One of the objections I've heard so far from Catholics regarding the torture debate is this one: abortion is a much graver evil. Innocent unborn children lose their lives to abortion in alarming numbers. More than fifty million children have been killed by abortion since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down by the Supreme Court. So why discuss torture?
The glib answer is that pro-lifers can do more than one thing. The question, after all, isn't unlike the question which asks why pro-lifers pray outside clinics instead of fighting poverty through community or political activism--the assumption is made that it's not possible to be really pro-life and truly concerned about poverty or injustice at the same time. It's a silly assumption, and I don't wonder that many people brush such assumptions aside with a glib response.
The reality is that many, if not most, Catholics who are against torture are also very pro-life. Speaking for myself, I don't see why concern and care for the unborn, the soul of the woman contemplating abortion, or the souls of those who participate in or condone it is in any way in opposition to or competition with concern and care for the victim of torture, the soul of his abuser(s), or the souls of those who participate in or condone torture on political or any other grounds.
So why focus on torture? I think there's a compelling reason, and it is this: no one can seriously claim to be confused about what the Church teaches about abortion. No one, not even groups like "Catholics for a Free Choice," can pretend that there's a lot of gray area, and that the Church actually means to approve of abortion in some circumstances, etc. What they can do, and proudly claim to do, is dissent from Church teaching. They say, in effect, that they know perfectly well that the Church calls abortion a grave moral evil--they just disagree with that teaching.
However, the same is not true when we're speaking about torture. Many Catholics claim to be confused about what the Church teaches about torture. Many have never seen the passage from Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Veritatis Splendor" which discusses intrinsic evil and lists torture as being among such evils. Many have not seen the passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which mentions torture, or any other documents or writings about it.
The lack of education on this particular moral issue has had some grave results. Consider, for instance, this Pew Forum survey of attitudes toward torture by people of various faiths. The question asked was this: "Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?"
Catholics answered this way: 19% replied "often justified," 32% said "sometimes justified," 27% said "rarely justified," and only 20% said "never justified." Think about this--over half of the Catholics asked the question said that torture could often or sometimes be justified if it were being used against suspected terrorists to gain important information--and only 20% said it was never justified, the position the Church takes.
We need to talk about the Church's teaching on torture not to draw attention away from the innocent unborn whose lives must be protected, but to raise awareness among Catholics about this issue. In our understandable zeal to protect the unborn, we shouldn't become complaisant about other moral ills.