The teaching of the Church in the Ordinary Magisterium is indefectible.This argument is valid, but it is not sound. (For those who may not be familiar with these technical terms, an argument is said to be deductively valid when it is not possible for its conclusion to be false when all of its premises are true, and an argument is said to be deductively sound when it is both valid and all of its premises are in fact true.) The difficulty lies not in the structure of the argument, but in its reliance on historical facts of dubious interpretation to carry its conclusion through.
Significant theologians, including John Paul II and, even more significantly, Benedict XVI when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger and, thus, an essential influence on the writing of Veritatis Splendor, have made it clear that certain teachings, when they impinge on matters involving prudential judgments about contingent matters of fact in the temporal realm, are not indefectible.
Historically, the Church has actually required the use of torture:The past sanctioning of torture by popes and councils -going so far as to command kings and princes under pain of excommunication with matters of heresy when these undermined the common good of society- means that torture itself cannot be "intrinsically evil" unless the doctrine of indefectibility is contradicted.Hence, in order to preserve the doctrine of indefectability, we must conclude that the teaching of Veritatis Splendor is not indefectible with regards to the moral status of torture.
Hence, torture is not necessarily per se wrong, and
In fact, given what the Church has done historically, we must conclude that torture is actually morally required under certain circumstances.
In particular, we may note that if it is possible for Veritatis Splendor to be mistaken about the moral status of torture because of the possibility of an appeal to fallible prudential reasoning, then it is equally possible for earlier documents "requiring" the use of torture to be mistaken in their use of prudential judgments to argue for the moral licitness of torture in defense of the common good. This renders the premise regarding the appeal to the alleged historical facts regarding earlier uses of torture either false or hopelessly ambiguous, and this vitiates the soundness of the argument.
It is worth noting at this point that the premise claiming that earlier "popes and councils" actually "sanctioned" torture is in itself hopelessly vague, even independently of its use in this particular argument. We are not told who these popes were, or which councils, or the circumstances under which they are being said to have "sanctioned" torture, or even what the alleged sanctions were other than threats of excommunication for "heresy". It ought to go without saying that this kind of premise is utterly useless if for no other reason than its manifestly controversial nature.
Even putting aside the difficulty of this particular premise, however, it is perhaps even more important to note that the language of Veritatis Splendor is as unambiguous in its condemnation of torture as the interpretation of earlier history regarding the alleged "sanctioning" of torture is ambiguous. So there is one point on which Shawn is quite right: either there has been a mistaken prudential judgment made somewhere, or the indefectibility of the Ordinary Magisterium is on the line.
Here it is essential to see that the judgment of Veritatis Splendor, that torture is per se immoral (or, "intrinsically evil", as Shawn puts it), is not a prudential judgment, but a judgment about matters of faith and morals, the very domain in which the Ordinary Magisterium is regarded by faithful Catholics as indefectible. The judgments of earlier "popes and councils", however, to the effect that the use of torture is the correct way to safeguard the common good, are clearly matters of prudential judgment, matters in which the Ordinary Magisterium is not regarded as indefectible.
So what Shawn has shown, if anything, is that if we are to regard the Church's Ordinary Magisterium as indefectible, we must take Veritatis Splendor to reflect the infallible teaching on the moral status of torture, and we must regard the actions of earlier "popes and councils" who threatened folks with excommunication for not using torture as misguided attempts to safeguard the common good. This is not what he intended to show, however, which is why I regard the argument as "uncharacteristic"--I think he is usually a little more careful than this, and his arguments are often sound as well as valid.