Does the Church Have a ‘Just-Torture’ Theory?

I have read repeatedly Church leaders’ criticisms of America and her allies and the war on terror. But Mark Shea’s column “A Means to an End? Tortured Morality” (Nov. 12-18) goes over the top.

I have never heard of any media accounts of inhumane treatment of children by American interrogators. I expect the Register to fully document Mr. Shea’s sources of these changes.

I, too, desperately desire to defend America against Islamic extremists and yet not engage in torture. But what is torture? I believe torture is doing irreparable mental, psychological or physical harm or mutilation. Being made uncomfortable, sleep deprived or filled with anguish does not fit the bill.

As a practicing Catholic, I know I need a lot of practice before I can come anywhere near to understanding the lofty thoughts of theologians and saints. So I must confess I have little regard for the human dignity of mass murderers.

Which leads to the larger issue of the Vatican’s insistence that the war in Iraq is unwise and unjust. I have never heard from Catholic thinkers and the Vatican just what is to be done about Islamic terrorists and those nations that are in league with them.

The just-war theory is inadequate because one man with one weapon can cause tens of thousands of casualties in an instant. No longer can it be expected that an adversary will give notice of impending hostility by amassing forces for weeks in advance.

The economic embargo of Iraq was cruel to the Iraqi people. The oil-for-food program was corrupted by profiteering nations, including some members of the U.N. Security Council. The United Nations is inept and unable to enforce a single one of a dozen resolutions over a 10-year period against Saddam Hussein’s ambitions, and most European nations are either too cowardly to deal directly with Islamic terrorism or are more interested in enhancing their own prestige by impulsively defying America.

The Vatican’s advice is to pray and hope bad things will disappear. The president has a sworn duty to act decisively with the information at hand to protect America here and now. He would be hard pressed to convince Americans to accept murder by fanatics so as to be martyrs for peace.

As for dialogue, it is impossible to negotiate with people whose sole goal is your demise. Even God did not engage in endless dialogue with the master of lies and murder, Lucifer. Sometimes evil must be confronted by force.

Mike McKay

Wauconda, Illinois

Mark Shea seems to have forgotten that, on 9/11, the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by suicidal Islamic terrorists.

The brutal and ruthless enemy we face today is not aligned with any particular nation and invokes the name of God and religion in its attempts to impose its ideology on the rest of the world. Since 9/11, the people in this country, except for our brave men and women in the armed forces, have been perfectly safe because of all the stopgap measures that have been put into effect by President Bush and Congress to disrupt this enemy’s planning and execution of further attacks.

This process has worked flawlessly to keep the citizens of this country safe. Now is not the time to equivocate on the methods used to get intelligence to keep our citizens safe from the next attack, which undoubtedly will be of unimaginable proportions using weapons of mass destruction. The methods used by the CIA that Mr. Shea characterizes as torture pale in significance when compared with those used by the Axis powers in WWII, the North Koreans during the Korean war and those used against our pilots at the Hanoi Hilton in North Vietnam. Just recently it was CIA intelligence gathered with this methodology that prevented the catastrophic detonation of 10 American airliners over the Atlantic on their arrival at their U.S. destination.

Mr. Shea’s conclusion of applying Christian morality when interrogating these ruthless fanatical terrorists is a farcical solution to the toughest challenge for survival our nation has ever faced.

Mr. Shea, we are dealing with monsters who strap bombs on their own children to further their political agenda. So stop this sanctimonious pontificating and leave it to people who have the expertise to handle these matters of national security.

Thomas J. Magner

Colonel USAF (Ret.)

San Antonio, Texas

Mark Shea responds: The account of the questioning of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the threats made against his children comes from Ron Suskind’s book The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of its Enemies since 9/11. You can read it for yourself. The book documents its claims quite well.

In my column, I restricted myself to just a few things done in our abusive treatment of prisoners: cold cells, waterboarding and “long time standing.” All of these techniques are things that any reasonable person would call “torture.” They and other techniques (including “Palestinian hanging”) have resulted in the injury and even death of prisoners in our charge.

