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Writing at Vox Nova , the author known as “Morning’s Minion” has published a post calling for consistency in the application of canon 915 — the denial of Holy Communion to those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin”— in this particular case, the public advocacy of abortion and torture. The post was occasioned by the recent appearance of Mark Thiessien on Raymond Arroyo’s “The World Over” , in which the duo lobbied vigorously in defense of waterboarding:

I think the analogy is clear. Arroyo and Thiessen are both Catholic public figures, and Arroyo in particular is a TV personality on a Catholic TV channel, making the scandal all the more grave. They are clearly “obstinately persevering” in support for an intrinsically evil act. Worse, they actually try to justify it on Catholic grounds. Thiessen has made it his life’s work to claim that some forms of torture are virtuous. Arroyo, again and again, invites defenders of torture onto his show, and instead of confronting them with clear Church teaching, voices his agreement. As [Archbishop Raymond] Burke says, this is “public conduct” that is gravely sinful . I would go further and argue that it is even more scandalous than support for legalized abortion. Most public supporters of abortion do not go on television extolling the great virtues of abortion for women and society. Their argument is more with how it should be treated under the law. But the Arroyo-Thiessen-Sirico cabal are (i) claiming to the faithful Catholics while (ii) making public pronouncements on the positive value of torture.

Catholic debate over torture (and/or what the Bush administration has termed “extreme interrogation”) has been going strong for several years now. It’s online manifestation initiated—to my recollection—with the publication of Mark Shea’s article in Crisis , “Toying with Evil: May a Catholic Advocate Torture? ” and subsequent discussion at Amy Welborn’s , in March 2005. From time to time I’ve personally blogged on the various vollies and controversies between various camps as the debate has asserted itself, time and again, over half a decade (has it really been that long?)

That EWTN (“Eternal Word Television Network”) has hosted two explicit defenses of waterboarding— most recently by Thiessien, as well as Fr. Joseph Sirico of the Acton Institute, not to mention Q&A from Judy Brown of the American Life League questioning whether torture should be considered “intrinsically evil”—does not surprise me in the least. As I noted recently, there has been open dispute as to whether waterboarding constitutes torture from many prominent Catholics , including editor Deal Hudson, Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin, and Fr. Brian Harrison (in the pages of This Rock —the flagship publication of Catholic Answers, the largest largest lay-run apostolates of Catholic apologetics and evangelization in the United States).

Little wonder that a Pew Forum survey examining “the religious dimensions of the torture debate” found many white Roman Catholics, along with most frequent churchgoers, affirming that the use of torture against terrorists is “sometimes” or “often” justifiable.

With respect to abortion, readers may recall a number of opportune moments during the 2008 presidential elections when Catholic bishops were obliged to speak out, publicly, forcefully and collectively, in correction of blatantly false presentations of Catholic teaching on abortion by Nancy Pelosi and (then) Senator Joseph Biden .

There have been numerous missed “teaching moments” for our bishops and the Catholic Church on the matter of torture.


Further discussion of this (cross)post at The American Catholic — with some helpful comments from readers:
Donald McClarey rightly notes :

Denying communion to those who support the use of torture in certain circumstances would mean denying it to most of the popes who lived between circa 750 AD to 1871 AD. It is not politic perhaps to bring this up, but the attitude of the Church to the use of torture by lawful authority, either Church or State, did a 180 in the last century from previous praxis and teaching of the Church for a millennium.

See Fr. Brian Harrison’s “Torture and Moral Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Theology | Part II for a historical exploration of this subject).

DarwinCatholic observes:

. . . it seems to me that the argument lacks some crucial context. When bishops have, in rare circumstances, denied abortion to notorious abortion supporters, it has been after long years of the Church clearly denying that one may, as a Catholic, support legal abortion. It has also been after the individual politician is warned by the bishop that he/she must change his views lest he be denied communion. The denial of communion is, at that point, a response to repeated and stubborn refusal to accept correction.
So in this case, an obvious first step (assuming that the Church does in fact consider the positions being taken by these people to be totally unacceptable) would be for some bishops to step forward, make it clear that these positions are morally unacceptable, and advise people that they must cease making these arguments lest they find themselves divided from the Church.

As Chris says, this is clearly a potential teaching moment. I don’t myself agree with the arguments that folks like Thiessien are making — though I’m not ready to say with confidence that it’s impossible for Catholics to make such arguments in good conscience. . . .

What MM does not seem fully cognizant of, unless I’m much misreading his intention with his post, is that there is a difference in Church discipline on these two issues in that the Church has already made it clear that it considers dissent on the question of legal abortion to be something which, in notorious cases, can and should be disciplined through denial of communion. He may not like that, but there it is. It is not yet, however, clear whether the topic of waterboarding is something over which the Church considers it appropriate to ban people from communion for dissent.

I have little respect for those who cavalierly lobby in defense of waterboarding — or, for that matter, those who who bring a cudgel to the discussion — tar-and-feathering as the “Rubber Hose Right” (to borrow one well-known term) anyone who raises doubts about fundamentalist proof-texting from John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendour that torture, like slavery, is “intrinsically evil”, end of story . ( Cardinal Dulles noted himself in First Things danger of approaching that particular passage in such a manner ).

I have considerably more respect for Catholic apologists like Jimmy Akin and Fr. Harrison, who address the issue with humility and trepidation, acknowledging the lack of clarity. Father Harrison in particular can be commended for taking into account the width and breadth of Church history and papal teaching.

Nonetheless, it has been five years of predominantly lay Catholics — some very prominent — in open dispute and confusion on the matter. The positions of both sides has been articulated such that, every time this debate resurfaces in the blogging world, one can predict from memory the various points raised and tactics employed.

There has been, however, precious little said or done by the Catholic Bishops (local or collectively) to address the specifics of these cases — in much the same way as the Church has asserted itself authoritatively and definitively on abortion, its contribution would be appreciated here.

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