Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lying to Planned Parenthood, or is it mental reservation?

In response to an earlier article, in which I contented that the “sting” operations carried out by Live Action against Planned Parenthood involved lies and are therefore morally unacceptable, I received many comments which involved the doctrine of “mental reservation” – that ambiguous speech can be used in order to deceive another for a just cause. Indeed, there are times when a certain type of mental reservation can be employed legitimately. Nevertheless, as I hope to show, the sting operations of Live Action are not cases of mental reservation, but involve direct lies.
Other comments noted that, if it were wrong for Live Action to carry out these undercover operations, it would seem that all undercover work would be immoral – thus ruling out undercover police work and international espionage. Below, I will contend that we need not conclude that all undercover work (especially when carried out by agents of the State) need be condemned in principle – however, in practice, it will almost always put the individual in a proximate occasion of sin such that great caution must be taken.
What has been most surprising to me is the manner in which many have simply accepted that Live Action has lied to Planned Parenthood, even admitting that lying is wrong, but nevertheless justify this action by claiming that Planned Parenthood is so evil and the pro-life movement is so important that we can commit the “small” evil of a lie in order to stop the great evil of abortion – this reasoning is of the Devil. Whatever our claim may be – whether or not we believe that Live Action has done wrong – we most certainly cannot adopt the old fallacy of “the ends justify the means.”

Is it always wrong to lie?
“The pastor should show how grievously lies and deceit offend God and how deeply they are hated by God. This he should prove from the words of Solomon: Six things there are which the Lord hateth, and the seventh his soul detesteth: haughty eyes, A LYING TONGUE, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that deviseth wicked plots, feet that are swift to run into mischief, a deceitful witness that uttereth lies, etc. Who, then, can protect or save from the severest chastisements the man who is thus the object of God’s special hate? […] Hence liars are excluded from a participation in the bliss of heaven.” (Catechism of Trent, On the Eighth Commandment)
“A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving. […] By its very nature, lying is to be condemned.” (CCC 2482/5)
On account of the fact that lying is a depraved act by its very nature, there is no circumstance in which it is permissible to lie – not even to save innocent life: St. Augustine taught that one must not slay his own soul by lying in order to preserve the life of another. Moreover, it is quite clear that one cannot do a lesser evil in order to prevent another from doing a greater evil – evil actions can only formally co-operate with evil, never with good.
Christ’s own words give us sufficient warning: You are of your father the devil, … truth is not in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof. (John 8:44) Hence, we conclude that any who lie make themselves to be sons of Satan and co-workers in the kingdom of evil. For this reason, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that lying is a sin not only against one’s fellow man, nor society at large, but even against God himself: “A lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.” (2483)
To deceive another by uttering a falsehood is always a lie, and it is always wrong. This absolute prohibition of lying holds always and is not determined by the circumstances of the other to whom the lie is spoken. Hence, one may not lie to another, even if that one has no right to a particular truth – this point is expounded upon in the earlier article. However, there are cases in which, without lying, one may intentionally utter an ambiguity which will lead the other to be deceived. We refer to the doctrine of “mental reservation.”
Mental Reservation: Fr. Miguel Pro was a farmer, but Lila Rose is not a prostitute
“The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. […] No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.” (CCC 2488/9)
While it is always wrong to lie, it must be maintained that one need not always tell the truth (or at least not the whole truth). Sometimes, the proper response in a given circumstance would be to remain silent – neither uttering the truth, nor denying it. In other circumstances, it is permissible to utter an ambiguous statement which, while not being false, is prone to misinterpretation. This latter case involves the concept of mental reservation.
Fr. John Hardon’s “Modern Catholic Dictionary” defines mental reservation as, “Speech in which the common and obvious sense of one’s words is limited to a particular meaning.” Uttering a word or phrase that can be interpreted in two ways, one being true and the other false, the speaker qualifies which interpretation he intends in his own mind, without giving any further indication of that qualification in his speech.
The force of this concept can be most clearly illustrated by examples: Once, St. Francis was approached by a murderer who was looking to kill a certain man who had only recently passed by. The murder asked, “Did this man pass this way?” St. Francis looked toward where the man had run and responded, “He did not pass this way.” – but, concealed under the sleeve of his robe, his finger pointed in the reverse direction.
Another example from the lives of the saints would be the famous case of St. Athanasius who, fleeing from those who were seeking his life, was in a small boat on a river. The men caught up to him, but did not recognize him and asked, “Have you seen Athanasius?” The Saint cried out, “He is just ahead of you, row hard and you will soon overtake him!” The men passed the Saint and continued up the river at great speed!
In these two examples, the phrases uttered were pregnant with ambiguity and easily misinterpreted. However, the words themselves were not false – either the particular words could have two meanings (he is just ahead of you) or the words  were determined by a circumstance which was not widely known (he did not pass this way, “the way” being indicated by hidden finger). Hence, these cases did not involve lies – this is the general doctrine of “broad mental reservation.”
There is, however, a type of mental reservation which is immoral – “strict mental reservation.” The Encyclopedia of Catholicism is most helpful in this matter: “In the strict mental reservation the speaker mentally adds some qualification to the words which he utters, and the words together with the mental qualification make a true assertion in accordance with fact. On the other hand, in a wide [or, “broad”] mental reservation, the qualification comes from the ambiguity of the words themselves, or from the circumstances of time, place, or person in which they are uttered.” On this account, Fr. Hardin (and the Catholic moral tradition) concludes, Strict mental reservation “is actually a lie and is never allowed.” Pope Innocent XI condemned strict mental reservation in 1679.
The real difference between strict and broad mental reservation is that, in the case of broad mental reservation, the words themselves are open to a true interpretation; but, in the case of strict mental reservation, the words are false without the added qualification of the mind.
Again, we consider an example: Fr. Miguel Pro, it is said, during the time of persecution in Mexico, would dress as a farmer and (perhaps) even present himself as a farmer. This would be an example of broad mental reservation – Fr. Miguel has not said, “I am not a priest” (this would be a strict lie); he has said only, “I am a farmer”. There is a real sense in which Fr. Miguel was a farmer – The harvest indeed is great, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:37-38) Fr. Miguel Pro was a “farmer,” insofar as he was cultivating the Lord’s farm, the Church.
Consider, on the other hand, another case (which I do not claim to be historical, but which suffices as an example): Imagine that Lila Rose, the leader of Live Action, were to enter a Planned Parenthood facility and say, “I am a prostitute.” Perhaps, she adds the mental qualification – “I mean, I am pretending to be a prostitute.” This is a case of strict mental reservation – for there is nothing of the circumstances or in the words themselves which would allow for the ambiguity. Indeed, it is quite clear – though Fr. Miguel Pro was a farmer, Lila Rose is not a prostitute. Therefore, Lila Rose would be lying.
Consider a final example: In a play at a theater, a woman comes forward and says, “I am a prostitute.” In reality, however, she is not a prostitute. Here, there is no question whatsoever: This is not a lie – supposing that she is acting in a play, and the circumstances are sufficient to establish the fact that this is a play and not real life. [Indeed, I am perplexed that some people have failed to understand the difference between an undercover sting operation and a theatrical performance – I doubt that such persons have any hope of understanding anything I have written in this or previous articles.]
Lying and undercover agents
Some have objected to my earlier article on account of the fact that it would seem that, if Live Action’s operations are immoral, then all undercover work (including that done by the police and the military) would be condemned as well.
First, I must state clearly that I do not intend to hold that Live Action’s works are immoral because they are undercover – they are immoral because they involve lies. If it were possible for an undercover operation to be accomplished without lies, then it could be moral – in fact, I believe that this may be possible (at least in theory).
We must note that even mental reservations are only to be employed in limited cases – ordinarily, we are not permitted to make use of even broad mental reservation. In fact, the whole theory of mental reservation was developed as a pastoral response to situations in which a person is unwillingly questioned by others – in order to maintain the secrecy of some sensitive information, the man could answer ambiguously when questioned. The Live Action project is doing something very different – they are not passive victims, but are most active in putting themselves into these situations in which they end up not merely making use of mental reservations, but actually lying. I think we can all see the difference between using discreet language when Nazis show up at the door of a German household harboring Jews during World War II and the undercover work of Live Action – the German household did not put themselves into the situation, Live action has sought it out.
The primary reason why even broad mental reservations are to be used only in special cases is that the ambiguity of speech (though not a lie) can be destructive of the good order of society – in general, we ought not to allow others to be deceived by our speech; we ought to speak clearly so that our meaning can be easily known. However, agents of the State are able to be freer in making use of broad mental reservation. On account of the office they hold, the ambiguities of their speech do not threaten the good order of society so severely. It should be noted, by way of analogy, that agents of the State (e.g. police officers) are also able to carry unconcealed weapons (even in schools) – it would destroy the good order of society if everybody could do this, but it actually protects societal order when only the police are allowed to do so. Likewise, undercover police and State spies are able to make use of broad mental reservation much more freely than others.
Therefore, I believe that (in theory) police officers and other State officials are able to participate in undercover sting operations – so long as they do not lie, but only make extensive use of broad mental reservations. Hence, it seems to me that they can even go so far as to say, “I am not a cop,” meaning “I am not now working as a cop” – and this is true, since they wouldn’t blow cover in order to do any ordinary police work. Obviously, I am probably stretching the limits here, but maybe it could be morally legitimate.
I am more certain that the undercover agents could say, “I am a drug dealer” (for example), since they really are selling drugs, even though their ultimate goal is to arrest the drug lord – this example could be applied to other scenarios. What the undercover agents simply cannot say is, “I am not an undercover cop.” That would be a strict lie, and lying is never justifiable.
Truthfully, when it comes to undercover work, I really don’t know what the answer is. I myself am not too keen on undercover work – it seems to put people in extremely difficult moral dilemmas (not just with lying, but with many other sins too – drugs, sex, violence, taking the Lord’s Name, etc.). However, I am doing the best I can to try and reconcile the absolute prohibition of lying with at least some level of undercover work. Obviously, my “answer” is provisional – I do not offer it as a certainty, but as something to at least get thought going in the right general direction.
Finally, I would emphasize that the work of Live Action is quite far from what I am recommending as possibly morally justifiable for agents of the State. Even though an undercover cop may be able to claim, “I am a drug dealer,” the Live Action workers cannot claim, “I am a pimp,” or “I am a prostitute.” The cop really is selling the drugs, but Lila Rose and company are not selling their bodies or those of others. Live Action seems to be a group of vigilantes who are trying to defeat Planned Parenthood (which is good) with lies (which is bad).
Can the Culture of Life win without lies?
“With regard to those who defend their [lying] conduct by saying that to speak the truth is often attended with inconvenience, priests should answer that such an excuse is an accusation, not a defense, since it is the duty of Christians to suffer any inconvenience rather than to utter a falsehood.” (Catechism of Trent)
I will conclude with the final words from my previous article: After thirty-eight years of terrible struggle, there is a danger of despair. Individuals in the pro-life movement may be tempted to lose hope, to think that (without radical actions) abortion will never end. This seems to be at the root of the “sting” operations – no longer content to use the normal and morally acceptable means which God has provided, certain pro-life workers are taking things into their own hands and even attempting to justify objectively sinful actions for the sake of some greater good.
But we must remember that the victory of the Culture of Life is not essentially something within human powers. Death has reigned on earth since the Fall, and it is only conquered through the God-Man, Jesus Christ. He alone will win the victory for Life, he alone will overcome death in the world. It is Christ who will defeat Planned Parenthood, we can only participate in his work. But, Christ is the Truth – and, if we act against the Truth, we act against Christ. If we live not in the Truth, we are no longer pro-life workers, but have already begun to participate in the culture of death.
Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it. (Psalm 126:1)
[Please consider also, the response I have offered to two articles published at here:]


Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. R:

I was a cop for six years including some undercover vice work and later my company "backstopped" an FBI undercover operation for 9 months.
In the real world of law enforcement and intellegence work you can't play the word games you describe. You have to out and out lie. At age 26, I told a pimp, screwed up on angel dust, with a shotgun under his coat, that I would have sex with "his" 19 year old prostitute and pay her well. If I hadn't out and out lied and said anything needed to placate him, the likely outcome is would have been a firefight at about four feet. Given that I had a 2" .38 and he had a sawed off shotgun, both I and the scared little hooker would have probably been dead. If your moral theology is correct, I'll take it up with St. Peter on my judgement day. BTW one good thing was that the young lady was so scared by the incident that she quit hooking, went to beauty school and got her life together.

fatherdannychamps said...


Thanks for some helpful clarifications. I don't want to get into the detective work of real cops, and as you admitted you are only giving a provisional answer there...

What I appreciate most is the distinction in the active/passive role different situations consist of. The serious discussion of Mental Reservation seems to have arisen, in particular, during times of persecution against Catholics in places like England during the Reformation...a key distinction you bring out which is helpful is that of being approached- keeping silence, using wit, or employing a broad mental reservation; AND actually doing the approaching, telling a falsehood and intending to deceive. A lie is not simply intending to deceive, but SPEAKING A FALSEHOOD with the intention to deceive.

Also appreciate recalling for us all that while of course WE must labor hard in the VIneyard, it is Christ Himself who conquers, and it seems that only by being utterly faithful or by trying to be utterly faithful to that will we truly work towards our own salvation and that of others as well.

Thanks Much.

Aaron Haag said...

It seems to me that most any intent to deceive, whether by speaking falsely or truthfully, is a morally wrong action. It seems to me that the only way it can be performed without sin is if one's freedom or knowledge is not sufficient to make one culpable.

Left-footer said...

Anonymous - I'm with you 100%.

And not just because you were an agent of the state. In the last war, Polish Priests forged baptismal certificates for Jewish children, and the underground army AK forged non-Jewish birth certificates. The children were saved.

When we lie to an enemy, we are not lying to God, but to those who have no right to the truth.

"Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves,' said Jesus. Wise and crafty.

I still know I'm a Catholic

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Left-footer (4:20pm),
We would have to see exactly what those "forged" baptismal certificates really said. The Church teaches very clearly that it is a grave sin to forge a document.
Lying is always an offence against God -- the Catechism states this clearly enough.
You quote our Lord's words -- yes, we should be wise as serpents; this is the whole concept of mental reservation. But, if we lie, we become as venomous as the serpents...
Rather than quoting supposed instances from WWII (the particulars of which none here really have much knowledge), why don't we rely on what the Pope's have explicitly taught? "Lying, by its nature, is to be condemned"...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

To all:
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, I would ask that all future comments avoid this stupid old argument of "a lie is not a lie if told to those who have no right to the truth."
THIS WAS SPECIFICALLY REJECTED BY THE CATECHISM. (see the discussion in the comments on the earlier post).

A lie is a falsehood told as the truth -- regardless of whether or not the other person has a right to the truth or not.

If they do not have a right to the truth, then we can make use of mental reservations.
@Aaron Haag, in these cases it is morally permissible to deceive through mental reservation.

Left-footer said...

Reginaldus - is the argument stupid because it is old, or just stupid?

As to WWII, does the name of Irena Sendlerowa mean nothing? You can Google it.

I do know that at Mass here in rural Poland I see many (maybe 30%) elderly Jewish faces, and younger ones, and I thank God and Polish heroes (liars) for it.

In the Old Testament, God apparently rewarded those who lied to the enemy, such as Egyptians.

God bless.

Meg @ True, Good and Beautiful said...

Reginaldus, I think you're spot on. Thanks for the clarification that is rooted in the direct teachings of the Church.

Unknown said...

In the case of mental reservation, is it really any different to hide one's finger pointing the right way and say to the Nazi's, "There are no Jew's here" while crossing one's toes in their shoes? One can even take it so far as to mean by "here" right here in front of us or here in this closet etc. when the person using the reservation knows very well that the Nazis are asking if there are any Jews on the premises at all. Basically, is this anything really more than hairsplitting? Some moral theologians have gone so far as to argue that all mental reservations (broad and strict) are illegitimate. Of course, I'd argue for the common opinion because it is more reasonable but the rigorist interpretation is one (il)logical conclusion to a situation that is based on loopholes.

While mental reservations offer the possibility that they could be properly interpreted, the whole intent on telling them is that they will not be understood in the truthful way. When Fr. Pro says he's a "farmer", that is used in a sense that is unintelligible to the vast majority of people. Even those up on the Scriptures wouldn't make the connection. Sure, of course, he's not outright saying "I'm not a priest" but even that could be said to be a mental reservation. "I'm not a priest (of this diocese, of the Benedictine Order, etc. etc. etc.)"...

I think these are the kind of splitting hairs issues that made people sneer at Scholasticism as a bunch of ivory tower divines arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Unknown said...


Certainly, lying is objectively wrong. However, how many people (especially since most people wouldn't know half the stuff that is being discussed here) if faced with a situation such as SS men knocking at the door or some other very stressful situation are going to do anything but try to save their skin and that of those they are trying to protect? In such situations, the culpability of lying would most likely not even be imputable so no sin would take place. Even if they do know a bit about the theology involved, Augustine is going a bit far saying one shouldn't slay their soul (with a venial sin?) to save the life of another. No one is going to think twice about committing a venial sin to save someone's life. The objective certainly remains (we aren't falling into 'situation ethics') but the actual culpability (especially since a lie like that is venial) is very much dependent upon a bunch of subjective factors. As such, while this is a good theoretical discussion, I don't think it is really that terribly applicable in "real world" situations.

That said, the PP thing does seem to be dicey. I think they would best be served by not engaging in anything that could be easily seen as hypocrisy on our part. If it seems pro-lifers are willing to play dirty pool, folks with no real morals are more than willing to redouble their own illegitimate efforts and try to shoot down anyone who claims a moral high ground.

Jesse said...


When my wife and I initially read your first article, we adopted the popular position that telling a lie to protect or defend life would be preferable. Justifying it as better to commit a venial sin in order to protect the greater good of life. After reading your arguments and searching multiple catechisms, we have arrived at the same position you have. After much deliberation, we were able to see that the lying was almost a knee jerk reaction, which says more about how pervasive lying is in our culture and how easily it can be justified. Don't get me wrong, I'm not judging anyone (like anonymous above) who was actually in an extreme situation like that and lied to protect life. I don't know if I would actually do anything different in that same situation. We must remember that when in those stressful situations, not everyone has the ability to use broad mental reservations or a certain level of wit under stress. However, we are talking about the objective morality of the action itself, not passing judgment on particular individuals. The Church does clearly teach that ALL lying is always and everywhere objectively sinful. These special situations just affect the gravity of the sin itself. Is this hard to accept? Yes. I had trouble with it myself.

If you remember my last post on the original blog, I addressed the issue from St. Augustine in which he states that it is better for someone to lose their life than for another to damage their soul. I stated that we cannot judge the state of another's soul and that by letting someone die in a state of possible mortal sin is worse than us committing a venial sin. Well after much discussion with my wife, we came to the conclusion that everyone is ultimately only responsible for the state of their own soul and their own relationship with God.

Now as I stated above, in most of these cases, the Live Action case included. The lie (in my opinion) constitutes a venial sin. However we must be careful in dismissing sins as "only" venial. I once heard Mother Angelica say that if we only knew how much even venial sins offend God, we would do everything possible to avoid them. How do you measure any sort of degree against infinity? And God is infinite goodness.

We must also remember that the fall of man was brought about by Satan's lie. Not theft, or adultery, or even murder. But a lie.

God Bless

Jesse said...

One solution to the Live Action scenario could be this. They go in undercover with the camera's and everything, but instead ask "hypothetical" questions to draw out the answers they seek. They are then not pretending to be who they are not, and are not lying. Instead they are working off the assumptions of others to draw out the information they seek.

Left-footer said...

Jesse - I thought Adam and Eve fell because they took Satan's word, rather than God's, and did what was forbidden.

Larry Denninger said...

During World War II, Pope Pius XII had hundreds if not thousands of false baptismal certificates created in order to help Jews escape persecution. How does one square that up with the prohibition against lying? I only ask so that I can answer objections. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with saying that I think the pope and st Francis erred. I think our actions in both word and deed must be true, and thus any undercover agent who says he is not a cop is patently lying. I don't claim to know how this would work....but I think we'd be much better off without stings and espionage. We cant pretend that we live prior to macchiavelli, but that does not mean we have to be macchiavellians.

JoeyBreak said...


Assuming those baptismal certificates were completely legit except that the Sacrament of Baptism was not actually given, it seems Pope Pius XII would be guilty of intentionally deceiving Jewish persecutors for a greater good; there is no way it could be squared under these conditions.

However, I see no need to square it against prohibition of lying! Using Pope Pius XII as an example might just be a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching because if we consider that Popes (or any bishops) are not protected from being sinners, can't we just conclude that the actions of Pope Pius XII were in want of correction?

dan said...

I bet an imaginitive person could come up with a way to call the sting a mental reservation. Like on Halloween, someone might say, "I'm a witch" but means, "I'm pretending to be a witch."

Matthew A. Siekierski said...

One possible (albeit sophistic) answer to your question, LarryD, is that the Catechism specifically defines a lie as a spoken falsehood. False documents meant to deceive the Nazis (but not deceive the Church or Jew about the Sacrament of Baptism) are not spoken words.

It seems to me that the CCC's definition of "lie" is too narrow, in that a written falsehood isn't a lie. Same with nodding ones head, which is an action and not speech.

Sorry, but I don't see the distinction between hidden action (St. Francis pointing in a different direction) and hidden thought (strict mental reservation). The intent is still to deceive, by omission of pertinent detail, be it word or action. St. Francis could have vigorously shaken his head, physically displaying a negative response, and murmur "yes" such that they couldn't hear him, right? Or must the vocal response be heard and the physical action not necessarily seen?

I'm on the fence about the morality of Live Action's actions. I think great good may come of the videos they obtained, but have no idea as to the morality of how it was obtained. I do think it has raised interesting discussions (hopefully not so interesting that they overshadow the content of the videos).

