By John Norton
One of Mark Twain's more memorable quotes is: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
Here's hoping that a recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life falls in the latter category. It says that Catholic Americans are more likely (51 percent) than the general U.S. population (49 percent) to think it is OK to "often" or "sometimes" use torture on suspected terrorists. And Catholics are a full 4 percentage points ahead of the general population in thinking torture can "often" be justified.
Even without Twain's warning, this poll has to be taken with a grain of salt. First, the pollsters don't define what they mean by torture. Second, the polling sample is small: 742 people total, of whom 122 were white, non-Hispanic Catholics.
But the disturbing fact remains that a majority of those Catholics support the use of "torture," whatever they understand it to mean.
This despite the fact that one of our Catholic faith's fundamental moral principles is that the end never justifies the means.
The Vatican's 2004 "Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church" specifically rules out torture: "In carrying out investigations, the regulation against the use of torture, even in the case of serious crimes, must be strictly observed: "Christ's disciple refuses every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify and in which the dignity of man is as much debased in his torturer as in the torturer's victim" [quoting a 1982 address of Pope John Paul II to the International Committee of the Red Cross].
It continues: "International juridical instruments concerning human rights correctly indicate a prohibition against torture as a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstance."
So how do you explain the poll results? Lack of catechesis (confirmed by other polls of Catholics on moral issues like abortion and embryonic stem-cell research)? Blind allegiance to the Republican Party (though a majority of Catholics voted for President Barack Obama)? Cultural influences like the generally positive portrayal of torture in television shows like "24"?
Let me know what you think. Write to the address below, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or, even better for the purposes of participating in a conversation, leave your comments to this column at our website, www.osv.com (navigate to "OSV Newsweekly May 17, 2009").
* * *
Almost exactly a year ago, in our May 11 issue, I wrote about some Catholic neighbors with kids about the same age as ours, including a girl who was suffering from Tay Sachs disease. I am sorry to report that little 5-year-old Rachel has died. Please pray for her family, and for all those who have lost a child.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
blog comments powered by Disqus
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs