Torture always wrong?

I have read over the USCCB document of November 14, 2007 “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”. It seems to me the the US Bishops may have introduced new doctrine that is not in the Catechism.

In paragraphs 23 and 64, the Bishops indicate that the use of torture is always wrong. At times they site the Catechism no 2297 which says:

“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 2297 it does not say that torture is prohibited even to prevent a future attack against the innocent. To the contrary, in no 2267 the Catechism states:

"If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. "

While 2267 is specifically referring to capital punishment, wouldn’t it also apply to preventing attack and allow bloodless torture in some cases?

It seems like the Bishops may have said something new that is not in the Catechism. Is that how other see it?

This is an importand (and tough) issue. Consider the following points:

Take a not-so-hypothetical case. A psychopath has kidnapped a small child and buried her alive in a grave with oxygen for one hour. He is captured and confesses without duress and there is other evidence confirming that he did it. But he refuses to say where the grave is and there is time to rescue the victim. Is it moral to torture him to save the child? Is it legal to torture him to save the child? In both cases, I think not. If a terrorist sets a conventional bomb in a shopping mall. He is captured and admits there is a bomb but will not identify the bomb but admits it is set to go within, say, 30 minutes. Perhaps hundreds will die. Can one legally or morally torture him? Again, I think not. Escalate the number to be killed. Same scenario but with a nuclear weapon in a city. Can one torture the terrorist to save thousands? I think not. Does number have anything do with such questions? I think not. Do you agree?

There is the question as to whethere torture works. Some say waterboarding works. Others contest this issue. I think waterboarding is torture since it intentionally inflicts physical duress. It if works, does the end justify the means? I think not.

What is the impact of torture on the torturer, and for that matter, on a society that permits as a matter of public policy. There is a body of international law here that is relevent by the way.

I think (I am not sure) it was Alan Dershowitz (the Harvard Law professor) who called for a public discussion of this issue after 9/11. If a majority so decided that torture was to be permitted under clearly defined circumstances, would it be moral? I think the bishops would say no. Morality is not determined by the ballot box.

It is a tough question after 9/11 and the Bishops have placed the issue on the table. Machiavelli was here centuries ago. He can be read to suggest that one must damn one’s soul to be a successful prince, i.e., to provide for peace and stability.

I look forward to an interesting thread on these matters.

Law Enforcement under no circumstances, can torture or mistreat a criminal, kidnapper, or murderer. No circumstances. That means local, state, and federal authorities, even the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, ATF ect.

Even if a little child is kidnapped and buried alive, Law enforcement absolutely cannot torture. They can use deception within reasonable means, i.e. whip up a concocted story to trick a criminal, however, only if he does not invoke his right to an attorney. The FBI or any other Law Enforcement can NEVER mistreat a suspect. They (Federal at least) are under the Executive branch, whose job is to “faithfully execute the Laws…”, and uphold the Constitution. State an local Law Enforcement are absolutely 100% prohibited from abuse or torture as well. Look up “conspiracy to violate civil rights”, and see how many local police officers were tired in Federal court for abusing suspects.

Persons arrested on US soil, or extradited to the US courts, have all Constitutional protections afforded to them. The question about torture arises with persons being held outside US soil, whether civilian law enforcement, or the US Military.

Somehow, the office of the President is assumed to have special “powers” afforded to it because it is also Commander in Chief of the Military. Again, the Constitution explicitly states it is Congress’ sole power to “make rules for the governance of the Land and Naval forces…”, and that “faithfully executing the Laws” for the President means enforcing the rules for the governance of the Land and Naval forces…". The President can only enforce and govern the Military as Congress has spelled out. That is a very strict interpretation of the Constitution, and it is very correct.

Any large scale attack against the US is considered an Act of War, and likely falls under the jurisdiction of the Military. However, only Congress has Constitutionally-derived powers to suspend Habeas Corpus, and the Military is still bound by the UCMJ under that Martial Law. Congress’ powers always superceed Martial Law, because they can revoke it at ANY time.

So in essence, there is no real, legal way that any US Military or Law Enforcement can torture or abuse, unless a Constitutional Amendment is passed.

Yes, torture is always wrong.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church


Respect for bodily integrity

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 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.

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.

Torture is always wrong. It is the infliction of pain for no useful purpose. Information gained through torture is notoriously inaccurate and therefore useless. Why waste time and effort on something that will in the end yield nothing?


