppose Obama because “black men can’t be trusted,” or, a bit more subtly, how they refuse to vote for anybody “named Barack Who-SANE Obama.” Really, what else can be inferred from that odd complaint heard everywhere from Fox News to the extreme environs of Tea Partyville that he’s “not like us”?

    • Julia Smucker

      Good point about hoping for the ideological weapon of bad news. That’s something we all should be self-critical about. I have not yet viewed and evaluated the evidence, so I can’t begin to say whose portrayal is more accurate, but thanks for raising the caution against hoping for the worst for polemical reasons. Of course, this doesn’t negate the serious moral compromise that evidently remains for Hayden in any case, as you appear to be acknowledging, so I think MM’s point still stands, even if it may require some added nuance.

      • Hayden’s views on “enhanced interrogation” are a little more nuanced, or at least underdeveloped, but he did write an op-ed in the WSJ arguing that such techniques worked, whatever you think of their morality.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          He did and I found his reasoning profoundly consequentialist.

          • I found it more superficially consequentialist. 😉

        • johnmcg

          I agree — I by no means want to make Hayden out to be a paragon of virtue on this subject.

          Some might say that he was merely asserting the effectiveness of the techniques and not speaking to their morality. Indeed, the Op-Ed explicitly said so.

          But that doesn’t get him off the hook. A Catholic who in February 2012 wrote about the great benefits contraception had to society while not taking a stand on its morality, would still be providing aid and comfort to a particular side.

          My point wasn’t to say that Hayden’s views were in line with the Church’s on torture, or even that they are not sufficiently out of line to make his invitation imprudent. Just that they are not quite on the level of someone like, say, Marc Thiessen, who was a full-throated supporter of torture.

      • johnmcg

        I suppose that depends on what the point of the post is.

        If the point is that FUS could have exercised more prudence in choosing its commencement speaker, then I agree, as my post below says.

        If the point is to lead the reader to believe that FUS is a hypocritical tool of the Republican Party and that anything anyone associated with it can be dismissed on that basis, then I disagree.

        Charity compels me to allow for the possibility of the former, but I still must suspect the latter.

  • Kurt

    And while they will make up tales to serve the Republican agenda of hostility towards social programs, FUS is quite at ease with private sector organizations that fund abortions. Because, as conservatives keep reminding us, a baby is less dead when killed by the private sector.

    FUS has cozy relationship with private corporations who are allowed to come on campus to recruit students. Most of these companies offer free or subsidized abortions to their employees and FUS does nothing to screen out those that do as they match up their students with these pro-abortion corporations. I mean, pro-life is all fine and dandy, but interference with the free market is the greatest of all sins.

    • R.

      Wow, I didn’t know any employers offered free and/or subsidized abortions to employees. Do you have any source to point to, any data, for FUS’s ties to such emloyers/recruiters?

      I think that my FUS-connected acquaintances are unaware of such hyposcrisy. I don’t think they are consciously cheering for the FUS insurance decision just because it is anti-Obama. I think they really think their alma mater is doing the right thing. I disagree, of course, but I also am shocked to hear about the abortion-enabling employers who come on campus to recruit.

    • SB

      Can you name a single Fortune 500 company that offers “free or subsidized abortions to their employees”? Not just life-and-health abortions, but voluntary abortions, which is what you’re trying to imply.

      • Kurt

        Yep. Check out their employee health care policies. Most include abortion.

  • johnmcg

    Having said that, I’m starting to think it might be wise to have a moratorium on Catholic Universities inviting politicians to give commencement addresses and receive honorary degrees. The primary effect seems to be driving wedges deeper into the Body of Christ.

    Perhaps our universities can use these speeches to signal that they are Catholic, rather than which political party they associate themselves with.

    • Having said that, I’m starting to think it might be wise to have a moratorium on Catholic Universities inviting politicians to give commencement addresses and receive honorary degrees.

      I can certainly get behind that!

    • Julia Smucker

      Hear hear!

    • Kurt

      There might be some merit in that John, but I am not sure I concur in your reasoning. There is precious little evidence that universities do this to signal a political position. In recent years, some hard-edged activists groups have whipped up opposition to people in public life whose politics they don’t like — the Newman Society, for example.

      Your solution also seems to honor what I find more troubling. Ban people in public service who are pro-choice or ban all people in public service. But the barons of industry, even when they are knee deep in abortion funding get a free pass from even the most strident elements of social conservatism.

      Maybe the solution is to allow the student body to do the invitations. Let everyone else wash their hands of it and take no moral responsibility.

