A reader writes:
What would you say to the question of torture? Can it be argued that the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church for centuries allowed the use of torture under certain limited circumstances? And so torture is not in itself sinful?
I would be disinclined to make an ordinary magisterium argument concerning torture. It is not clear to me that the ordinary Magisterium ever significantly entertained the question of torture in its teaching. Churchmen simply assumed that it was a legitimate means of evidence gathering (CCC 2299), and assumptions are assumptions, not doctrines.
I also can't substantively engage the question of torture without a precise definition of what counts as torture in place. Not all forms of physical or psychological pressure count as torture, but the Catechism and other relevant Church documents do not offer a precise definition of what is torture and what is not.
The Catechism's discussion of torture (CCC 2298) focuses significantly on the motive that is being pursued in different acts of torture. If it means us to understand that having a particular motive is necessary for an act to count as torture then it might turn out that some acts commonly described as torture are in fact not torture--just as some acts commonly described as stealing are not actually the sin of stealing, such as taking food to feed one's family during a time of starvation when the person who initially had the food has plenty. The same might turn out to be true of torture (i.e., not everything that looks like torture would be the sin of torture).
For example, the Catechism's list of motives for torture does not mention the use of physical pressure to obtain information needed to save innocent lives. It thus might turn out that it is not torture to twist a terrorist's arm behind him and demand that he tell you where he planted a bomb so that it can be defused and innocents can be saved. Certainly the kind of things that Jack Bauer may do on 24 are very different morally from the kinds of things that happened in Soviet prisons.
I would be disinclined to go the route of saying that torture is not always wrong. I think that the Church is pretty clearly indicating in its recent documents that it wants the word "torture" used in such a way that torture is always wrong. However, I don't think that the Magisterium has yet thoroughly worked out all the kinds of "hard case" situations one can imagine and whether they count as torture.
Different churchmen would probably answer the hard case questions differently, some reflexibly shying away from any use of significant physical or psychological pressure, and others holding that the need to prevent an imminent terrorist attack trumps any right a terrorist might otherwise have not to have pain inflicted on him, so that applying physical pressure in such cases might not count as the sin of torture.