Crisis Magazine recently carried an article on torture by Mark Shea, arguing that conservative Catholics go too far in trying to excuse torture for terrorists. Torture, he said, has been definitively held to be intrinsically evil and all Catholics must abhor it.
I have been working on an essay, though, on Galileo. One thing I have learned in my research is that he was threatened by the Inquisition with torture. Even though this was probably more of a formality of European legal process, and not ever a serious possibility for Galileo himself, (1) it is possible that torture devices were in the room with him to pressure him, and (2) I get the impression that officials of the Church did indeed torture others during other historical periods. So all this does seem to fly in the face of the Catholic moral tradition that definitively holds torture to be intrinsically evil.
Were Church officials who tortured people simply violating Church teachings? Did they attempt to reconcile their behavior with Catholic teaching and, if so, how?
Also, Thomas Aquinas maintained that heretics should be executed in order to prevent them from poisoning souls ( newadvent.org/summa/301103.htm ). My understanding is that the Church did, at times, execute heretics. But does this, too, fly in the face of Catholic moral tradition? And how do we, as Catholics, reconcile this type of behavior with our respect for the infallibility of the Church?