    • Mark Gordon

      Very good suggestion. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that choices like these – Sebellius and Hayden – are undertaken deliberately by college administrators to establish their credentials on either the political left or right, and that is a shame.

    • grega

      This country is not some sort of magic catholic island.
      Besides there was never a magic pure nice good Catholic period anyway –
      every time that sort of thing ws attempted it did not go all that well really –
      The catholic Generalissmo Franco comes to mind.
      Let’s face it in reality a healthy percentage of citizens and catholics very much
      are represented by “Sebellius/Obama” and ” Hayden/ Bush”
      These folks very much fully represent mainstream american values and dreams.
      I am rather tired of the holier than thou rethoric from left and right.
      And yes it is very important that articulate political representatives like the named ones are invited to speak and engage us. Freedom of speech cuts many ways.
      Catholic abort and contracept and torture at pretty much the same percentage as average society – Catholics never have been any better or worse than the rest.
      This is a mainstream religion – of course we are mainstream people – we struggle through our lives and find difficult answers to very complex questions.
      Let give us a bit of a benefit of a doubt shall we. I can tell you that among my progressive friends most certainly depending how the issue is cut you can find very traditional/conservative approaches to life mixed in with extrememly progressive ones.
      I fully expect that to be the case for my conservative friends – we have to bother discussing the individual issues and making our minds up – and yes that does mean that we all are folks who ‘represent’ controversial issues that we personally perhaps do not agree with.
      How can the complexity of life be represented by just two political choices?
      And yes we can go on and on musing about some magic pure catholic nirwana –
      never existed – this is it – this is our time – it will never be much different.
      Lets be honest this is not a bad society and time to be living.

      • R.

        Amen, Grega.

      • “Lets be honest this is not a bad society and time to be living.”

        If, you know, you manage to make it out of the womb…

        • grega

          Tell that to the baby that died perhaps as recent as 50 years ago due to complications but would have lived today.
          Tell that to the husband who from todays point of view unnecessary lost his wife – the mother of his large very young family during childbirth.
          I bet you A Sinner a huge percentage of those that yell the loudest these days regarding Abortion could not stand the emerging societal reality without any Abortion option. Abortion rights did not fall out of the sky thanks to some evil people manipulating a majority into accepting – NO abortion rights are very much also an attempt to address a real issue – and yes a majority in our society of rather decent average people likely will never personally pursue an Abortion but can see situations that fellow friends, neighbors and family members might feel otherwise.
          Yes it is complicated – no quick fix in sight I am afraid.

          Keep it simple A sinner find yourself a lovely wife and start living what you write and preach.

          • johnmcg

            There are many in these comboxes who will assert that 21st Century US is such an unjust, hostile environment in which to raise a child, that the 1 million / year abortion rate is an inevitability regardless of what abortion restrictions are in place. That women procure abortions because they have no choice. That restricting abortion would just push them into the back alleys, and that energies are better spent addressing these fundamental injustices.

            I disagree. We have problems that we need to work to address, but I agree with you that overall, 21st Century US is not a historically awful time and place (though it is probably better for me than the typical person persuing abortion). And that we don’t have to wait for our society to be perfect before we address the injustice that a class of people are vulnerable to legal killing.

            As Jesus said, the poor will always be with us. This doesn’t free us from trying to help them, but I also think it means that we can make eliminating poverty a precondition for addressing other problems.

  • Pastor

    God bless the author.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    I am perplexed and need a guide. How is a former CIA Director shaping Catholic worship?? What can that even mean??? Please explain, for I am very intrigued.

    • I had to check this myself, as equally perplexed. The quotation, as presented above, is misleading, since the three items of note, viz. (1) defending our shores, (2) protecting human life, and (3) shaping Catholic worship, refer each one to one of the three honorees, scil. Michael Hayden (#1), Marie Hilliard (director of Bioethics and Public Policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, #2), and Bishop Arthur Seratelli (who worked on the new missal translation, was secretary of the USCCB Committee on Liturgy, member of Comm. on Divine Worship, a member of ICEL, and secretary of Vox Clara, #3). I found the relevant information here:

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        Phew! I’m relieved. When it reality starts to sound like a paranoid fantasy that is a bit off-putting. It is really crucial for those news- writers to take their Risperdal, I was getting ready to say! There is zero shame in having good meds.

  • Reblogged this on A Catholic's Journey and commented:

  • Anne

    I’m afraid a whole lot of colleges and universities are planning to blame the Affordable Care Act for the raises they’re making in student health insurance premiums this year. But this goes them all one better. Or worse, really. What are they going to do if and when the Roberts Court strikes down the Act in June? Whatever, I’d be willing to bet the higher premiums will stay in place at schools offering student coverage. For students at Steubenville, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen. (Obviously, if the Act goes, so goes their coverage under parental insurance plans through age 26.) Will the administration turn around and offer their students insurance coverage again? I wonder.

