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Inconvenient Grace



Photo by Nazareth College; some rights reserved.

Spring Commencement at Franciscan University is an exciting event. While some graduates may be so exhausted, nervous, or distracted that they do not even process the entire commencement speech, they generally expect the speaker to endorse the school's Catholic values. This is anticipated even if the speaker is not Catholic; while Franciscan employs quite a few non-Catholic individuals, they ask that all people involved with FUS in an official role "understand and support the mission of Franciscan University of Steubenville" (

What exactly is the mission of Franciscan University? A statement on Franciscan's website declares that the University "hold[s] faithfully to the teaching authority of the Magisterium while boldly pursuing all truth accessible to the curious mind . . . [i]n the classroom, on campus, and beyond, every University activity arises from our commitment to promote the moral, spiritual and religious values our students need . . . " (

Why examine Franciscan's goals? This year's commencement speaker was General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and advanced interrogation advocate. To not only honor a pro-torture individual, but invite them to serve as the commencement speaker, seems contrary to a truly pro-life, truly Catholic "mission." This is a hypocrisy that any thoughtful person -- pro-life or pro-choice -- should be able to point out.

"Pro-torture" is a harsh term that should not be applied to any individual without first examining his or her own words. What precisely has Hayden condoned? A year ago he wrote in The Wall Street Journal (my italics added):

"I've been personally asked about the appropriateness of waterboarding and -- recognizing the immense challenge of balancing harsh treatment with saving innocent lives -- usually respond: 'I thank God that I did not have to make that decision.' At the same time, I thank those who preceded me, made such decisions and thereby spared me the worst of the dilemma. Those who deny the usefulness of enhanced interrogation techniques might consider similar caution." (

Just in case one finds that paragraph to be too noncommittal, the subtitle of Hayden's article was: "The latest lunacy to get a popular hearing is the idea that the harsh CIA interrogations yielded no useful information" (

Imagine an intelligent, well-spoken pro-choice advocate making a similar statement about abortion -- perhaps something about "recognizing the immense challenge of balancing the harsh treatment of fetuses . . . " Franciscan University would never consider honoring this hypothetical advocate, and representatives of the University would probably speak out against said advocate's destructive attitude. How can the University act this hypocritically?

Catholics and non-Catholics alike may have the same question at this point: does the Church actually say anything explicitly about the use of torture?

The Catholic Church's stance on torture is explicit and unwavering. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares:

"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." (Catholic Church 2297)

Vatican II's document Gaudium et Spes similarly states:

"[W]hatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity . . . all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed . . . they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury." (Gaudium et Spes para. 27)

But surely that must be taken with a grain of salt, a Catholic may protest. Aren't there extenuating circumstances? Keep in mind that many pro-choice advocates use very similar phrases.

It is easy for all of us to respect life when it is convenient for us. The pro-life contingent commonly makes the following accusation of pro-choice individuals: "They're disregarding life because respecting it would be inconvenient for them." Certainly disregarding human dignity in any capacity is wrong; however, this is far from the only case of disrespect based on convenience. It is convenient for us to think that someone who has committed evil acts deserves "whatever is coming to them."

A common argument against calling this "hypocrisy" is that an innocent child's life is not the same as the life of a potential criminal or terrorist. Obviously an unborn child is innocent of any intentional act, and a potentially dangerous criminal may be guilty of horrific evil. However, if we believe that those who have committed evil acts deserve "whatever is coming to them," there is little that separates us from a dangerous, vengeful vigilante à la Liam Neeson in Taken.

Pro-choice advocates are often, in my personal experience, highly-educated, well-spoken, thoughtful individuals who will spot any hypocrisy in your worldview as quickly as you point out the flaws in their own. If you truly desire to be taken seriously, then you must ask yourself if you are being consistent in your desire to respect life. People will not -- should not -- take you seriously if you only respect the dignity of the human person when it is personally convenient to you.


Photo by Beatrice Murch; some rights reserved.


“Franciscan University to Honor Three at Commencement”. Franciscan University of Steubenville, 4 April 2012. Web. 27 June 2012.

“Passionately Catholic”. Franciscan University of Steubenville, n.d. Web. 27 June 2012.

Hayden, Michael. “Birthers, Truthers, and Interrogation Deniers.” The Wall Street Journal, 2 June 2011. Web. 27 June 2012.

Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice

Vaticana, 2000. Print.

Pastoral Constitution On The Church In The Modern World — Gaudium et Spes Promulgated by Pope Paul VI. [Vatican City]: 1965.


Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

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