As part of the ongoing discussion of torture, I'd like to revisit the question of what Veritatis Splendor has to say on the subject: Does it say that torture is an intrinsic evil?
In section 80 of the document, JP2 states:
Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature "incapable of being ordered" to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed "intrinsically evil" (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that "there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object."
He then offers an illustrative quotation from the Vatican II constitution Gaudium et Spes, writing:
The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts:
"Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator."
Now, the fact that we have two different documents being stitched in this fashion automatically raises questions for one familiar with the way Vatican documents work. Just as when Matthew quotes Hosea's "Out of Egypt I called my son," you have to recognize that the words being quoted may not have absolutely the same signification in the document doing the quoting as they have in the original. Thus in the case of Matthew, the son is Jesus; in the case of Hosea the son is Israel.
Nothing so drastic is likely to be happening in the case of VS quoting GS, but you still have to ask the question of whether any adaptation is going on and what the nature of the declaration is in the original document.
As Cardinal Dulles points out,
In 1993, in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II took, from Vatican II’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, a long list of social evils. . . . Where Vatican II had called these practices “shameful” (probra), John Paul II calls them “intrinsically evil.”
And that's true. Vatican II did apply a different term to them than JP2 did. Translations of this term will vary. The translation of GS on the Vatican web site renders probra as "infamies." It could also be translated "disgraces," "abuses," "insults," "shameful things." But however the term is translated, it is clear that Vatican II did not set before itself the task of producing a list of intrinsically evil items. It was just trying to produce a list of clear social evils.
Whether, in trying to produce a list of social evils, it also produced a technical list of intrinsically evil items (that is, a list in which every item can be counted as intrinsically evil without further qualification--i.e., technically) is a serious question. It wasn't what they were trying to do, and we must ask ourselves whether John Paul II held them to have done this.
When we look at the content of the list, it becomes very hard to sustain that John Paul II regarded GS as providing a list of items that--without further qualification--can stand as a list of intrinsically evil items.
The reason is that multiple items on the list--as they are stated--clearly can be performed in some circumstances. This means that--as stated--they are not intrinsically immoral since intrinsically immoral acts can never be performed. In order to fish out from the list items that are intrinsically immoral, one must go beyond the items as they are phrased and offer further qualifications. Let's look at some examples:
1) Any kind of homicide: This is an obvious example of something that has unstated qualifiers, otherwise it would prohibit not only murder, genocide, euthanasia, and abortion, it would also prohibit killing in wartime, killing in self-defense, and capital punishment--none of which were being prohibited by Gaudium et Spes. Yet you would never guess this from the wording alone. The inclusion of "any kind of" in front of "homicide" would on its face preclude any form of killing a human being whatsoever, including those known to be legitimate. Right from the very first item on the list, therefore, it is apparent that the council is speaking in a general way that must be understood in light of unspoken qualifiers and one cannot simply look at the wording and read off a list of things that are intrinsically immoral and therefore never permissible.
2) Abortion: Even the inclusion of "abortion" on the list does not preclude the presence of unstated qualifiers in its case, because when John Paul II got around to offering us a technical statement on the impermissibility of abortion in Evangelium Vitae 62, he said that what was always immoral was "direct abortion" which he defined as "abortion willed as an end or as a means," thus allowing the possibility of "indirect abortions," where the death of the child is neither an end nor a means, as in the case of removing a cancerous uterus. Once again we thus detect an unstated qualifier in the list.
3) Mutilation: Here the Catechism provides an illustration of unstated qualifiers. It isn't any and all mutilations that are intrinsically evil. Instead, "Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law" (CCC 2297). Thus we have two unstated qualifiers since the Catechism leaves open the possibility of amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations being performed "for strictly therapeutic medical reasons" or "on [non-]innocent persons."
4) Attempts to coerce the spirit: This is an extraordinarily vague phrase. Presumably, it refers to something like brainwashing or propagandistic efforts or forced conversions, but clearly additional qualifications are going to have to be made to distinguish "attempts to coerce the spirit" from persuasion or education or evangelization.