  • Anne

    As for Steuenville’s choice of commencement speakers, I’m not surprised. Neo-traditionalists clearly believe whenever two or more Republicans come together, an angel gets its wings. Michael Hayden is clearly a Republican; hence, who better to speak at a Catholic university? Besides, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

    • Kurt

      Besides, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

      Oh, he lives on in the heart of every reactionary Catholic.

      • Anne

        Not to get off topic, but ye gads, that Generalissimo, what a defender of faith and family, may we never see his like again.:-(

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      An appalling crime, Kurt.

      • Kurt

        Appalling yes. But any proof that it would not be repeated if those same social forces were in the position to act again?

  • I think that the main reason for the change was fiscal. But it’s been billed as a principled decision, which, in light of this, is VERY inconsistent and untrue. Plus it only affects those who cannot afford private, parental insurance and who don’t play sports.

    The whole thing spurred me to blog again, at Contending Modernities. Here’s my article, full of things I’ve said again and again during my tenure here:

    Blessing to you all,


  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Since you brought Thomas Peters into this discussion, I wondered what he has been up to, as he had not crossed my mind in a while. And indeed his latest activity sheds an interesting and kinda telling light on the issues you raise. For indeed for what you very smartly describe as “feverish plots” conjured by such people, and used even for the putative reasoning for the sorts of decisions you mention, like jettisoning health care, need a cultural explanation. In other words, the question is begged on how and why some people see plots and secret plans all around them, and how this is affecting even organizations like Universities. Well, we can use Mr. Peters as a sort of unfortunate example of these fevers, but again why?? Well, LOL, a good example of why may have come in the reaction of a curious conservative blog to his recent appearance at a debate on gay marriage. Now before you think I am off-topic here, one must read — again LOL!! — the response of a conservative blog (it has “con” in the title) to his performance there. As well as the reasoning that was apparently roped in by Peters, trying to sound more libertarian than anti-gay. Poor Thomas Peters, he thought he was going to a safe environment to actually debate conservative gays, who agree on all the libertarian stuff — like getting rid of health care– and what does he get?? He gets some people, who finally think he is hot! Now that is likely to have caused a fever in such a person. I can only say that the one time I saw the guy this was not my reaction. But, de gustibus. At least we can now guess what was behind all his fevers– he is not safe even with his “libertarian friends” as he said there (it can be seen on Youtube as well. Here is the telling blog excerpt which I have edited for length:

    “Friday, February 17, 2012
    Gay Marriage Debate: Resolved – Straight Boys are Prettier

    The very good fusionist group, America’s Future Foundation, which aims to get libertarians and actual limited government, free market conservatives, independents and centrists to all debate amongst themselves (send them a check!), sponsored a debate last night on gay marriage, specifically what role if any the federal government should have in gay marriage.

    GOProud’s Matt Bechstein

    There were four presenters: GOProud’s Matt Bechstein; the National Organization for Marriage’s Thomas Peters; the Cato Institute’s Jason Kuznicki; and the Family Research Council’s Henry Potrykus.

    It was a balanced and well educated group. Bechstein and Kuznicki are both openly gay, Kuznicki married with an adopted daughter; Peters and Potrykus are presumably straight, since they took the anti-gay marriage side, and allowed everyone to assume they were straight without saying so, as, among other types of people, straight people so often do. One person from each side was a PhD (Kuznicki and Potrykus), and Potrykus and Peters also have multiple master’s degrees. So one would expect this foursome to be able to deliver a good show, debate wise.

    I went and sat in the front row with the official AFF photographer, so I could attempt to video it. Truth be told I had this fantasy, before the event, of my manly defense of Maggie Gallagher’s right to free speech, as I lept before her to prevent a glitter zombie’s attempt to take out her eye with this season’s fashionable gay excretion. But Maggie didn’t show and neither did the glitteroids. Indeed, though I had promoted this event some to the DC gay community, the Washington Blade, MetroWeekly, and the DC gay political class didn’t show. I guess the gay paper photogs won’t come unless you promise them drunks with tattoos in leather harnesses. There were a lot of unusually attractive young men who I have never seen at an AFF event before. But I knew beforehand they were not glitteroids, since they were all clean with good hair cuts, wearing tastefully matching sweaters and shirts.