I think ths is what is great about communications. Two sides have quoted the same paragraph out of the catechism and have reach opposite conclusions. One side says, “It doesn’t forbid torture to extract information” the other reads an expansion of human rights that require clemency and mercy.

In reality people will do what they need to do in order to survive. In a killing situation, (organized groups of human beings killing each other for stated political cultural or social reasons) and there are many places around the world where this applies, if information is held by somebody, and that information will preserve the people holding that somebody, and they control that somebody, that somebody has a choice- cough up the info or pay the piper. I am not saying it is pretty all I am saying is that is just the way it is.

Law enforcement is an Alice in Wonderland situation because it is all society rules which grants rights to everybody. The model of law enforcement would never work if there was no enforcer around to do the granting. Even the UCMJ or whatever it is only works when things are in control. It seems to me that armies that are getting beat up and disintergrating don’t worry to much about it.

Has anyone ever read “Situation Ethics” by Joseph Fletcher? The premise is that some times doing something wrong to achieve a right end is justified.

Situation ethics has been condemned not only by the Catholic Church, but also by just about every other Christian denomination.

Aside from that, the U.S. added an article to the U.N. charter on torture specifically prohibiting torture even when it might save the life/lives of others.

Allow me to ask the question a different way: Is it moral to punish this man for refusing to cooperate to save the child? If so, is it moral to punish this man with corporal punishment? If so, is it moral to punish this man with corporal punishment that increases in the discomfort it causes commensurate with the amount of time he refuses to cooperate to save the child?

I completely agree with the Church that torture is always and everywhere wrong. But I’m not yet convinced that all things which appear at first glance to be torture in fact are. If we know that someone has information to which we have a moral right, but that person refuses to submit that information to the proper authority, I think it would be moral to punish that person, corporally if necessary, for withholding that information from a proper authority. Isn’t this the basis behind jailing someone for refusing to submit to a subpoena?

There is still a legal issue, of course, but the idea of punishing someone who refuses to provide information he is known to be in possession of, perhaps even with the goal of encouraging compliance with the request for information, does not instantly strike me as immoral.

There is the question as to whethere torture works.

Absolutely, but as an intrinsic evil, that question has as little relevance to the moral issue as the question of the number of people at risk.

Food for thought,

Not at all.

According to the CCC # 2313:

"Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out.”

The conciliar document Gaudium Et Spes #27 condemned it:

  1. …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 supreme dishonor to the Creator.

The encylical Veritatis splendor #80 reaffirmed this teaching and said it was ‘intrinsically evil’:

  1. 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”.131 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”.132

The Compendium of Social Doctrine #404 also discusses it:

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

emphasis mine]

so I’d definately say the Bishops are :thumbsup:

I agree that the bishops are right. And I read that the Vatican has also condemned torture:
"Archbishop Martino reminded the U.N. secretariat that “in contemporary times the Catholic Church has constantly pronounced itself in favor of the unconditional respect of life itself, and has clearly condemned all that which constitutes a violation of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilations, physical or moral torture, [and] psychological pressures.”"
However, what is confusing is the fact that previously the Catholic Church had accepted the use of torture to extract confessions. For example, there is the papal bull, Ad exstirpanda, issued on May 15, 1252, by Pope Innocent IV, which was confirmed by Pope Alexander IV on November 30, 1259, and by Pope Clement IV on November 3, 1265. It explicitly authorized the use of torture for eliciting confessions from heretics

The discussion and supporting evidence against the use of torture are overwhelming. And I believe my opinion will always be in the minority. All I’ll do is remind folks that all principles of law are constructs of civilization and I believe tangential to the appropriateness of torture. They apply to law-abiding human beings. Even war is a lawful act when declared and executed by a lawful authority, in a lawful and licit way…

It seems to me that the heart of the question is can we safely treat these monsters, those engaged in terrorist activities, who have sworn oaths to murder indiscriminately, like another criminal defendant. Are these creatures even human anymore, with their rabid hate of all that they oppose?

I know that degrading the status of one of Gods creatures flies in the face of all that the church teaches about respecting life but, I have a will to survive and see that my children grow up to respectable adulthood. I am opposed to watching them being turned into ash for somebodies political statement and God preserve me, I would do whatever it takes to keep that from happening. Here in the cozy mid-west it isn’t much of an issue but, if you are Chaldian in Iraq it may not be an academic exercise of encyclical quoting or legal precedent. It is your flesh and blood that may be on the line.

