Silence from Chaput on Marc Thiessen’s Catholic defense of torture

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput made media-catching public pronouncements during the Democratic National Convention here that Catholic pro-choice then-Senator Joseph Biden should not take communion while he was in town. It was a strong anti-abortion political statement. U.S. bishops have taken very public similar stances against pro-choice Catholic lawmakers Patrick Kennedy and John Kerry.

But, as the Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan and his readers have pointed out this week, the bishops have responded only with silence after a major Catholic Republican figure appeared on Catholic television to stand by his advocacy of torture in the War on Terror and argue that the torture was in-line with Catholic teaching.

Marc Thiessen is the man in question. He is a Catholic right-wing pundit and was a speechwriter for Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush after 9/11. He continues to be a top torture apologist and appeared on Catholic cable channel EWTN this week defending torture as compatible with the magisterium, or the Church teachings that issue from the Pope.

So far, no Bishop, including Chaput, has called on priests to deny Thiessen communion. No Bishop, including Chaput, has even attempted to publicly refute Thiessen’s argument that the Church teaching supports torture in the War on Terror.

Thiessen: “First, my mother was a prisoner of war in Poland… she was protected by the 1929 Geneva Conventions. So the Geneva Conventions are important. Secondly, I’m a Catholic. I try the best I can to live up to the magisterium of the Church in my life. So for me it was important to understand that these techniques were effective, they were necessary, that there was no other way to get the information and that they were carried out in a moral way.”

Thiessen says he couldn’t address misconceptions about the “enhanced interrogations” because the techniques were confidential.

He says “torture wasn’t used to get intelligence. It was used to get the victims to cooperate.”

He also says Abu Zubaydah thanked his interrogators for waterboarding him. “Why would he thank us?” Thiessen asks his Catholic viewers.

Catholic Sullivan’s pained response is worth reading in full. Here’s an excerpt of his response and of his explanation for the silence of the bishops:

It is, I fear, a function of the stranglehold that political and Republican partisan theo-conservatives now have on the hierarchy, aided and abetted by the current Pontiff. And there is an obvious distinction here. No one is suggesting that Patrick Kennedy or John Kerry have personally performed or authorized an abortion. They have taken the position that in a free society, where there is a genuine conscientious debate on this question, the state should permit private citizens to make such a choice…

But Marc Thiessen went on a Catholic television station, self-identified as a Catholic, invoked the Magisterium and presented the torture of human beings as perfectly consonant with Catholic teaching – and actually in accordance with just war Catholic teaching. And his [Catholic] interviewer clearly agreed with him. Not so long ago, Thiessen was a public official writing speeches for a vice-president who directly authorized – and monitored – the torture of human beings. This makes him an accessory to an intrinsic evil and subject in due course to war crimes prosecution, if the United States were still a serious signatory to Geneva (which it clearly isn’t). That Thiessen would now actually be going on Catholic television to mislead and misrepresent in grotesque fashion a position that the Bishops have declared is never justified is surely far worse an offense than any of the pro-choice politicians the Bishops have made such a public fuss over.

I think the hierarchy’s refusal to tackle this head-on has been a great and saddening failure. I noted when the Pope met with Bush that he made no statement whatever about the question of torture, and I am sorry to say I believe the silence of the hierarchy is a political silence, designed to promote one political party – not to defend a core teaching. If they can speak out in defense of illegal immigrants, and on the death penalty, they can surely speak out with blinding clarity on what the Bush-Cheney administration did to abuse, torture and rob imprisoned human beings of the last shred of human dignity they had – without even subjecting them to minimal standards of due process. They did this – and this is simply an incontrovertible fact – to the innocent as well as the guilty, and they made no serious attempt to distinguish between the two.

I think the Bishops and Cardinals in the US need to speak out directly and loudly and insistently on this and demand a Truth Commission to get to the bottom of it. I think we need a homily sent to every parish. I think we need in every state the kind of stand that the hierarchy has taken on a much more minor issue, like civil marriage rights for gay couples. And I believe it is a scandal – an absolute scandal – that the hierarchy has been so absent at a time when bearing witness to this intrinsic evil, conducted directly by the government itself, is so necessary for the future of our civilization and the integrity of this country.

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