The popular online commentator Andrew Sullivan makes what I think is one of the best points that I’ve seen in a while. What Sullivan asks is whether or not certain bishops, particularly those keen to respond in situations related to abortion, will similarly cry out against Rick Santorum (R, Pa.), who has publicly claimed to be a Catholic in good standing, for his clear and public dissent with Church teaching on the issue of torture. Sullivan writes this:
What are the odds that they will consider denying him communion for backing the torture of terror suspects? They have weighed that question with politicians over abortion rights – and yet no presidential candidate I know of has personally approved of an abortion or declared him or herself prepared to carry one out. But with torture, a presidential candidate is essentially saying that he would personally authorize this evil. And so the endorsement of something that is “contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity” is far more direct.
Will the Bishops move? Let’s just say I am not holding my breath.
Lest readers here and Mr. Santorum himself desire to wiggle out of this situation, claiming, as some ungroundedly do, that torture is “not the same” as abortion, you need to know that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that both acts are intrinsically evil, which, as Blessed Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor explains, “If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person…Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice” (VS §81).
Torture, like abortion, can never be subjectively (in se in any given circumstance) good or defensible!
Here’s the full section that includes both abortion and torture among the list, drawing as the late Pope does on the highest authority, an ecumenical council in Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes:
Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature “incapable of being ordered” to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that “there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object.”
The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: “Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator” (VS §80).
Now, to be clear, as I’ve said elsewhere: the Eucharist is not a weapon. I do not endorse the public call for withholding communion from anyone, that is a matter that has to be decided by the communicant and his or her confessor or pastor. But, like Sullivan, I would like to see those bishops and other commentators who are so quick to get on television or write newspaper columns condemning this or that politician for their support of other intrinsically evil acts of equal consequence come out and do likewise here.
But like Andrew Sullivan, I am not holding my breath.
Let this be a lesson to those who find themselves in the middle of abortion-policy debates during election years or at anytime: the public condemnation of politicians who are so-called “pro choice” has very little to do with Church teaching and very much to do with political agendas. It’s unfortunate that some bishops and others have fallen prey to that trend. If this were not the case, there would be an equal uprising in matters like Santorum on torture.
Photo: Getty Images
UPDATE: For an accessible guide on the Church’s teaching on torture, see the USCCB’s “Torture is a Moral Issue: A Catholic Study Guide.“