These letters take the standard torture-apologetic tactic of insulting the Church’s teaching on just war while giving carte blanche to whatever brutalities the administration might wish to commit.

No, the reality is this: According to the Church, torture is intrinsically immoral. (See Veritatis Splendor, No. 80.) That means it cannot be justified under any circumstance. Our country has practiced and is practicing torture, thinking that it will keep us safe. It will not. It will only breed more evil, in no small part because a not-insignificant number of victims were innocent, as at Abu Ghraib.

The question is not, “What is torture?” or “How close can we get to torturing people without crossing the line?” The question is: “How do we obey the Church’s teaching and treat prisoners humanely while still getting the intelligence we need?” This was the question in every previous war and absolutely nothing, except for a coarsened American attitude to human life and dignity and a false notion that brutality equals “efficiency,” has changed that.

Pennsylvania Pluck

Reading the commentary “Culture of Life Takes a Beating in Pennsylvania” (Nov. 12-18), one might make the assumption that pro-lifers in the Keystone State are demoralized by Election ’06. But, despite the defeat of some strongly pro-life candidates on Election Day, the prospects for a restoration of the culture of life in Pennsylvania are actually quite bright.

Miraculously, despite an anti-incumbent tidal wave, Pennsylvania has been able to retain a pro-life majority in the state Legislature. And, overcoming an intense battle for control of Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, pro-life Congressman Jim Gerlach defeated pro-abortion Democrat Lois Murphy, a former employee of the National Abortion Rights Action League.

Pro-life Pennsylvanians are grateful to U.S. Senator Rick Santorum and Congressional Representatives Melissa Hart, Mike Fitzpatrick, Don Sherwood and Curt Weldon for their pro-life stands. Their defeats appear to have nothing to do with the pro-life issue, but can be attributed to a host of other factors, as reported in the major news media.

Rather than focusing too heavily on the defeats of individual candidates, it’s time to redouble our efforts to ensure that we are ready for the day when Roe v. Wade will fall — as most assuredly it will. And Pennsylvania will play an integral role in the nation’s pro-life renewal.

Maria Vitale

Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Evangelize the Electorate, or Else

Your front page reads, “Catholic Voters Abandon Republicans” (Nov. 19-25). Why is that?

There are multiple reasons, but two are somewhat self-evident. The Catholic Church, with all its priests included as well as all Catholic publications, fell down on the job. They didn’t make the case with the American Catholics. They didn’t emphasize the issues well enough. They were too wishy-washy, afraid that they might offend someone or not be politically correct.

Read the breakdown in Paul Kengor’s column on how Protestants and Catholics voted in Pennsylvania. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves, but where are our shepherds? They didn’t lead. They seemed hesitant to take a firm stand on the issues. The Catholic Church needs an awakening; otherwise, one day our “Catholic senator from Massachusetts’’ will be proposing legislation to tax all religious institutions. That means our Catholic Church is included. The answer is that we must all become evangelists and all be evangelized, just as the early Christians.

It may be that the Church is no longer relevant to its parishioners. They go to Mass on Sundays only to leave and lead their secular lives the other six days and 23 hours. If it fits, I’ll do it; if not, I won’t. I can accept what I want or I can take or leave it. It’s in one ear and out the other. One priest says it’s okay, the other says maybe not so. There’s no longer any oneness in the Church on many issues. The Church may be trying to be flexible in an attempt to please everyone. Ask yourselves: Why is attendance at Mass falling to new lows?

Not only do Catholics have to come up with tough answers, but so does the clergy if our Church and its followers are to become a relevant force in our country. Otherwise we will become a Godless, socialist state.

Dr. John D. Wolski

Elm Grove, Wisconsin


A Register news story, “Catholic Voters Abandon Republicans” (Nov. 19-25), inaccurately depicted Sen. Mike DeWine as opposing a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage. In fact, the pro-life Republican senator from Ohio co-sponsored S.J. Res. 1, the Marriage Protection Amendment. We regret the error.