Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

A young soldier has been asked to torture a prisoner believed to have knowledge of an imminent, massive attack on Canadian soil. If you were a military chaplain, what guidance could you offer the young man when he comes to you with moral doubts about this?

Upon hearing this young soldiers predicament, firstly, I would ask myself if torture could ever be justified, especially in the case of terrorism to which he refers. Many innocent people are potentially at risk. Can the military torture a prisoner in order to save them? The simple answer is no. The deliberate infliction of pain to force a suspect to confess is never permissible. Even here, the end does not justify the means.

The reason I say this is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us in number 2297: "Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confession, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity." The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, in paragraph 404, says that "in carrying out investigations, the regulation against the use of torture, even in the case of serious crimes, must be strictly observed".

Secondly, I would consult with a military chaplain. He told me that all forms of torture are strictly forbidden in the Canadian military. Chaplains are required to react to the slightest evidence of this being considered. If their advice is not taken by those concerned, they are required to go up the chain of command in order to ensure that it does not happen.

So, this is what I would tell the soldier: I would explain the Churchs teaching on torture and the results of my consultation with the military chaplain. I would suggest that (s)he seek an appointment with the chaplain who is assigned to his unit and seek his help in ensuring that the torture never take place. Most of all, however, I would suggest that we pray for everyone involved, including the alleged terrorist, that, despite the odds, Gods will prevail.