Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Coalition for Clarity, or Ambiguity?


There is a new website called "Coalition for Clarity" that is devoted to making Catholics aware of the Catholic teaching on torture. A lady that calls herself Red Cardigan is the blog owner, and Mark Shea and Sean P. Daily, among others are supporting the website. The website claims to be a think tank for Catholic moral teaching on torture, yet  none of the members that I am aware of are even moral theologians. In a recent post they are now attacking EWTN for having a Catholic author, Marc Thiessen, on Raymod Arroyo's show "The World Over" for discussing the issue of waterboarding, Just War scenarios, self defense and the like. It seems to me that this website grossly oversimplifies the issue of torture, and people who are commenting on the website for the most part, are not capable of discussing the fine points of this moral question. In fact the author of the blog repeatedly asks for moral theologians to help address particular scenarios to determine whether or not a certain act falls into the torture category. For instance, the author Red Cardigan says on her latest post , after attacking EWTN, and calling for Mark Thiessen's bishop to intervene, writes the following, "I, for one, would like to see a guest with some background or experience in Catholic moral theology tackle the question of torture, and particularly whether waterboarding can be excluded from the Catechism's prohibition of torture."

 I went through a few posts on this website and looked at some of the comments in the comboxes and found some of the exchanges to be interesting, and one video they posted to be very entertaining, where Mark Shea was characterized as an Obama. One exchange that I found to be interesting for example, was between an anonymous person and the author of the website, (This is abbreviated, and you can read the entire combox here)

Anonymous Thomist wrote, 
"You really need to be careful with issues like these. You are not the Magisterium of the Church. It takes real moral theologians to address the finepoints of moral issues like this one. Real scholars would not handle a moral issue like this one in this fashion. Quoting a few statements from encyclicals or the Catechism does not not give people with no real theological background the tools examine this issue at a serious, mature level.

These statments give us a general principal as to the immorality of torture. These methods include, extracting confession, punishment, frightneing others or satisfying hatred, etc. But the issue of torture also include some general moral principlas such as the condition of the person involved and the subject who is going to carry out the act. So, if a violent criminal for example, is brought into custody and admits that he has another victim who is still alive detained someplace but he will not give the information to stop the violent crime currently in progress, then according to most Thomostic theologians, the state would have the authority to carry out a reasonable act of force to stop the violent crime in progress. The violent criminal no longer has the right to be treated as an innocent person, but now a confessed guilty person. The state, according to Thomas has the divine right to carry out a proportionate act to stop the violent act which is endangering an innocent person.

This issue a bit more complicated than this "Coalition" is making it out to be."

What I found interesting was the response given by the blog owner, Red Cardigan,

"Anonymous Thomist, all due respect, of course, but we're not really debating the finer points of moral theology on torture here, any more than a Catholic pro-life blog is generally going to spend a lot of time discussing the moral options for the removal of an ectopic pregnancy.

What we're saying is that the Church says to us ordinary layfolk: "Torture is evil. Don't do it. Don't approve of it. Don't consider Jack Bauer a hero, or argue that there's a 'Good guy Americans/enhanced interrogation' exception to the principle that torture is evil."

Why are we saying this? Because so far a lot of Catholics (esp. here in America) don't accept that much when it comes to torture. Forget scenarios in which a confessed guilty person in the hands of legitimate authority admits that a crime is in progress and refuses to help stop that crime even though it involves significant harm to the innocent etc. as you outline above; we're talking about situations in which agents of dubious authority employ methods of torture against people whose guilt or innocence is completely unknown for the sole purpose of extracting information about which they cannot know the following: whether the victim has this information and whether the information involves some proportionately serious threat of imminent harm to the innocent."

Aside from the number of assumptions given in Red's response here pertaining to the state, authority, guilt, innocence, etc, I see a particular problem with her response. Now, the name of the website is the "Coalition for Clarity", yet scenarios like the one brought up by the anonymous poster were completely blown off as if it were not worth addressing. Red wrote, "but we're not really debating the finer points of moral theology on torture here..." yet how can one seriously call themselves a "Coalition for Clarity" when they will not address the "fine points" of moral theology? This is the problem when lay Catholics who have no formal moral theological training or education take up serious moral issues like this one, and claim to be the Catholic blogosphere's authority on the subject. This type of moral question has to be examined closely by real moral theologians who can take each type of scenario and determine how and when the teaching on torture applies. I will not get into debating this topic in detail, since I myself am not a moral theologian. I have done posts recently referring to moral theologians such as Fr Brian Harrision, who have wrote great essays on the subject. People like Mark Shea, and others on the website have constantly and consistently railed against Fr. Harrision's educated essays on the matter. I leave the reader to decide. You can check out the website and make your own determination, is it the "Coalition for Clarity", or the "Coalition for Ambiguity?"

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