One final question: Would it have been moral for Live Action to find an actual pimp with underage, illegally in the country, sex slaves and pay him to ask PP the same questions?

Anonymous said...


I was with you (and still am regarding lying and mental reservation) right up until your analogy about cops and unconcealed guns. I think you should try to come up with a better analogy because this one is mistaken. Please google "Guns, Crime, and the Swiss - by Stephen P. Halbrook" for a well written explanation.
I know what your intention was, but I'm afraid this analogy further promotes gun control which truly is "destructive of the good order of (our) society."

Jesse said...

"Jesse - I thought Adam and Eve fell because they took Satan's word, rather than God's, and did what was forbidden."

Yes. And Satan's word was a lie because he is the father of lies. Satan was the initiator.

Anonymous said...

I find it surprising that you think it is more truthful for Padre Pio to say, "I am a farmer," than for Lila Rose to say, "I am a prostitute." Using the same kind of biblical argument, anyone who sins -- especially any of us who have committed mortal sins -- can be considered a prostitute.

-- Howard

Authentic Bioethics said...

@Jesse: Actually Satan spoke a truth with a mental reservation. He said, "Surely you will not die." The fruit was not poisonous. Eating it did not kill them. In fact, God intended them to eat of it eventually since the fruit had no other purpose, but on His time not their own. What Satan withheld mentally was that disobeying God would in fact condemned them to death eventually: "Oh, it won't kill you (not right away anyway)."

Anonymous said...

@ Reginaldus 4:43 pm

3And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country. 4And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were:

Oh that Rahab! A debauched woman and a liar!

re: "We would have to see exactly what those "forged" baptismal certificates really said."
"Rather than quoting supposed instances from WWII (the particulars of which none here really have much knowledge)"

Supposed? Supposed instances? FYI:
This "liar" is under consideration for canonization. I would encourage all with no particular knowledge of the heroic acts of Catholics in WWII to read a little.

Fr. R....I have to wonder what counsel you would have given these women? We, neither you nor I, see the bigger picture.

We must take care we don't become pharisees.

Babylonian Exile

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

I hope this question is not too tangential.

If lying is a sin against God because it is a sin against the truth, and Jesus (God) is truth, and thus lying is ALWAYS a sin...

... why is taking the life of another not always a sin, such as in the case of capital punishment or self-defense? It's a sin against life, no, and Jesus (God) is life.

I'm not trying to make a case against capital punishment or self-defense, but asking why there is an exception in the case of taking life from another, but not in the case of "taking truth" from another.

I have a second question, a hypothetical. Suppose you are housing Jews in Germany, and a Nazi asks you if there are any Jews in your house, and you -- after quick mental deliberation -- decide you cannot say or do anything untruthful, and have not the constitution to do something courageous, and so you simply remain silent, and the Nazis take your refusal to answer as an affirmative (per Qui tacet consentiret - "silence implies consent").

Are you guilty of a sin of omission, for doing nothing and thereby giving the Nazis reason to hunt down and kill the Jews in your residence? As the saying goes, all evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

I, as much as the next man, do not want to justify an immoral act because of its laudable end... but I want to know if something that LOOKS immoral is necessarily immoral in every circumstance.

Thanks for the consideration. This post and its predecessor are eye-opening and thought-provoking.

Mark LaBelle said...

With all due respect, this essay does not answer the question I now have: "Would it permissible for Live Action to conduct sting operations if they only used broad mental reservations?"

Left-footer said...

Anonymous - well said!

Authentic Bioethics said...

I'm wondering...

Could there be an analogy between justifiable killing and justifiable lying, based on double effect? Direct killing is never permissible, but the death of an aggressor can be foreseen and accepted without being intended when lethal force is used, for instance, in self defense. You shoot at the aggressor to defend an innocent life and by chance hit him in the heart.

Is it even possible to say or do something deceptive without intending to deceive, like using lethal force without intending to kill? To lie "at" someone like shooting "at" him?

"To deceive" and "to lie" would be analogous to "to kill" and "to shoot." Do the latter not intending the former, but foreseeing it. Or is there a closer connection between "lie" and "deceive" than there is between "shoot" and "kill"?

If a lie is always wrong, and the SS come in and ask if there are any Jews anywhere in the house or on the property, we can't just say, "No." Rather, we must say, "Yes" or perhaps nothing, and then use lethal force to protect the innocent without sinning.

I'm still trying to sort it out. But it seems plausible that it would be permissible to lie "at" an aggressor and consider it an accident if he believes me, just like I would shoot at an aggressor and consider it an accident if I kill him. I don't want to kill, but it might happen if I have to shoot. I don't want to deceive, but it might happen if I have to lie.

Like foreseeing the death of another under double effect, foreseeing their deception would have to conform to rigorous circumstances and purity of intent.

Just thought I'd throw this one out there and see what people think.

Left-footer said...

Authentic Bioethics - a civilian use lethal force against the SS?

I don't think do.

Authentic Bioethics said...

Oh, Left-footer, it's just an example. Let's say I carry a knife and mugger asks if my wife has any jewelry under her coat. I can't say No without sinning, but maybe I can say Yes and stab him when his attention is turned to my wife.

Anonymous said...

Reginaldis...With all due respect
I think your position here is pharisaical considering the millions of lives murdered by Planned Parenthood. As the butchering of innocent life goes ceaselessly on, the courageous people at Live Action are to be not only commended but supportedin their cause to end this injustice.
Your convoluted explanations seem like the Pharisees who took moral exception with Jesus when he cured a crippled man on the Sabbath. A lot of things are permissible during a just war that would seem to be impermissible at any other time.And make no mistake about it we are in battle! To quote
CSLewis,from Theology 101: "Culturally and spiritually, we've lost touch with the reality that we are born on a battlefield.
There is a supernatural world that surrounds us. There are angels and demons. There is good and evil. God will not always be mocked. I think this subterfuge can be justified in this war being waged.

Sed libera nos said...

Yes it is true that lying intentionally is always a sin. However, it is never mortal unless it is done with malicious intent. So yes they are most likely guilty of a sin (as I haven't listened to the tape I can't say- sorry but dialup is a very slow). At worst they are guilty of a venial sin since their desire to end corruption and the murder of innocents by Planned Parenthood is virtuous. That desire is pleasing to God and providing they are not in a state of mortal sin they receive merit which is not totally lost by a venial lie though it might be diminished.

However, the habit of justifying a lie or lack of fear of God when committing it and denial of a lie as a sin is also a sin. Its gravity is variable- depending on seriousness, etc. As such what is being brought up is very serious and not merely "word games." The attitude is more dangerous than the commission of a venial lie with subsequent sincere contrition.

Here is a great link with a relevant situation.

Besides it is never necessary to lie and we should not excuse it. If we are in God's will we will be provided for. If it means our death then that too is pleasing to God since we are willing to sacrifice all rather than to offend Him and add more to riducule/ abuse to Calvary. All the saints felt that death (while in a state of grace) was not the greatest evil and much more desireable than offending God. Just because God works good out of our sin doesn't justify our sin.

It probably would have been better if they posed a hypothetical situation to the person they called. Would probably would have sounded more realistic as a real pimp might not have been so straight forward with info. Then made the appointment and followed up. Would have been just as damaging to the abortion/ murder industry and no sin involved since it was all posed hypothetically and no need for them to know who you really are- they do not necessarily have the right. Besides asking a question is never a lie- even if they are misled by it. You are not stating something as the truth but merely asking. If your intent was malicious though you would be sinning but that is another topic.