    One of the funny things about the debate was how pretty the anti-gay guys were. Not that Bechstein and Kuznicki wouldn’t be allowed to eat crackers in most people’s beds, but…Mr. Peters… that hair, those eyes. Mr. Peters, runs a blog called AmericanPapist (also the name of his FaceBook and Twitter entities). I think there is a danger that Mr. Peters’ looks and craftiness might lead to his running for office. He spoke second after Bechstein and cleverly polled the audience by a show of hands before talking, as to whether they favored a federal prohibition of gay marriage (1 or 2 hands), a federal mandate of gay marriage (1 or 2 hands), or the federal government not being involved in defining marriage (dozens of hands). He then recognized aloud that he was speaking to a libertarianish audience, and tailored his remarks to them, making the common neoconservative argument that a free libertarian society doesn’t work unless you first have the state cull and train the herd so that they all behave well enough to be allowed to be free (both he and Potrykus basically argued that without forcing people to be heterosexuals who birth at above a replacement level, and raise stable, skilled, educated kids, neither government nor private retirement programs, or indeed the economy as a whole, can function)………

    NOM’s Thomas Peters argues that there should be no gay marriage because straight people keep abandoning children

    Unfortunately for them the anti-gays never proved that gay marriage is a threat to the heterosexual family. They did cite well known facts about the demise of the heterosexual family, with heterosexuals delaying marriage and reproduction, as well as having fewer kids and more of them outside of wedlock. Gays, especially marrying gays, seem if anything, to be a kind of social safety net and clean up service for badly behaving heterosexuals, since they adopt these parentless kids produced by less than ideal heterosexuals, and keep the tots from being either abortions or orphans.”

    • Kurt

      I’m sure Thomas Peters had a good time.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs


      Yes, probably too good from his perspective. As Tony Stefano said once in his character as pizza delivery guy in a movie: “I meet a lot of interesting people.”

      It is all grist for the book or memoir that will appear one day when he has his epiphany. It will do a little good, but the ocean of ennui in the predictability of it all makes one want to watch Real Housewives OC or something!

    • I often wonder to what degree Thomas Peters’s arguments and ideology are influenced by the direct oversight of his father, Ed Peters (a very conservative canonist). Will the younger Peters stay to similar arguments when his father passes? I suspect that the son might want to break from the mold given him by his father, but is unable to due to familial pressure. Just a suspicion, noting more — but a suspicion rooted in the rebellions which often take place when fathers and sons part ways.

      • Kurt

        Or his Daddy-thing could just play out in a different way. Who knows?

  • Sorry to be a broken record on this issue, but: if State infliction-of-death is not necessarily “murder,” then State infliction-of-pain is not necessarily “torture.”

    Indeed, “torture” is just a word; to be relevant at all as a moral category, it needs a strict definition. But indeed, no line can be drawn to define it that doesn’t include ALL and ANY infliction of any sort of pain or discomfort.

    A child pinching his sibling is guilty of torture too. Because while the sin is of its species grave…it can also admit of veniality on account of lightness of matter (similar to theft; stealing is of its species grievous, but very petty theft can be venial).

    In this sense, then, any corporal punishment by the State is “torture.” Including imprisonment. If confinement inflicts discomfort (and it does, mental and physical)…the mere DEGREE of this discomfort would not change the species of sin.

    Yet I doubt here anyone wants to conclude that the State cannot ever imprison. Because it is recognized that the State DOES indeed have the right to physical coercion (which means the threat of force, and of inflicting discomfort, pain, and even death).

    There are legitimate questions of proportionality and procedural justice, of course, and those may be debated.

    But using the imprecision and ambiguity of the popular definition of “torture” to make a moral argument about the rights of the State…is just disingenuous. Using precise definitions, it becomes clear that the State has a right to inflict-pain, and at that point it just becomes a question of degree not nature.

    • johnmcg

      It is also a question of intent.

      Some of the goals of imprisonment (e.g. incapacitation) and incarceration can be met even if the prisoner does not find it painful. And even if the prisoner finding it painful is part of the point, it is licit if it is part of a just punishment for a crime as determined by a legal authority.

      What we’re talking about when we discuss torture doesn’t approach that. The pain inflicted on the captive is not incidental; it is a fundamental feature of the act. And this pain is not a just punishment for a crime; it is an attempt to manipulate the captive into acting against his will. This, it is a direct assault on the captive’s dignity as a human person.

      The difference is not of degree; it is of the fundamental nature of the act.

