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Sarah Palin, Sacrilege, and Catholic Support for Torture

05/01/2014 Comments (122)

So last week, we had a little discussion prompted by a reader who wanted to know if an emergency baptism using Coke was valid or not.

In the course of it, somebody noted that if the person being baptized was an adult, then their consent is require or the baptism was invalid. The point was that it was an insult to the sacrament and the dignity of the human person to baptize somebody against their will.  Truth to tell, I just sort of assumed the reader who was asking had known that and so my attention was focused on the question of valid matter, not consent. But the point was true enough.  Forced baptism is an insult to the sacrament and to the person subjected to it. People were very rightly concerned about the integrity of the sacrament, so it worked out to be a good discussion. I'm glad we had it.

Then, the weekend came along and we got this story washing up from the interwebz as Sarah Palin, beloved doyenne of prolife Christians offered this insight about the goodness of torture as she

derided those who she said place an emphasis on political correctness in handling the country’s adversaries “instead of putting the fear of God in our enemies.”
She said later in her address that if “I were in charge” — a line that drew applause from the crowd — “they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

Prescinding from the fact that torture (which is what waterboarding--aka "terror drowning"--is as our own government attested when it executed Japanese for doing it) is gravely and intrinsically evil and therefore condemned by the Church, what amazes me is to hear a supposed "prolife" Christian blithely liken the torture of terror drowning to the holy sacrament of baptism. The technical term for this is "sacrilege" though I think "blasphemy" would also do in a pinch since we are talking about a sacrament in which the Blessed Trinity is present, undertaken in the merciful love of God for our eternal salvation.

Some will no doubt say that because Palin is a Protestant who may or may not have a different theology of baptism from Catholics she should get a pass for this low and ugly punchline in defense of war crimes (again overlooking the fact that, in addition to sacrilege, she is drumming up cheers for the grave sin of torture). Well, if she we were a member of Liberal Protestants for Abortion Rights and brandished a picture of "The Last Supper" with the words "This is MY BODY!" as a gag line for promoting abortion, would she be cut that kind of slack? After all, she also doesn't share the Church's view of the Eucharist either. So would we pull our chins and say, "Hear her out!" if a champion of abortion used such sacrilege to add "humor" to her rhetoric?

Nope. We'd recognize instantly that she committed sacrilege--and did it in order to defend what the Church calls grave intrinsic evil.

The simple fact is this: support for the use of torture strongly correlates to calling oneself a "prolife" conservative Catholic or Evangelical. And the applause Palin received from her overwhelmingly conservative Christian audience for that "joke" only drives that home.  She knew her public and knew that conservative Christians--and especially Catholics according to Pew Research--would eat it up with a spoon.  That is a shocking sin and genuine scandal and it is grimly sinister that Christians who betray Christ by doing so should have this blasphemy of the sacrament of baptism hung around their necks, not by their enemies, but by themselves and with an eager will. There is no excuse for it: only the divine demand of repentance and the divine offer of forgiveness. Support for torture should be as radioactive for prolife Christians as support for abortion. Until it is not, we should only expect to be a laughingstock when call ourselves "prolife".

If we expect our gospel to be credible, we will have to stop leading all other Americans in cheering for this obscenity God hates. Otherwise, Romans 2:24--"God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you"--will be our epitaph.

We're better than this. Let us become what we are by listening to Christ's voice in the Church and not our fears or the winds of doctrine from our culture.

"I reiiterate that the prohibition against torture 'cannot be contravened under any circumstances'." - Pope Benedict XVI

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About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.