May 14, 2009 § 25 Comments
I’ve decided to take an indefinite amount of time off from instructing the ignorant – that is, from instructing myself (the ignorant) through all of the interesting, informed, and intelligent commentary of my own readers, other bloggers, and my fellow combox critters on other blogs. Sorry if I’ve left any unfinished discussions or other business hanging out there. It has been fun, fascinating, and enriching for me; a great privilege. I hope some of you have gotten at least a small fraction of the benefit from it that I’ve gotten from you. Thank you all, and God bless you all, and may the peace of Christ be with you.
The Speech Privilege, Redux
May 13, 2009 § 16 Comments
Lots of diligent effort has gone into an attempt to characterize the water torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as having been done “to extract life-saving information” as opposed to “in order to extract a confession”. The reason this putative distinction is important is because the latter is unequivocally condemned in the Catechism in language which simply cannot be parsed by proposing that “intrinsically immoral” means that water torture is OK when done for one purpose but immoral when done for a different purpose; language which echoes doctrinal (as opposed to juridical) statements by the Magisterium with a long pedigree. (I think the putative distinction between extracting information about the crimes a prisoner is involved in from extracting a confession is bunk; but as we shall see, it is also irrelevant to the particular case at hand).
So for Catholics of a certain persuasion the distinction is crucial: if KSM was subjected to water torture in order to extract a confession, it was unequivocally an evil act which we must condemn, unless one wants to just intransigently dissent from the Catechism. There isn’t any “parsing room” available by positing this or that spin on the moral theology of intrinsically immoral acts.
But the thing is, the water torture of KSM was done in order to extract a confession. In particular, it was done in order to extract a confession to the murder of Daniel Pearl (source); a confession the veracity of which the family of Daniel Pearl doubts (source), not that that matters in the moral evaluation.
Any legitimate public discussion of torture definitions by faithful Catholics ought to acknowledge, as prerequisite to even discussing the matter, that waterboarding KSM was immoral torture. Anything else is scandalous.
A Tale of Two Documents, or, Fallacy Extirpanda
May 11, 2009 § 113 Comments
Suppose we are given two Church documents.
One document was promulgated by the Supreme Pontiff with these words:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.
The Pope expressly tells us, to prepare us quite directly for what I have referred to as “explicit presentism” in the Catechism, that
This catechism will thus contain both the new and the old (cf. Mt 13:52), because the faith is always the same yet the source of ever new light.
The other document we are considering was a regulatory document addressed by the Pope many centuries earlier
… to his beloved sons, the heads of state or rulers, ministers and citizens established in the states and districts of Lombardy, Riviera di Romagnola, and Marchia Tervisina … .
That it was a juridical regulatory document, telling secular authorities in a particular region to conform the secular law to certain regulations because of contingent circumstances, and not a statement of doctrine, is not merely my personal inference – though such an inference is pretty clear from reading it. But in addition, that is how the document refers to itself:
Desiring, then, that the sons of the church, and fervent adherents of the orthodox faith, rise up and make their stand against the artificers of this kind of evildoing, we hereby bring forth to be followed by you as by the loyal defenders of the faith, with exact care, these regulations, contained serially in the following document, for the rooting-up of the plague of heresy.
Now, the money quote from this document which has been somewhat obliquely referred to very widely – typically with inaccurate paraphrasing and without providing anything more than a brief and partial cite with no link to the full document – goes as follows:
The head of state or ruler must force all the heretics whom he has in custody, provided he does so without killing them or breaking their arms or legs, as actual robbers and murderers of souls and thieves of the sacraments of God and Christian faith, to confess their errors and accuse other heretics whom they know, and specify their motives, and those whom they have seduced, and those who have lodged them and defended them, as thieves and robbers of material goods are made to accuse their accomplices and confess the crimes they have committed.
That’s it. No mention of particular techniques. Just a requirement that the secular law in those particular provinces treat heretics on par with criminals like thieves and murderers, with the further limitation “without killing them or breaking their arms or legs”.
Interestingly, that first document – the one which was promulgated directly by the Supreme Pontiff, formally exercising his Apostolic Authority, as a sure norm for teaching the Faith – addresses the second (earlier) document’s regulatory requirement, and its lack of doctrinal effect, quite directly:
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.
Clearly our doctrinal document is quite explicitly repudiating any doctrinal content someone might falsely infer from the earlier juridical document.
So the next time someone mentions the Bull Ad Extirpanda in an argument about the treatment of prisoners, you can tell them to tie that to their stake and smoke it.
