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 ( ). 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?


The church is made up of sinners. So, yes, there have been times when the people who make up the church did wrong. As far as the inquisitions go, I’m not totally sure of the position the church held at that time. I believe that these inquisitions were things that went to far. The church wanted to get heresy out of the church, but those who were actually in charge of this used torture as a means to an end.

I don’t think the church actually supported this, but the church didn’t really make a serious effort to stop it either. Of course, I’m not totally sure of this, but I think I’ve read something somewhere about this. :hmmm:


From Memory and Reconciliation: the Church and the faults of the past:

From a theological point of view, Vatican II distinguishes between the indefectible fidelity of the Church and the weaknesses of her members, clergy or laity, yesterday and today, and therefore, between the Bride of Christ “with neither blemish nor wrinkle…holy and immaculate” (cf. Eph 5:27), and her children, pardoned sinners, called to permanent metanoia, to renewal in the Holy Spirit. “The Church, embracing sinners in her bosom, is at the same time holy and always in need of purification and incessantly pursues the path of penance and renewal.”

The Church is invited to “become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children.” She “acknowledges as her own her sinful sons and daughters” and encourages them “to purify themselves, through repentance, of past errors and instances of infidelity, inconsistency and slowness to act.” The responsibility of Christians for the evils of our time is likewise noted, although the accent falls particularly on the solidarity of the Church of today with past faults. Some of these are explicitly mentioned, like the separation of Christians, or the “methods of violence and intolerance” used in the past to evangelize.

Nevertheless, some of the faithful are disconcerted and their loyalty to the Church seems shaken. Some wonder how they can hand on a love for the Church to younger generations if this same Church is imputed with crimes and faults. Others observe that the recognition of faults is for the most part one-sided and is exploited by the Church’s detractors, who are satisfied to see the Church confirm the prejudices they had of her. Still others warn against arbitrarily making current generations of believers feel guilty for shortcomings they did not consent to in any way, even though they declare themselves ready to take responsibility to the extent that some groups of people still feel themselves affected today by the consequences of injustices suffered by their forbears in previous times. Others hold that the Church could purify her memory with respect to ambiguous actions in which she was involved in the past simply by taking part in the critical work on memory developed in our society. Thus she could affirm that she joins with her contemporaries in rejecting what the moral conscience of our time reproaches, though without putting herself forward as the only guilty party responsible for the evils of the past, by seeking at the same time a dialogue in mutual understanding with those who may feel themselves still wounded by past acts imputable to the children of the Church. Finally, it is to be expected that certain groups might demand that forgiveness be sought in their regard, either by analogy with other groups, or because they believe that they have suffered wrongs. In any case, the purification of memory can never mean that the Church ceases to proclaim the revealed truth that has been entrusted to her whether in the area of faith or of morals.


Accepted and approved methods of interrogation are not Torture. Panties on a man’s head or nudity is not torture, in fact its done every Friday night at your local homosexual club.

As Catholics we have a historical tradition that includes familiarity with actual torture, the Inquisition. Thus when shin bones were split, bones broken on the rack, eyes gouged out, fingers and feet crushed, burning at the stake, etc., etc., as a counter-reformation method and to punish heretics, we as Catholics are all too familiar with what constitutes actual torture, and its not harsh language, nudity, or humiliation.

I personally did not see any acts of torture in Iraq in any of the newspaper accounts or photographs. Perhaps real torture actually took place, but it wasn’t shown in any newspapers or news sources.


From the Catechism:

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; it 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.

Jimmy Akin also has a discussion of torture.


[quote=Catholic2003]From the Catechism:

Jimmy Akin also has a discussion of torture.

That the Catholic Catechism stated the Catholic Church “forbade clerics from shedding blood.” this was circumvented by 16th century monks using the mace instead of a sword, because it was deemed that the mace was bloodless relative to a sword. (For example, Friar Tuck carried a mace).

Also, as far as torture is concerned, a particular motive negating torture as actual *Torture *appears to be just an act of relativism to me?


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