I like what St Joan of Arc did. She didn't lie but she allowed the enemy commander to follow his own conjectures and he deceived himself.

Lamont said...

The transcript of one of Live Action's tapes is posted here:

In this case they simply say that they are involved in "sex work" and manage some underage girls. Both of these statements are so vague that they clearly fall well within the category of broad mental reservation. Indeed, they are involved in sex work and assuming some young girls work for them they can truthfully say that they manage some underage girls.

Almost everything else they say is in the form of a question and questions are never lies. If this transcript is representative of the methods that Live Action uses, my conclusion is that they did not lie and did not do anything morally wrong.

dan said...

It's pretty clear that the author is off-base on this. And that's not a mental reservation in which I'm secretly referring to an author of one of the comments or of another article elsewhere that no one else know about.

Sed libera nos said...

As far as Hiding Jews in the house from the SS (a situation which thankfully is merely hypothetical at this time) you could answer "Do you think I am stupid? Why would I have any of them here? Perhaps using non sinful words, like if they had crawled through the mud to get to your house you could use dirty, etc. However, if I do find any I will report them (not necessary to say to who)- maybe report them to your wife, God, yourself, etc. By the way where do you want me to go to do it? Or you could say There is a place in the woods where it might be possible some are and go there (hopefully there are none there). Neither is that a lie as it is a possibility no matter how remote. Or if you rented the house you could say there are no Jews in my house. Of course there couldn't be since you don't own the house and therefore it really isn't yours. The wife could say it if it was regarded legally as the husband's house, etc. It is permissible to allow them to deceive them self since they do not have the right to know. God lets people deceive themself all the time. As far as the priest saying he was a farmer- well a priest is a farmer in a way and works in the field of his Lord. So that is not necessarily a lie.

There are a tons of things a person could say/ do without lying eventhough many people seem to pose the hypothetical situation as lie or tell the truth at the cost of something they don't want to lose. If they will not accept anything you say they probably are already sure of it and a lie may not help anyways.

Anonymous said...

All these discussions do is to provide instructions so that thugs know how to deal with people like Reginaldus.

Example: Reginaldus is wearing a wire to collect information on the mafia. If the thug asks, "Are you a cop," he says, "No," because he's a civilian volunteering for the police. But if the thug notices a hesitation, as Reginaldus thinks carefully as to whether his answer is a lie or a reservation, the game's up. Then again, if the thug asks, "Are you wearing a wire? Did you bring any kind of listening or surveillance device" Reginaldus will not say, "No," because that would be a flat falsehood, so he tries to change the subject and asks what the thug thought about the Super Bowl. The thug, however, has read a post like this and recognizes the evasion, so he knifes Reginaldus and finds the wire on his now-dead body.

Meg @ True, Good and Beautiful said...

If we condone the lying of Live Action in order to expose PP's aiding and abetting of sex trafficking (because, let us note, that that is the only outcome thus far; we cannot state that lives have been saved as an outcome of these operations), then why stop there? Is there a difference between that and if I, for example, lied and said that a PP abortionist raped me and he was subsequently jailed? What is the difference? What is the distinction? Both are lies. I ask sincerely.

Anonymous said...

@Complicated Life:

You have put your finger on the distinction between a lie and bearing false witness. Live Action may have told a lie, but a lying accusation of rape would be bearing false witness.

In the narrow sense, what the 8th commandment forbids is bearing false witness.

Left-footer said...

Anonymous - true as I have always understood it.

It would be interesting to have an Orthodox Rabbi's views on the meaning of the 8th Commandment.

Anonymous said...

give them some rope and they hang themselves. A ploy that allows someone to tell the truth about himself is not the same as lying about someone to a third party. Where is the common sense?

Sed libera nos said...

Apparently most people don't know what a broad mental reservation and a lie. Therefore the advice would be good to prevent those who otherwise would tell a lie from sinning and therefore afflicting Christ further than what He has already endured upon Calvary. As far as thugs reading this blog I highly doubt they would make it past the first few paragraphs. Most are not interested in this type of stuff and would get bored. After all how many thugs study theology as a hobby?

Sed libera nos said...

Besides as Lamount said it does not appear Life Action actually did lie so it is sort of a non issue.

Anonymous said...

Given that a confessional was bugged in Oregon not too long ago, yeah, the thugs may well be keeping an eye on ways to misuse religion as a tool for their own purposes. It wouldn't take much for them to learn "if the priest hesitates, he's hiding something, and if he gives an ambiguous answer, he's not being fully honest. In which case, proceed directly to the waterboarding."

Meg @ True, Good and Beautiful said...

@ anonymous (or both anonymous'...I suppose you could be different people),

Yes, I recognize the distinction you're making, but I wonder if it is more of an arbitrary line that one subjectively says shouldn't be crossed as opposed to an actual moral statute. This is just me thinking outloud, I haven't given much time to this, but...

If we look in the catechism (2464 and following) it discusses all lying under the eighth commandment, not just calumny against a person. In fact, right off the bat, it states, "The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others." I would say that Life Action's "undercover workers" fall into that category.

Now, I do think that between the lie(s) that Live Action committed and, say, my lie against the abortionist, that my lie would be considered more grave, even though both lies would, by their very nature, be condemned (CCC 2485). Mine would be more grave because of the harm inflicted on an innocent man: "The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims." (CCC 2484)

Just thoughts. Comments welcome.

Meg @ True, Good and Beautiful said...

I should make sure I'm clear. There's definitely a distinction. But as to whether we are allowed to do one and not the other...I wonder if that is an actual moral statute, or if it's an arbitrary line not to cross.

Even if one lie would be considered venial and the other mortal. Are we suggesting a venial sin is ok in this case, but not a mortal sin?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

To all: Most unfortunately, I do not have a good internet connection these days...I may not be able to respond to the many very interesting comments until Sunday afternoon.

I am most amused by the hypothetical case in which I have been knifed to death by thugs! I do hope that those contemplating this scenario are not actually wishing it upon me! :)

Peace and blessings to all! And many apologies for not being able to respond to comments as quickly and efficiently as usual.

Anonymous said...


That was me. ("That was I" for the obsessive-compulsive grammarians.) I was just having some fun with it.

My point, though, was that any mental evasion is a waste of time when your adversary is serious, and particularly if he has heard of the trick before. Certainly that was the case in Elizabethan England. Even now, serious oaths typically include the phrase "without any mental reservation" to avoid the trick of "I'm deliberately misleading you, but it's not a lie!"

Nick said...

It is often said by Catholics online that lying is permissible for a just end, and they always bring up this scenario: "If Nazis came to your door and asked if you had Jews, what would you do?"

I believe, as the Church believes, that is a lie is an intrinsic evil. So lying to Planned Parenthood or to Nazis is not kosher. One cannot do evil for good nor return evil for evil. On the contrary, we must do good and return good for evil. This is why I tell people about holy silence, which both saves the body of another from harm and saves the soul of oneself from sin.

Anonymous said...

"I believe, as the Church believes, that is a lie is an intrinsic evil."

I believe, as the Church believes, that the holy angel Raphael has never committed a sin. Yet he did not tell Tobias that he was an angel when the question of his identity was put to him directly; he said, "I am Azarias the son of the great Ananias." (Tobit 5:18)

Anonymous said...

The author must be kidding. The examples provided support the opposite conclusion. This is gobbledygook dressed up as scholarship. Back to the drawing board; with some wisdom this time.