      • A police officer using a taser is an attempt to get someone to act against their will using pain (namely, getting them to comply with being subdued). If someone was holding a baby and running towards the edge of a cliff to throw it off, I’d have no problem with police using a targetted “sound gun” to cause him excruciating pain so that he’d give up and set the baby down. With-holding potentially life-saving information is similar. Telling someone “tell us or we’ll lock you up” IS only a difference in degree, not nature. This threat isn’t just punitive, but attempts to be preventative too, providing a disincentive for not complying. That’s what the rule of law IS: threatening people with loss, discomfort, pain, even death, in order to get them to not hurt others.

    • Julia Smucker

      This is exactly the problem with using juridical paradigms for morality: any systemic evil can be justified on some technicality. The passage in Gaudium et Spes (27) that MM alludes to is very clear on the evils of torture and all other affronts to human dignity. The section is worth quoting in full:

      Coming down to practical and particularly urgent consequences, this council lays stress on reverence for man; everyone must consider his every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his life and the means necessary to living it with dignity, so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus.

      In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, “As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me” (Matt. 25:40).

      Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.

      Bottom line: stop playing semantic games and and start asking what honors and what violates human dignity. Any such violation as those named here is just as much a “supreme dishonor to the Creator” whether perpetrated by individuals or by States.

      • Yet the Church has always admitted the State has recourse to capital punishment.

        Part of “human dignity” is that we are responsible moral agents living in society who can thus be held accountable and punished by society for our actions.

        We’d never have a trial and hang a bear who mauled someone.

        • Julia Smucker

          On the contrary, the Catholic Church is and has been an active voice for the abolition of capital punishment (and torture), in keeping with its stance on defending human life and dignity from conception to nautral death.

          Held accountable, yes, but the Church insists that offenders ARE human moral agents and bearers of the inviolable imago Dei, and as such must not be dehumanized.

          To prioritize the State’s rights over the universal dignity of all human persons is to sell one’s conscience to the State, in violation of the teaching of the Church.

          • “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

            The State has a right and a duty to punish offenders to protect ALL of us. It has a duty to insure there is at least procedural justice and proportionality. But the Rule of Law involves invoking the coercive power of the State, which is to say the power of the State over bodies, to protect us all.

            The Pacifist State is the most violent State of all. Civilization is about ensuring that violence is institutionalized so that it doesn’t run wild. But have no doubt: civilization necessarily involves violence. Violence preventing violence, ideally.

        • Julia Smucker

          Violence preventing violence is a self-defeating cause. Institutionalized violence is only the same evil on a grander scale. What we need, as Martin Luther King once said, is institutionalized nonviolence.

          • Institutionalized non-violence can come from the Church. It’s an interesting idea I’ve thought about. The Church could do a lot more to mobilize people to resistance of injustice, that’s for sure.

            Nevertheless, the thugs of the world will not respond to mere passive resistance. There simply are sociopaths out there. Perhaps many people walking the streets. I’m quite convinced that if the threat of punishment was not hanging over these people, they would kill us all. Many people out there walking the streets are just waiting to devour each other the moment the police and governments of the world disappear.

            Strong but accountable government is a GOOD thing. But “strong” does mean that the government has the right to use force against aggressors who would harm the innocent.

          • Julia Smucker

            This is a classic pacifist strawman. Nonviolence is not passive (it requires much more creative, in-depth, sustainable solutions than does violent force), nor do its advocates deny the need for rule of law.

      • Anne

        You’ve got it. I think we all know what torture is, all the disingenuous claims about waterboarding notwithstanding. Unfortunately, human beings rationaliz, as did Church authorities themselves at one time. Even St. Augustine, who at first opposed both capital punishment and torture for heretics, eventually talked himself into believing it was OK to torture them since the threat of death seemed to work. (I kid you not, he explained his change of mind for exactly that reason…the fear of torture seemed to work, and to him, returning the unorthodox to right thinking was what mattered most.)

    • Liam

      So, if a captor engages in forcible, non-consensual intercourse with a captive prisoner in order to obtain information, that’s not necessarily either rape or torture, it would seem from what you write.

      • Oh, come now. You know that sex is different. One, because of how the agent would get unnatural pleasure from it. Even if the pain caused to the perpetrator wasn’t unjust in itself, the pleasure of the agent would be unnatural. Furthermore, it is not within the State’s power to force marriages or select for breeding (though it can incentivize). That right belongs to Family, which precedes the State.

  • Anne

    Oops. It appears my last comment failed to appear as a reply under Julia’s last comment, where I meant it to go….I thought I’d better ‘splain lest anybody wonder who “got it”;-)

  • Anne

    Uh, oh now I see how this works….As Emily Litella used to say, never mind.