5) Subhuman living conditions: On this one Cardinal Dulles points out, "But could not degrading or subhuman conditions be inevitable, for example, after some great natural disaster in which mere survival is an achievement?" Indeed! Not only is "subhuman" a vague modifier that is going to have to be further unpacked, but one will also have to clarify who or what is causing these living conditions. So we have to find more unstated qualifiers in order to cash this out in terms of something intrinsically evil.
6) Deportation: Cardinal Dulles again: "Individual deportations of undesirable aliens occur continually as a matter of national policy today; mass deportations could perhaps be necessary for the sake of peace and security." Further, the Catechism notes that: "Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption" (CCC 2241).
Now, I have heard it argued that there is a stated qualifier on deportation and that this qualifier is "arbitrary."
This is false and cannot be defended based on the Latin original, which at this point reads:
ut [a] infrahumanae vivendi condiciones, [b] arbitrariae incarcerationes, [c] deportationes, [d] servitus, [e] prostitutio, [f] mercatus mulierum et iuvenum;
The term "arbitrary" (arbitrariae) occurs in the second item [b] of a six-item list and is naturally understood as the modifier of "incarcerations" (incarcerationes) only. If it were modifying the whole list of items, it would have to come at the front of the list (element [a]), and it doesn't. That also would make no sense since it would result in the Council condeming "arbitrary prostitution" among other things.
It has been argued that "arbitrary" applies not only to "incarcerations" but also "deportations" on the grounds that the Latin word for "arbitrary" is plural, but that is because it is modifying a plural noun--"incarcerations."
The fact that "incarcerations" is followed by another plural word "deportations" does not allow the plural "arbitrary" to cover it too, because they are separate list items and, for it to cover both of them, they would need to be joined with a conjunction so as to form a single list element. It would at least be arguable that "arbitrary" applied to both if they were joined by a conjunction (e.g., "arbitrariae incarcerationes et deportationes" or "arbitrariae incarcerationes deportationesque"), but in the absence of a conjunction then the two terms, separated as they are by commas, are functioning in the sentence as distinct list items and you cannot stretch modifiers from one list item to another.
Latin works just the same as English does on this point. If we have the string "books, red fire-engines, shoes, toast, butter, and jam" then you cannot stretch the modifier "red" to cover "shoes" as well as "fire-engines," despite the fact that these are both plural. "Red" modifies "fire-engines" only.
It is thus unsustainable that "deportations" has been modified within the text, which is why Cardinal Dulles points out that it must be modified in some unstated way if we are to pick out something intrinsically evil here.
When one examines the list of social evils that Gaudium et Spes described as "disgraces," one finds that there is a host of unstated qualifiers that must be applied to numerous items in the list--perhaps most, perhaps even more than that--if one wants to convert the list into a series of intrinsically evil acts. Given that even "abortion" has unstated qualifiers that apply to it (i.e., "not as a means or an end"), it might turn out that every single item on the list would have one or more unstated qualifiers that would need to be applied.
Thus Cardinal Dulles concludes:
If pressed, I suspect, the pope would have admitted the need for some qualifications, but he could not have specified these without a rather long excursus that would have been distracting in the framework of his encyclical.
Indeed. Given the magnitude of the unstated qualifier issue, it seems obvious that John Paul II did not intend the quotation from Gaudium et Spes to be taken as a list of intrinsically evil items without further qualification. He was speaking in a more general way that gestured toward the list as containing items that would be intrinsically evil if properly defined, but not as the kind of list where you can simply take a list item and say "This is intrinsically evil--period--with no further qualification."
It seems to me that one either has to accept this more general mode of language on John Paul II's part or one has to say that he was extraordinarily sloppy in his thinking here and appropriated the passage from GS without thinking through the implications of his use of it--a proposition that many would find insulting to his intelligence.
This means that if "torture" is on the list that one cannot simply say "The pope said that torture is intrinsically evil, therefore anything and everything that is to be regarded as torture is intrinsically evil--period--with no further qualification."