Meg @ True, Good and Beautiful said...

The author must not be kidding since he seems to be the only one who is actually backing up his statements with Church teaching. It's refreshing to this reader.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

To all: Be sure that I am not kidding in the least...I am a priest, and I have the heavy burden of being a pastor of souls...I take the issue of lying most seriously, and I would not write what I have written if I did not think that the matter was of great importance for the salvation of souls.

I am simply trying to present the doctrine of the Church, while at the same time taking account of the historical circumstances of the modern day (namely, undercover police work).... If you find it to be "hair-splitting" or "Pharisaical", you are certainly free to ignore what I have written.
But do know that, for me, this is not merely some theological or philosophical exercise; rather, I see my work at New Theological Movement as an extension of the ministry entrusted to me as a pastor of the Church. I have written what I believe is the teaching of Christ and of his Church, I hope that I have defended it well...I offer my work for the remission of my sins -- take it or leave it as you will, but please do follow Christ with your whole heart!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Left-footer (feb 10, 5:03pm),
The argument (ends justify the means) is stupid simply because it is stupid...indeed, it is also old; but I would be among those theologians who hold that the antiquity of an argument is a sign of its depth...

Regarding the Old Testament "examples" of lying...St. Thomas and the Catholic Tradition have a good way of understanding this...I believe it is well covered in the comments on the previous post "It is a sin to lie, even to PP"; I would recommend looking there.

Thank you for entering the discussion!
Peace and blessings to you as well! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Andrew (feb 10, 5:51pm)
I must say that it is very dangerous to speak of "committing a venial sin to save someone's life"...granted that, in the real world, people will probably often fall in this regard; we at least need to maintain the truth in theological discourse.

Nevertheless, I am glad that you see that the Live Action thing "seems to be dicey", you and I seem to be of the same mind.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Jesse (feb 10, 6:13pm and 6:21pm),
I am very happy and also very humbled to know that something of my writings has been helpful to you and your wife.
I will certainly keep you and your family in my prayers.

Also, for the record, I agree with you that the lie of Satan is very much at the heart of the fall of man...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Dan (feb 10, 9:08pm),
The situation of Halloween is a case of broad mental reservation, because the circumstances of that night indicate that people will be dressing up in costume...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Matthew Siekierski (feb 10, 9:12pm),
I agree that the case of St. Francis (brought up in the post) is definitely pushing the limits of broad mental reservation -- indeed, he may have gone too far!

Regarding whether Live Action could have hired an actual pimp... I would say that this would avoid lying, but it would participate in the evil of prostitution....hence it would still be wrong...
Good question though! :)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (feb 10, 9:47pm)
I am open to your argument regarding gun control...however, it is far too political a topic for me to bring up on this theological blog! :)
Still, your point is well taken.

Please do step back from the current political climate, though; I would still hold that there is something to my analogy...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Howard (anonymous, 9:59pm),
I had referred to Miguel Pro as saying "I am a farmer", not Padre Pio...

Still, I due agree that we are all "prostitutes" in the Hosea sense...
Still, I think we all can see that Fr. Miguel is a farmer in a way that Lila Rose is not a prostitute...

Blessings, and thank you for the solid Old Testament reference! :)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Authentic Bioethics (10:39pm),
Regarding Satan's words to Adam and Eve...I would have to say that Satan lied; it seems that his utterance is indeed a case of mental reservation (as you claim), but it is "strict" mental reservation. As death was not yet known, saying "You will not die" could only be reasonably interpreted to mean "You will not ever die as a result of eating this apple"....thus, I would have to agree with Jesse that Satan spoke a lie [also, this seems to be the opinion of the Fathers of the Church]

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Babylonian Exile (Anonymous 10:53pm),
I think you have misudnerstood my claim... I do not think that Rahab actually lied, but that she used a very advanced form of broad mental reservation...
Likewise, I would want to claim that the saintly Pope Pius XII used some form of broad mental reservation in the hiding of Jews.

But, if perhaps these holy individuals did lie, I would not hesitate in stating that those lies were at least venial sins...and I would rather have the sun and stars fall from the sky than to have one intentional venial sin be committed (Bl. John Newman)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Jeffrey Pinyan (feb 10, 10:54pm),
You ask a very very good question: "Why is it always a sin to lie, but not always a sin to take life? -- if Jesus is both the Life and the Truth."

The simple answer is that, sometimes, it is actually a defense of the dignity of human life to take life.
On the other hand, it is never a defense of the truth to lie.

I know that this answer is a bit simplistic, but I think that it contains all the profundity of the Catholic doctrine on the subject. Meditating on this simple fact, you will find the true answer you seek.

Peace to you and blessings!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Mark LaBelle (11:04pm),
I have apparently not been as clear as I hoped: My claim is that...
1) Live Action has lied, and this is immoral.
2) Even if Live Action was using only broad mental reservations, this would still be inappropriate since only agents of the State can lawfully carry out such "sting" operations.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Authentic Bioethics (11:06pm),
You have touched on a very interesting topic!

I would say though that there are cases when direct killing is permissible (contrary to your claim) -- this is the case in capital punishment (and probably only here, though some may argue for it in war)...

Regarding your distinction between deception and lying, I agree.
There is never a case when we can lie, as there is never a case in which we can willfully and directly kill an innocent.
But there are cases in which we can deceive (though they are rare), just as there are cases in which we can willfully and directly kill or at lease willfully and indirectly kill (though both indeed are rare)...

I would, nevertheless, want to stay away from the "double effect" theory when it comes to lying... it just tends too often to lead us into consequentialism [though, good theologians can discuss lying, deception and double effect without confusion]

Thanks for the contribution you have made to this discussion!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (11:25pm),
First, my pseudonym is "Reginaldus" not "Reginaldis" (in other words, I am not employing a third declension genetive as my 'name')...
Second, I do agree that we are in a battle, but it is not a war... If it were a war, we could justify out-right killing of abortionists... But we are not in a war, for our nation is not in a state of anarchy (at least not yet)...

Therefore, we must work within the boundaries of the State -- and the State has undercover agents who should be doing these investigations (without lying)...

Truly, I am deeply grieved that you see my work as "Pharisaical"...that is a very strong condemnation indeed...
Please know that I am very active in the pro-life movement; I am a priest, and I do much to support the Culture of Life...
Ultimately, I don't suppose I should care much at all what you think of me, but I defend my reputation so that the faithful might not be scandalized by a "Pharisaical" priest...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Lamont (11:50pm),
While I have not read a transcript, I have listened to one of the tapes...
The Live Action "actors" speak of foreign under age prostitutes whom they employ...that is a clear lie.

Still, thank you for the link...we can let the readers decide if there is any lie in the transcription...

Nevertheless, I would still maintain that the extensive broad mental reservation employed by Live Action ought only to be used by officers of the State...the Live Action people are somewhat "vigilantes" in this regard...

Peace to you!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Dan (feb 11, 12:06am),
You are quite clever in your sarcastic use of "mental reservation"...
I am sorry that you find that, "It's pretty clear that the author is off-base on this."
I only wish you had been thoughtful enough to provide some reasoning, so that I might be enlightened by your immense erudition! :)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Sed Libera Nos (12:11am),
Indeed, you are quite right... there are manifold ways in which we can make use of mental reservations and thereby avoid lying...
Still, we should try to avoid even mental reservations, except when a grave cause forces us to make use of them...