(HT to commenter Richard Comerford for the link to the translation of Ad Extirpanda. I am assuming that the translation is at least reasonably accurate, without some egregious error which would affect the thesis here. Latin-savvy readers may want to verify the translation against the Latin text, also given at the link, and perhaps available elsewhere.)
May 8, 2009 § 1 Comment
The newest issue of The Christendom Review is on line. A ground breaking review of the actual legalities and testimony in the Terri Schavio case by Lydia McGrew – I know that like me you probably thought that this was already out there somewhere, but like me you are in for some surprises – and the wonderful fine art of Timothy Jones, are just the start. This is a very fine journal, moving in the opposite direction from the zero-prep schizophrenic stream-of-consciousness hackery that dominates so much of blogging and other online publication. It can even be ordered in bound form — a very professionally produced journal in the tradition of Modern Age, but filled with art, story, and poetry to make it a well rounded delight. Enjoy.
Rosaries for Life
May 8, 2009 § 1 Comment
Just a reminder about Rosaries for Life, and that prayer is as important as anything else we can do.
A Clear and Present Danger
May 7, 2009 § 13 Comments
There is I think very legitimate concern on the part of some traditional orthodox Catholics about a kind of presentism which treats what the Magisterium says right now as a discontinuous trump card, severing Catholicism from its roots and remaking it as some progressive fantasy. On the other hand, we do know that doctrine develops. The myth of Progress may be bunk, but the Deposit of the Faith does in fact work itself out through salvation history over time. The fact that the Church may have non-infallibly approved of certain wicked practices in the past doesn’t amount to an infallible proclamation that those practices cannot be intrinsically immoral, for example. The doctrine of infallibility itself implies that some things – the non-infallible ones – are reformable, through new clarifying articulation which narrows the lens through which the past can be interpreted or even through explicit repudiation.
So I’m as cautious as the next guy about adopting a hermeneutic of discontinuity. But there are certain cases where the Church herself explicitly asserts a kind of presentism: where She repudiates past practices quite explicitly, or asserts Herself that a particular Magisterial articulation of doctrine is the first of its kind on a particular subject.
Opposing that explicit presentism on particular specific questions, on the basis of resistance to a false Progressive presentism which hopes for doctrinal developments which will not happen, seems to me to be problemmatic.
I know offhand of two instances that seem to me to meet the criteria for an “explicit presentism” coming directly from the Magisterium.
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. – The Catechism of the Catholic Church
And this one:
115. This is the first time, in fact, that the Magisterium of the Church has set forth in detail the fundamental elements of this teaching, and presented the principles for the pastoral discernment necessary in practical and cultural situations which are complex and even crucial. – Veritatis Splendour
Your Browser Has a "Please Send Me To Hell" Button
May 7, 2009 § 26 Comments
Actually, you have to work out your moral failing, in either case, don’t you? If you torture, you have to work it out. If you allow millions to die because you’re “too good” to torture, that’s another moral failing you have to work out. And what is the moral failing? Not trusting that God will help you work that out.
Maybe when you don’t have an idea that you and God can work out your moral failings, you have a tougher time dealing with them? I don’t know. But “who saves a life saves the world, entire” may come into play here. I don’t want to kill the guy I’m torturing. But I want to save 5 million lives.
Resolving to sin if some future hypothetical fantasy comes to pass is one of the most insane things people do with their computers. Resolving to sin if X happens is sinning. Resolving to sin if X happens and then stating that resolution on a public blog is formal cooperation with evil.
God gives you an easy way to work that out though. It is called “keeping your mouth shut”.
The Speech Privilege
May 5, 2009 § 10 Comments
Morally, speech is a privilege. That is, speech is not morally neutral, and since there is no moral right to commit evil there is no moral right to free speech. Materially evil speech has no privileges. (Note that this is a moral point, not a political point).
A person who refuses to unequivocally concede that cutting a living four-month fetus to pieces in a woman’s womb is an immoral act of murder has no standing to speak on the subject of abortion. He may engage in all sorts of casuistry about ectopic pregnancies and difficult scenarios for pregnant women; he may be genuinely conflicted in his own subjective interior intellection; he may, indeed, be in need of apologetical help in order to see the error of his ways. But his speech on the subject is the banging of a gong, emptiness poured into the void.
Same with the subject of torture, for someone unwilling to concede that waterboarding KSM was unequivocally immoral torture. [Note: I have retracted “and a war crime,” which was in the original post].