6 Crystal Clear Condemnations of Torture by the Catholic Church

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With the release of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on CIA torture (as well as the minority view), there’s been a lot of discussion about the moral status of torture.

Is torture ever morally acceptable? What does the Church have to say about torture?

Here’s a quick review of recent Catholic Church teaching on the issue. You might notice there’s a pattern…

1) Pope Francis has condemned torture: “mortal sin,” “crime against humanity”

“Today, torture is one of the almost ordinary means of acts of intelligence services, of judicial processes. And torture is a sin against humanity. It is a crime against humanity.

“And, to Catholics, I say that torturing a person is a mortal sin. It is a grave sin.

“But it’s more: It’s a sin against humanity. Cruelty and torture: I would really like it if you in your media were to make a reflection of how you see these things today, [asking] how is the level of cruelty of humanity and what you think of torture. I think it would do us all well to think about this.” (In-flight interview August 18th, 2014)

2) Pope Benedict XVI condemned torture: “prohibition…cannot be contravened”

“Public authorities must be ever vigilant in this task, eschewing any means of punishment or correction that either undermine or debase the human dignity of prisoners. In this regard, I reiterate that the prohibition against torture cannot be contravened under any circumstances.” (Message to 12th World Congress of the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care)

3) Pope St. John Paul II condemned torture: “debased”

“Christ’s disciple refuses every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify and in which the dignity of man is as much debased in his torturer as in the torturer’s victim.” (Address to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, June 15th, 1982)

4) The Second Vatican Council condemned torture: “disgrace”

“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 laborers 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 honor due to the Creator.” (Gaudium et Spes, 27)

5) The Catechism condemns torture: “necessary to work for their abolition”

“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. […]

“In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices [are] 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.” (CCC 2297-2298)

5) The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church condemns torture: “regulation against torture must be strictly observed”

“In carrying out investigations, the regulation against the use of torture, even in the case of serious crimes, must be strictly observed… International juridical instruments concerning human rights correctly indicate a prohibition against torture as a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstances.” (CSDC, 404)

6) The USCCB has condemned torture: “abhorrent”

“Church teaching is clear. Torture is abhorrent and can neither be condoned nor tolerated. […] Torture is morally wrong and can never be justified because it debases human dignity of both the victim and the perpetrator, estranging the torturer from God, and compromising the physical or mental integrity of the tortured.

“Torture is corrosive to the society in which it exists as it devalues human life and dignity. Any society that tolerates torture places the human rights of all of its citizens at risk. It creates a climate hostile to the dignity of the human person.” (“Background on Torture,” Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development Office of International Justice and Peace, February 2013)

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