International day in support of torture victims

Homily by Father Michael Lapsley

Homily by Father Michael Lapsley SSM on torture
at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town on 28/06/2015
commemorating the UN day in support of torture victims.

“What has torture got to do with us as Christians
Jesus was tortured to death.....if you are a Christian you are a follower of the tortured one. The cross was a torture weapon.
As Christians we cannot be neutral on the question of torture
On the Cross, Jesus felt abandoned and desolate : My God, my God, why have you abandoned me”

The backdrop to today’s focus on torture are the events of this week. The racist murders of Black Christians in a Bible study Charleston in the US ; even the visit of the Cuban 5 this week, who were held in solitary confinement for 17 months and then spent 16 years in prison for crimes they did not commit ; the terror attacks in Tunisia, France and Kuwait AND for all South Africans, the release of the report on the Marikana massacre....the darkest day in South Africa’s post 94 history.

As far as I could see, the report brought little comfort for those who lost their loved ones on those fateful days. The Commission appears to have absolved members of the executive of any responsibility for what happened.....However that does not mean that in reality, the political class has no political and moral responsibility for what happened.
As a society we allowed the remilitarisation of the police.

So what do you think about torture ? Do we sometimes justify torture ? If you are against it...why ?

‘Torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

In the late 1980s in South Africa, there were 10,000 children under the age of 18 in detention, 90% of whom were tortured. Torture was used not primarily to gain information but rather to break the will of a people to be free. They tortured the bodies to try and destroy the spirit.

Torture does not just happen in prisons and police stations
If a child is bullied by a teacher it is a form of torture.

What has torture got to do with us as Christians
Jesus was tortured to death.....if you are a Christian you are a follower of the tortured one. The cross was a torture weapon.
As Christians we cannot be neutral on the question of torture.
On the Cross, Jesus felt abandoned and desolate : My God, my God, why have you abandoned me
How many torture victims said the words of today’s Psalm No 130 :

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2 Lord, hear my voice !
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications !
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope ;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

A couple of years ago this Cathedral Church was filled at a Memorial service for the veteran political activist Johnny Issel.
Ďuring the struggle years Johnny was severely tortured whilst in detention. Many years later, at his request, Johnny met with his torturer.
During the encounter Johnny asked the man who tortured him about his life. It became apparent to Johnny that his torturer had nothing to show for his life whilst he, Johnny, was widely respected. He felt sorry for the torturer. Johnny asked us as a matter of urgency to work with his erstwhile oppressors for the sake of their healing.

When we became a democracy the torturers were not fired. The instruments of torture were not removed.

Johnny was what we might call a popular victim. The victims of torture in today’s South Africa are often what we may call unpopular victims.
Last year the police watchdog briefed the Provincial Legislature and revealed more than 1,100 cases of torture and assault involving Western Cape police officials were reported over the past financial year, reportedly the highest in the country.
Torture is still continuing today on a considerable scale in the mistaken belief that it will defeat gangsterism.

Torture victims demand and wait for accountability, to be believed, for what has been done to them to be condemned, for healing and for reparations.
Who are these unpopular victims ? Gang members, their families, criminals, asylum seekers...people who have no political leverage.

It took us nearly 20 years for South Africa to bring a torture bill into domestic law.
Despite the widespread use of torture in South Africa, no one has been tried for Torture because the state has not provided the necessary regulations to accompany the legislation.

According to the UN definition, torture refers to what is done by state officials.
However we know that there are many acts of torture carried out by private individuals behind bedroom doors in both gender based violence and child abuse. There have also been horrendous acts of torture against black lesbians.

There is a myth that if we use torture against our enemies the world will become a safer place. The evidence suggests the opposite.
During the TRC there were more than 3000 stories of torture documented, The TRC also agreed that apartheid was a crime against humanity.
At the same time the TRC rightly said that regardless of who tortured, the apartheid regime or the forces for liberation, torture was and is always morally wrong. In so doing the Commission helped restore the moral order.

We can be proud that our church provided the home to the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture.
We give thanks for the work of the Institute for Healing of Memories.
But what can each of us do to help stop torture ?

Firstly we can educate ourselves about torture. I think we all know Miss Google.
Type in the search engine : Torture in South Africa and you will find plenty of information
You can read on line about the NGO : Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture.
You can support the work of Amnesty international
How many of you are on Facebook ? Please write on your FB page today why we as Christians should be against torture.
Support calls for accountability, redress, treatment and reparation for all victims of torture.
Pray regularly for torture victims and for the end of the death penalty everywhere.....the worst form of torture
Pray that those who torture others will stop.

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador,was murdered in 1980 because of his support for the poor and suffering people of his country. They regard him as a saint.
St Oscar Romero had this to say :

Whoever tortures a human being,
Whoever abuses a human being,
Whoever outrages a human being
Abuses God’s image,
And the church takes as its own
That cross, that martyrdom.

Let us pray for all those who torture other human beings.
We pray for all those who work for the end of torture everywhere, May we all be included in that number
Lord Jesus,
You experienced in prison the suffering and death of a prisoner of conscience.
You were plotted against, betrayed by a friend, and arrested under cover of darkness by men who came with clubs and swords.
You were tortured, beaten and humiliated, and sentenced to an agonizing death though you had done no wrong.
Be now with prisoners throughout the world.
Be with them in the darkness of the dungeon, in the loneliness of separation from those they love ;
Be with them in their fear of what may come to them, in the agony of their torture and in the face of execution and death.
Stretch out your hands in power to break their chains and open the gates of freedom, so that your kingdom of justice may be established now among them.


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