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Characterizing it as a "moral scandal," Andrew Sullivan made this point yesterday and it's one that deserves more attention, especially from the catholic arbiters of virtue. The emphasis they place on conservative issues like marriage equality and abortion so often trump...apparently less conservative issues like torture, and I am left wondering why.

Sullivan cites Rich Lowry's mock-worthy praise of Santorum for his opposition to prenatal testing as a defense of human dignity.

Although his critics will never credit him for it, Santorum’s social conservatism brings with it an unstinting devotion to human dignity, a touchstone for the former senator. The latest position for which he’s taking incoming is his opposition to a government mandate for insurance coverage of prenatal testing often used to identify handicapped babies who are subsequently aborted. For his detractors, his respect for the disabled is trumped by his unforgivable opposition to abortion.
Human dignity. This is not something I tend to associate with an aggressive defense of torture, that is, 'enhanced interrogation techniques,' a position to which Santorum also offers unstinting devotion. To the point of telling torture victim John McCain that he didn't understand it! Not that I love John McCain, you ex-maverick you, but it takes some nerve to tell someone like McCain that he doesn't know from torture. So there might be some reason why critics of Santorum fail to offer credit -- since it's not due.

Of course, from what I have read, Andrew Sullivan would not exactly find Santorum's opposition to abortion 'unforgivable'. So in this case, I don't think Lowry's criticism holds water.

Sullivan offers some excerpts from the catholic catechism to show just what religious principles Rick Santorum is violating, while going around the country playing who's the better christian. But in going directly to the source at the Vatican's website, I see that history is repeating itself; history that the church wrote into its own rules, and yet they still fail to heed the message. Hypocrites.

I've bolded what seems like the most relevant section on torture, which Sullivan uses to demonstrate that Rick Santorum is a "publicly Catholic foe of human dignity."

Respect for bodily integrity

2297 Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.91

2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

Now, I don't need the church to tell me what is morally right or wrong. Nor do I need them for history lessons. But given that Santorum attempts to portray himself as the uber-catholic, one might think that the church would hold him accountable for this evident failure to live up to their principles.

Sullivan didn't include the second section, but I found it interesting. "In times past," eh? What about in times present? One might think that the church would recognize history repeating itself and speak out. And I have seen some protest from some more liberal members of the priesthood, to their credit. But why does it never rise to the same level of high priestly dudgeon? Why do the national news services explode with the public outcry over contraception but not torture? Where are the conservative blowhards like archbishop Timothy Dolan? More and more about 'gay marriage' and abortion and birth control pills and threats to withhold their sacred cracker. Much sound and fury for conservative causes; but for torture, only weak tea.

In a reasonable attempt at consistency, Sullivan states plainly where he differs from the church. I can understand why Rick Santorum might find it politically expedient to be inconsistent. And that's why it falls to others to call him out.

I conscientiously dissent from the Magisterium on marriage equality, contraception, and women and married priests. But I publicly acknowledge that I am dissenting and this is not the hierarchy's view and that I am not representing the Magisterium. Santorum, it seems to me, needs to be just as explicit in his statement that he dissents from his own church on the question of the inviolable dignity of the human person. He is advocating crimes "deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles". He is proposing to "break" a human person, without even due process. He is standing as the publicly Catholic foe of human dignity.
Now, I realize that Andrew Sullivan describes himself as a conservative, and I certainly differ from him on many of his political positions. He might come off sounding like a liberal on this issue and while some hardcore conservatives may call him liberal, I don't buy it. I doubt I'll make a habit of citing this fellow when it comes to reasonable arguments. He'd probably be more on the church's side if the question were about abortion.

But like Sullivan, I question why this issue of torture is obviously not as important to the church as, say, health insurance coverage for contraception. It seems as if the rule from the priestly class, as with pro-lifers in general, is really 'pro-life until you're born, then all bets are off.' What does their spirited defense of human zygotes and embryos matter when they don't care what warmongering torture enthusiasts like Rick Santorum do with those lives after birth?

It is a sad state of affairs that opposition to torture or the euphemistic bullcrap 'enhanced interrogation' has somehow become more of a liberal cause. Torture clearly does not fit with the pretty picture Santorum paints of himself as the champion of human dignity.

Originally posted to The Tytalan Way on Thu Feb 23, 2012 at 10:16 AM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Community Spotlight.

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