Torturing the Doctrine of Infallibility

July 7, 2008 § 11 Comments

From a combox at Mark Shea’s blog:

Now if the Church allowed for the morality of torture[*], and now appears to prohibit it not just prudentially, but on moral grounds, then the Church would have been in error about a teaching of morals all those years, … Meaning She would have failed in her Divine mission to teach men infallibly what they must do to be saved.

Funny how this is never accompanied by an infallibly-taught doctrine that torture is morally licit. Kevin Miller had the number of this argument when it first came up:

Considering that much of Harrison’s conclusion is logically dependant – not only on his history – but also on the assertion that it’s something like ecclesiologically impossible for the Church to have approved of something that turns out to be intrinsically evil (in effect, then, that when the Church, in what would otherwise be a non-infallible act, approves of action X, then this amounts to an infallible teaching that X is not intrinsically evil) – I’m not sure why a detailed response is necessary. “What is gratuitously asserted may be gratuitously denied.” [Emphasis mine]

[*] Note that this is a tendentious reading of history; but even if we stipulate it to be unproblemmatically true, it doesn’t matter.


§ 11 Responses to Torturing the Doctrine of Infallibility

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,The real difficulty for those of us in the ranks is the determination as to whether or not something is taught infallibly. I take for example the teaching on the ordination of women. I can read opinions on either side of that debate that suggest that it is not an infallible teaching and that it is.To determine whether something is infallible under the ordinary and universal magisterium rubric is more difficult than it might first appear, and so, it is not hard to see why people might advance some of the arguments you have suggested are inadequate.You can’t get much agreement from the opposing camps on the interpretation of what constitutes “infallibility.” (Frankly, from my point of view, it appears that each group clutches to its breast and holds as infallible whatever most appeals to and supports the agenda of the group. For “progressives” it tends to be social justice teaching, for “conservatives” the viablity of the death penalty, etc.)So, when confusion is rife in the ranks as to the nature of infallibility and what falls within its rubric, it’s hardly surprising that arguments of this sort surface. (Doesn’t validate the arguments, but I think provides some light as to why they might be proposed.)shalom,Steven

  • Anonymous says:

    Steven:<>You can’t get much agreement from the opposing camps on the interpretation of what constitutes “infallibility.” (Frankly, from my point of view, it appears that each group clutches to its breast and holds as infallible whatever most appeals to and supports the agenda of the group. For “progressives” it tends to be social justice teaching, for “conservatives” the viablity of the death penalty, etc.)<>There is no such definitive infallible teaching on the Death Penalty.In fact, John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae looked at the situation in terms of modern social conditions and judged, in his personal opinion, that the conditions under which Capital Punishment should be used would be quite rare. Yet, he didn’t eliminate it all together.Moreover, Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, issued a memorandum subsequent to EV in which he pointed out that presumably because of the ambiguities that surround this question, there can be a legitimate diversity of opinion among Catholics regarding when Capital Punishment should be used. Note that he expressly did not state that he was against it.

  • zippy says:

    StevenWhile I agree with what you are saying <>in general<> – that is, that degrees of authority have become a ‘hot topic’ among Catholics, at least on-line, and usually line up along politically ideological lines – I have yet to see anyone have the chutzpah to claim that ‘torture is morally licit’ as a putative doctrine meets the criteria for infallibility. And without that premise, the whole ‘if torture is intrinsically immoral that calls into question the foundations of Catholicism’ meme being pushed by Fr. Harrison’s sudden flock of fanboys fall apart.

  • Anonymous says:

    The Blackadder Says: Not only does Father Harrison not make the argument attributed to him by Kevin Miller, his article on torture actually shows just the opposite. Father Harrison’s conclusion from the article is that it is an open question whether torture might be permissible in a so-called ‘ticking bomb’ scenario. Whatever one might think of that scenario, it is clearly inconsistent with his concluding (as is often claimed both by his supporters and opponents) that the Church’s previous support for torture prevents Her from condemning the practice now. If that were his argument, then the question would not be open, but closed.

  • zippy says:

    <>Father Harrison’s conclusion from the article is that it is an open question whether torture might be permissible in a so-called ‘ticking bomb’ scenario.<>Frankly, I find Fr. Harrison’s article too much of a hash to be able to force it into a coherent interpretation. The problems start with the very title itself, which conflates torture and corporal punishment as if they were the same kind of act, and it just goes downhill from there.But in this post I’m talking about the arguments made in comboxes by Fr. Harrison’s newfound fanboys. Whether his fanboys are interpreting him correctly — assuming for the sake of argument that there is a correct univocal way to interpret him at all — is beside the point.

  • William Luse says:

    Is this Harrison argument used to try to destroy the Church’s doctrinal infallibility in matters moral, or to establish that a permission to torture is a part of that doctrine?

  • zippy says:

    The thing that comes up over and over again in the blogosphere (which may or may not be fair to Harrison – again, I can’t really make much sense of his paper except as a blitzkrieg of often unrelated citations of bits of history with nothing in particular to hang them together) is the notion that if torture is actually intrinsically immoral as a matter of fact, the Church’s authority in matters of faith and morals is in doubt. It is classic ‘hermeneutic of discontinuity’.

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Anonymous 1,By which you make my case precisely. I can find you half a dozen people who would emphatically disagree. (Although, I am not one of them, and I do agree with your point.) There is rampant confusion with regard to the issue of infallibility and what precisely it means.Dear Zippy,Sorry for introducing the tangential topic, but whenever the question comes up, I find the whole discussion of infallibility a welter of confusing contradictions and assertions that are not particularly helpful and so I sympathize with those who err because of some misunderstanding of infallibility.I would point out that if the ordinary and universal magisterium of the church allowed for, endorsed, and even actively pursued torture in some instances (Torquemada did hand over some people indicted under the Inquisition to secular authorities to pursue their ends in secular ways–does that constitute endorsement), one could be confused as to whether torture was ever considered a viable option and if so why it should not be considered so now. Which is really quite a different question from infallibility. There are practices of the church that have been enacted in the past that are no longer active and may not even be moral. But this is no sign that the Church ever did teach that they were moral. Practices and doctrine–to support your point–are in no wise the same thing–and yet for those in the trenches, they can be difficult to distinguish. If torture was not adjured and found immoral in inquisition times AND it was even actively pursued by Church members, does that say anything about the morality of torture? or Does it rather say something about those requiring it? Does the undeniable bad record of Pope Alexander VI make what he did an official and infallible teaching of the Church? (In some ways it is easier to take the particular case and then apply it to the more uncertain case). This is probably a welter of confusion, and I apologize, but it is basically in agreement with what you say, but tempering it with an understanding of how these misconceptions can be arrived at. That side, I did not refer to the original source material and so cannot make any determination regarding the particular instance you site. But then, you notice, I’m less interested in the instance than in the abstract question that arise from it. And I know that your interest is more in the case and not in the conditions. Again, my apologies. But that is one of the reasons I enjoy this blog so much–not the particulars but the ramifications.shalom,Steven

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