Thanks for your practical examples, I hope that they are helpful to others (as indeed, they are helpful to me).
Peace to you!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Complicated Life,
I think that you have begun to understand the profundity of the Church's teaching... strive forward in this, and let no one dissuade you from the Truth! :)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (feb 11, 2:23pm),
Truly, I do enjoy the humor you have introduced... And I don't take it personally! :)
Still, you must recall that the whole question of mental reservation came to the fore Catholic moral theology with the persecutions in England...many saintly priests gave there lives rather than lying...but they did take advantage of mental reservation to gain years of priestly ministry.

I can't help but recall the words of St. Philip Neri to the seminarians of the English College in Rome: "Salve Flores Maryri"..."Hail, ye flowers of the maryters!"

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Nick (feb 11, 2:34am),
You have held firm to the rock of not let go, no matter what anyone says! :)
Blessings to you in Christ our Savior!

@Complicated Life (4:49am),
I am humbled that you have chosen to defend me...thank you for this act of charity.
I will indeed try to live up to your claim...that I may indeed back up all my claims with Church teaching and sound theology -- far be it from me to promote my own doctrine; Reginaldus is a fool, but the Church is most wise!
Peace to you, and blessings! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It is impossible to have a serious discussion if you do not give at least some sort of "tag" or "ID" or pseudonym...


you can leave the pseudonym or name at the end of your comment...we just need something to identify you as the source of the comment...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (feb 11, 3:25am),
Regarding Raphael and the other saintly biblical figures who seem to have lied... The Fathers of the Church explain that these persons were only making use of broad mental reservation and were not actually lying...

If you want to enter into this discussion seriously we can...but you need to give a name/pseudonym, and also you need to drop the sarcasm...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (feb 3:25am),
I do agree that most of what passes as "scholarship" is little more than "gobblygook"... but I do wish you had been considerate enough to support your statement with rational arguments rather than personal attacks (since, if I have not wisdom, as you claim; I am in the state of mortal sin, and lacking the Gifts of the Holy Spirit of which Wisdom is the highest)...

Also, I wish you had been considerate enough to provide a pseudonym...but, then again, you do not seem to be interested in real discussion...

Nick said...

I think Complicated should join NTM :)

Unknown said...

This was a long article just to let us know that the persons involved needed to go to confession.
But since we do not know their heart we do not know if they actually sinned. That would be between them and our Lord. Do not thing I want to judge.
I wonder if there were any characters in the new or old testament who lied for the benefit of something better.

Dan said...

Thanks! I enjoy reading your replies. It's weird, what you're saying, though. That's the problem most commenters have with it, I think. It's strange. Playing a trick, using a ruse or a ploy, lying, I guess, yes, if you want to get strict about it, to fight evil just SEEMS like it would be an OK thing to do. That's where I'm coming from. Isn't the way something seems a relevant factor?

Unknown said...

Catechism #2488 "The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it."

Whether one has the right to know IS in the Catechism; no right to know the truth means no lie.

Planned Parenthood obviously does not conform to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. Thus they have the same "right to the truth" as the Nazis and other murderers, which is to say, none at all.

Howard said...

I am anonymous 9:59, 12:30, 12:48, 1:12, 2:23, and 3:25.

I'm not really sure "broad mental reservations" are much use. For example, I really do think you would make a terrible mole in the mafia. Clever answers that are half true may salve your conscience, but they would not be effective in deflecting serious, pointed, repeated questions, where even a hesitation indicates something is wrong. The only reason t use a "broad mental reservation" is with the intent to deceive, but the "reservation" is highly unreliable even for the sort of circumstances it was designed for.

I'm sorry if the sarcasm bothers you, but to begin an argument with "I believe, as the Church believes, ..." is to falsely imply that to disagree with the speaker -- about anything or everything that follows -- is to disagree with the Church. I accept magisterial teachings from the Church, but I do not accept blog commenter's paraphrases or deductions as magisterial. This is a problem I saw all too much of as a Protestant, where belief in "the Bible alone" really means a belief in all the preferred paraphrasings of and deductions from Scripture.

Also, if Padre Pro (sorry for the typo above) could claim to be a farmer, Lila Rose could claim to be a prostitute, any prostitute can claim to be a virgin ("I am either one of the 7 wise or one of the 7 foolish virgins in the parable"), and St. Raphael, who is a bodiless angel without parents or children, could say, "I am Azarias the son of the great Ananias" -- all without lying -- then I put it to you that it is pointless to ever talk about public figures lying -- maybe some clever argument can be invented for a sense in which their words are true.

Finally, I don't think anyone has mentioned this yet, but the reality is that most of us will not be involved in sting operations or hide Jews from the SS, but we *may* have a woman ask, "How do I look?" Now maybe this is a co-worker whom you find particularly unattractive. Once again, a long pause to consider how you answer will bring you to grief. This kind of awkward social minefield is a much more practical problem for most of your readers.

Howard said...

It just occurred to me that we all use certain "broad mental reservations": we almost never voice the reservation of James 4:15 and say, "If the Lord wills it, we shall live and do this or that."

The presumption that St. James was condemning must have been remarkable. Most people understand the difference between a plan and a prophecy, and the potential for unexpected change is assumed without mention.

"Hey mom, what's for dinner?" "If the Lord wills it, we shall live and have meatloaf."

Anonymous said...

Reginaldis...The reason that I choose to use anonymous is because it is easier than following the other options given e.g. Google Id, etc which require steps far more complicated...I would be very happy however once "in" to include some sort of identifying character to be more "of a face" if that is what you short, using the anonymous id is far less complicated a least for me! Other blogs allow you to comment more directly!

Anonymous said...

Reginaldus...Hopefully I got it right this time...I too hate it when someone mis-spells my name so my sincere apologies for the error. I stick to my original thought expressed at 11:25 Feb 10.
To say we are at war I believe is true...spiritual war...which is just as real as physical battle and often with far more serious things at with the war touched off by the passage of Roe v. Wade. While it became the law of the land, since it is a law that is unjust do we not have at least the right to say so? I am happy to hear you are actively Pro-Life. As a priest I would assume that to be the case. As for the appellation of Pharisee...did not mean to call you are a priest (which I did not know ) and I have too much respect for the office to accuse you of anything. However the POSITION you hold in regard to the Live Action group...calling them liars..SEEMS
Pharisaical condemning Jesus for curing on the Sabbath! We have to consider the circumstances surrounding the action in question. Not that I am advocating situational ethics...but the point, that as Jesus considered it more important in the instance of the cripple to enact a cure on the Sabbath because of love, than it was to
be concerned for a rule/law.
I think as we are in a spiritual war against those who would murder the unborn, in the spirit of the command to love we can allow the subterfuge employed by the Live Action group in the same spirit of love. To say that only the government agencies be allowed to this...we can only wish!! When and in what instance have you seen the govenment act in the spirit of love regarding the heinous act of abortion? especially the current Administratin? ThirstforTruth..and again my apologies for mis-spelling your name. it's been a very long time since I studied you pointed out!

John said...


Thank you for bringing this subject up and for wrestling with this difficult subject of truth. For my part I did not even consider the problem of lying when I first saw these videos, and my first response to the suggestion that something untoward occurred was indignation. However after reading through the section of the Catechism concerning truth, and the relevant scriptures I believe that you have the right of it.

I am disturbed by the nature of most of the arguments against your stance. They all seem to rest on the conclusion that lying must be acceptable in some cases because it achieves desired ends or minimizes suffering. The others seem to defend some form of lying to reconcile previously accepted forms of behaviors.

