As we have noted (cf. A2 above), the process ofmitigating the most brutal laws and customs of pagan Roman societybegan with Constantine himself, and continued in succeedingcenturies. But it was slow process, and the legal use ofinterrogatory torture, unfortunately, was among those practiceswhich continued to be accepted by civil and ecclesial authoritiesalike, in spite of its absence from even Old Testament penalprocedures. As we have seen, even St. Augustine, whose every wordcarried so much prestige in the subsequent centuries ofChristendom, gives the practice his reluctant approval. The greatbishop and doctor seems to regard the various ways in which theinnocent can suffer and even die, under current Roman legalprocedures involving torture, as a kind of deplorable butinevitable "collateral damage", in the attempt (sometimesunsuccessful withal!) to avoid the worse evils of either sentencinginnocent men to death or endangering public order by acquittingwicked criminals. It is, for him, rather like the unavoidablesuffering and death of the innocent that always occurs in even ajust war (which in fact he goes on to discuss in the next sectionof Book 19). Augustine sees this tragic situation arising from theclash of two grim facts of human life after the Fall of man: on theone hand, the need to punish crime justly for the protection ofsociety, and on the other, the frequent great difficulty, or evenimpossibility, of ascertaining who is guilty and who isinnocent.
Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature — that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance — and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?
Torture | International Justice Resource Center
A better key to the true thinking of John PaulII on torture considered and (i.e., not just as one example amongst others in a list of widelyvarying forms of contemporary human suffering) is provided by his1982 allocution at the world headquarters of the Red Cross inGeneva (see B10 above). Here the Pontiff does not use thenatural-law language of "intrinsically" or evilactions. In articles 4 and 7 of the discourse he appeals to, andwarmly endorses, the modern laws outlawingtorture (international conventions and protocols), while in the keyarticle 5 he appeals to the : that is,specifically Christian ethical norms based on the teaching andexample of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels. It is true that "humandignity", to which the Pope also appeals in this passage, is anattribute of human as such. However, given theinevitable element of subjectivity entering into decisions as tojust how severely or leniently malefactors should treated, it isnot always possible to say, with respect to a given specific penalpractice, that it either is, or is not,compatible with this natural dignity. Some such practices can begiven such a clear-cut, universal ethical qualification, whetherpositive or negative. But there are other, more‘borderline’, methods employed in combating crime whichit seems inappropriate to try to evaluate simplistically in suchabsolute, black-and-white terms. These are better judged in termsof being "more" or "less" compatible with human dignity. The endorses this nuancedapproach with respect to capital punishment. While not excluding itas intrinsically evil (that is, as incompatiblewith human dignity), the takes the position thatit should now rarely if ever be used, since public order can bemaintained with other penalties that are "more in conformity to thedignity of the human person". With this hermeneuticalcriterion mind, it is easier to see how those who wish to apply themerciful Law of Christ to human social and legal questions willtake the prudential (not strictly doctrinal) decision that certainof these measures that are "less" rather than "more" compatiblewith human dignity are under contemporary circumstancesunjustifiable and so should be simply proscribedand abolished.