This should give significant pause to those who have been depending on a rigid classification of torture as intrinsic evil.
But it gets worse.
An examination of the Latin of the passage strongly suggests that it does not, in fact, condemn "torture."
Torture is a concrete moral concept--like "abortion" or "prostitution"--which is why we refer to it in the singular. The translation of Veritatis Splendor on the Vatican web site thus speaks of "physical and mental torture," but that's not what it says in the Latin.
Here's the full Latin text of the passage from Gaudium et Spes 27:
Quaecumque insuper ipsi vitae adversantur,
ut cuiusvis generis homicidia, genocidia, abortus, euthanasia et ipsum voluntarium suicidium;
quaecumque humanae personae integritatem violant,
ut mutilationes, tormenta corpori mentive inflicta, conatus ipsos animos coërcendi;
quaecumque humanam dignitatem offendunt,
ut infrahumanae vivendi condiciones, arbitrariae incarcerationes, deportationes, servitus, prostitutio, mercatus mulierum et iuvenum;
condiciones quoque laboris ignominiosae, quibus operarii ut mera quaestus instrumenta, non ut liberae et responsabiles personae tractantur:
haec omnia et alia huiusmodi probra quidem sunt, ac dum civilizationem humanam inficiunt, magis eos inquinant qui sic se gerunt, quam eos qui iniuriam patiuntur et Creatoris honori maxime contradicunt.
I've highlighted the words probra and arbitrariae since we've already talked about them and they can serve as anchors to help non-Latinists figure out what in the English translation corresponds to what, but the phrase I want to call your attention to is "tormenta corpori mentive inflicta," which the Vatican web site translation of Veritatis Splendor renders "physical and mental torture."
What it literally says is "torments inflicted on the body or mind."
The word tormenta is a plural form of tormentum, which can mean a variety of things in Latin, such as "windlass," "an instrument for twisting or winding," "an engine for hurling stones," "a rack," "a torture device," "tension," "pressure," "torment," or "torture."
Given this variability of meaning, one has to ask in a particular case which translation is most appropriate. It's pretty obvious here that we aren't talking about windlasses or siege engines or even racks. You could translate the phrase "tortures inflicted on body or mind," but
a) This is not mandated by the language used, and
b) The language is more naturally understood as "torments inflicted on body or mind" (note, among other things, that the Council is using non-technical language at this point, as when it refers to "attempts to coerce the spirit"), and
c) Other translations of the same passage take the phrase this way. If you read the translation of Gaudium et Spes on the Vatican web site, it has "torments inflicted on body or mind." Similarly, if you look at John Paul II's quotation of the same GS passage in Evangelium Vitae 3 then once again we find the translation on the Vatican web site rendering it "torments inflicted on body or mind."
The collapse of the more general "torments inflicted on body or mind" into the more technical "mental or physical torture" is something that happens (so far as I can tell) only in the translation of Veritatis Splendor on the Vatican web site.
This has important implications for the torture debate in the English-language blogosphere:
1) The fact that Veritatis Splendor does not clearly refer to the technical concept of torture means that one cannot assert as fact the idea that Veritatis Splendor says torture is intrinsically evil.
2) If, as it would appear, the translation of VS incorrectly renders the phrase (as suggested by the language itself, its context, and the rendering of the same phrase in other translations) then the discussion of this subject in the English-language Internet community has been significantly distorted by a mistranslation that makes people think that the technical concept of torture has been ruled to be intrinsically evil, when in fact it has not.
3) The more ambiguous phrase "torments inflicted on body or mind" will be more clearly seen to require further qualification in order to find something intrinsically evil within it--as is the case with numerous other items on the list.
4) We will need to say, "Okay, so what differentiates a torment inflicted on body or mind from simple pains that are inflicted on body or mind? We know that it is legitimate to inflict some pains on body or mind, so what kind of pains could be inflicted that would result in a torment?--and are there other unstated qualifiers yet?"
More to come.