Now you may say martyrdom is preferable to torture; if torture is intrinsically evil. But the question is do you have the right to assign martyrdom to someone else because, you don’t want to rough up somebody with information that might save the innocent? Just because heaven is our final destination and we must train ourselves to surrender our lives and things of the earth for the heavenly glory, it is not the same as allowing others to die sometimes horribly just to keep our hands clean. Allowing innocent people do die at the hands of stark raving lunatics is madness and morally wrong. Use of violence and force to extract information is a very grey area. It is distasteful but sometimes there may be no other choice. It is a harsh world only because some people choose to make it that way.

I believe that you have hit the nail right on the head. While torture is distasteful, it sometimes is neccessary.

Using the example of the child buried alive with oxygen, I can honestly say that I would torture the information out of the man to get the answer.

I understand that we are not supposed to torture people because it is inhumane, and a sin, but isn’t also inhumane and sinful to let the guilty get away unscathed?

This particular quote from Spe Salvi seems appropriate here:

[quote=Pope Benedict XVI]Since there is no God to create justice, it seems man himself is now called to establish justice. If in the face of this world’s suffering, protest against God is understandable, the claim that humanity can and must do what no God actually does or is able to do is both presumptuous and intrinsically false. It is no accident that this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice; rather, it is grounded in the intrinsic falsity of the claim.

We believe in a God who never “lets the guilty get away unscathed,” which is why we are free and commanded not to do evil so that good may result: we are not responsible for creating justice. God is.


Thanks, RachelsAlumni. You have clearly shown that the USCCB’s policy towards torture is nothing new.

Like others, I struggled with the child buried alive example. In that case, I believe that my right to self defense against an unjust aggressor would allow me to use the minimum force necessary to rescue my child. To some, this could appear like torture. If properly done, it is self defense. This would not be using evil to do good since the Church allows self defense and does not condemn it. (

However, I do not have the legitimate authority to use this kind of force as a general rule. As others have stated, law enforcement and the nation does not have that kind of authority either.

No. Torturing a captive prisoner to gain information is not even close the the type of self defense the church allows to defend against an aggressor.

You are also forgetting that the church says Torture is intrinsically immoral:

*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”.131 *


  • “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”.

I know I’m inviting attack, but so be it. I fail to see the difference between beating the thunder out of the child’s would-be killer to make him talk in order to save the child in this manner, and beating the thunder out of him to stop him from killing a child he has his hands on right then. I realize one would go to the penitentiary of forcibly stopping an abortionist from killing a child within the womb, but if one could do it, oughtn’t he? And if so, how is that different from stopping the first-mentioned killer forcibly. I realize there is not a certainty the “torture”, if that’s what it is, will result in disclosure of the child’s whereabouts. But neither is there certainty that one’s attempt to forcibly prevent a killer from strangling a child he has his hands on will succeed.

I have another problem with the definition of “torture”. The bishops think psychological duress is torture? If so, every police interrogation is torture. There is a lot of duress in that. The FBI routinely puts people under such psychological stress that all but the most hardened will “crack”, and they’re mighty good at it, and don’t lay a finger on the suspect or witness in the process. Was “Scooter” Libby tortured? He sure got a lot of psychological stress out of what happened to him. And what about every single person who goes to a penitentiary but isn’t one of the “kingpins”?

There’s plenty of stress and physical discomfort working in a foundary. Street cops have plenty of both. A student pulling an “all-nighter” for an exam has both. An industrial worker with discogenic pain is physically “tortured” every day, particularly if he’s over 50. What about the 65-year-old wife of an Alzheimer’s patient who she’s trying to take care of at home?

And so we’re supposed to feel all guilty because some psychopathic murderer of children gets water boarded, or is sleep-deprived or made to stay in a cold cell for a short time? Is that really “torture” in the “iron maiden” sense? There are people who live with cold and sleep-deprivation every day.

It seems to me the notion of “torture” used by a lot of the politicos and the USCCB is the “middle class suburban” notion of it. If they had to work at an open-hearth furnace with the flu, or live in a drug-infested ghetto, or pick strawberries when it’s so hot the sun feels like it’s being blasted from a shotgun, they might think differently about what real torture is.

Well said:thumbsup:

The doctrine is in Mark 12:28-31 so it would appear to be a restatement.

'um so can you see the future to know who will kill? May be you could simply testify against these people in a trial then we could lock them up. No murders that way.

I can’t help but note at this point that no one’s addressed my first post to this thread.


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