This is utterly antithetical to our Christian faith. The scales are not ours to weigh, it is not for us to perjure our souls (even to save a life), and simply because humans have lauded a thing in the past does not mean God favors it. All indications are to the contrary, God is truth and he abhors falsehood.

We may go as far as our wits and misdirection may carry us, but when we knowingly utter a falsehood to deceive it cannot be anything but a sin. In this matter we must stringently measure our priorities and who we ultimately trust in.

The use of certain Scripture references, taken in a context outside the guidance of the Magisterium do not trunp the plain statements of Christ and the Catechism.

Let this be our guide: Mark 8:34-39

34 And calling the multitude together with his disciples, he said to them: If any man will follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul: 38 For he that shall be ashamed of me and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation: the Son of man also will be ashamed of him, when he shall come in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. 39 And he said to them: Amen I say to you that there are some of them that stand here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God coming in power.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Catechism 1753 is more to-the-point:

"A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means."

Thus the Catechism states that lying is intrinsically disordered, and so it cannot be praiseworthy despite a good intention.

Howard said...


I don't have a problem with you presenting an argument and backing it up. But unless you consider yourself "the guidance of Magisterium", you appear to be doing the very thing you condemn -- presenting your interpretation of Scripture and your paraphrasing of Magisterium as sharing their infallibility. Cut it out. You won't persuade anyone that way, but you could, if you go far down that road, nurse pride through self-deception.

You criticize those of us who bring up difficult Scriptural passages. Is it really better to simply ignore them until the Church teaches definitively on why what St. Raphael said was not wrong? (I am not sure that statements of some Church Fathers about this rise to the level of Sacred Tradition.) One way or the other, the mere existence of such passages indicates that this is a tricky subject, and glib generalizations one way or the other are almost certainly false.

For you and for me, the best advice is certainly to let our yes be yes and our no be no, perhaps softened by tact in some cases. That is the milk, and it is good enough for babies like us. Just don't scoff at the idea that there is real meat for when we outgrow milk.

Unknown said...

Jeffrey, CCC 1753 presupposes that the statement is a lie. You must determine that the statement is in fact a lie before 1753 applies. If the recipient is not entitled to know the truth then there is no lie.

Howard said...

Just to clarify: I don't object to paraphrasing or interpreting Magisterium or Scripture and thinking oneself to be probably right. I clearly do a lot of paraphrasing and interpreting! I realize, though, that my paraphrases may be clumsy and miss the point, and my interpretations may be wrong. As long as we each can distinguish our opinions, however well-constructed, from authentic Church documents, there is no problem.

John said...


I cannot help but see this as very clear cut, and more and more so as I consider it further.

You are right of course, and in recognition of my own clearly demonstrated fallibility I will leave this over to greater consideration.

What I said was harshly put, I think I was arguing against myself as much as what anyone else had said. I thank you though for your measured response and advice.

However insofar as this situation is weighed accorded to perceived benefit or gain I strongly denounce that. Saving a life by committing a venial sin is utterly unacceptable.

When I think of the martyrs of the early church I cannot seem to recall any lying to save themselves or others. They typically remained silent or chose to speak another truth, rather than the one asked of them. This is not definitive, but it does indicate something to me.

Meg @ True, Good and Beautiful said...

@ David,

"If the recipient is not entitled to know the truth then there is no lie."

That is not the case. The Church is clear that a lie is intrinsically evil, by its nature to be condemned, which means always, in every case, a lie is a moral offense. A lie is not determined based on who it is directed to or the situation at hand. To speak a falsehood with the intention of deceiving offends God always, regardless as to whether or not someone has a right to the truth.

Reginaldus explained it in his previous article on this topic: "Moreover, we must be clear, there is no room in Church teaching to allow for a justification of a lie, even under the claim that the person to whom the lie was told had no right to the truth. Lying is not merely an offense against other men, but an offense against God – thus, the moral evil of a lie is determined not so much by the particular circumstances of the person to whom the lie is told, but by the fact that Jesus is the Truth."

CCC 1753 is just as simple and clear as it reads.

Ex Nihilo said...

Fr. Reginaldus,

Thank you for your spot on comments and reflections! "Hair splitting" is quite a misnomer for what is going on here ... what is that saying? "Never deny, rarely affirm, always make distinctions." To quote Chesterton, "The Church and the heresies always used to fight about words, because they are only things worth fighting about.” Indeed, every lie is an attack against the Word. As the words in the play, "A Man for All Seasons", "God made the angels to show Him splendor — as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind.”

Howard said...


Good, then, no hard feelings.

I have to say, though, that if you think the case of Raphael to be "very clear cut", you think differently than I do. At first blush, what he said was a lie, pure and simple. One can argue that Azarias means "whom the LORD has helped", Ananias means "grace of the LORD", and "son of" means something else, but this contortion is stretching the phrase to its absolute limits. Such an argument may reconcile the holiness of the angel with his deceptive words, but it does so at a great price; lies can be universally condemned, but now not all deliberate verbal deception is a lie.

Maybe, though, there is a simpler explanation. The ancient Hebrews loved wordplay; maybe they didn't see this so much as a deception, but rather an elaborate joke. That's an explanation I would find much more palatable.

Anonymous said...

Lying is intrinsically evil when it is intentionally used to personally benefit the liar. Lying is morally acceptable when it is intentionally used to benefit someone other than the liar, especially the innocent who would unecessarily suffer but for the telling of the lie.
Otherwise, all espionage, all undercover police and journalistic work would be always and everywhere immoral.
The Vatican's policy of providing false documents for Jews during World War II would be immoral.
In fact, even the Vatican hiding of Jews in convents, etc would be immoral since a convent is a place which by its very nature publicly declares itself to be a place for the communal life of consecrated religious and not Jews, etc.
Again, lying is immoral when it benefits the liar not when it prevents harm to the innocent.
The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Gus

John said...


Sorry when I said clear cut I meant the Catechism and the elaborations by Doctors of the Church. I would think that these supersede a literal interpretation of the Scripture in question, but this is possibly a screen for my own laziness. I have not read the Scripture in question and will refrain from further comment on it until I have. If I had to hazard a guess though I would say that you could be right about it being a wordplay, or some kind of non-literal statement.

Anonymous: Where on earth are you coming up with that from? Such a qualifier is not given to any form of sin, and I think that trying to put it in such terms puts anyone at great risk of self deception about their actions. Providing precedent for past actions where men may have erred, and saying this justifies is not a good argument.

And while Christ corrected men in their interpretation of the law, he never told men to sin. Furthermore I can think of no instance where he ever lied. He said truths that often confused and mislead men, but the deception was in their own hearts and minds.

Again this seems clear to me, God is Truth and author of all truths, to knowingly speak that which is untrue is to distance oneself from God and his way. Is that not the essence of sin?

Matthew A. Siekierski said...

"Regarding whether Live Action could have hired an actual pimp... I would say that this would avoid lying, but it would participate in the evil of prostitution....hence it would still be wrong..."
But they wouldn't really be participating in prostitution, any more than feeding a known pimp and prostitute at a soup kitchen would.

Meg @ True, Good and Beautiful said...

Anonymous: putting qualifiers on an "intrinsic evil" goes against what "intrinsic" means. When the Church says lying is intrinsically evil she means it is wrong all the time, in every situation. I really don't know where you came up with that distinction, but it is nowhere in Church teaching.

Meg @ True, Good and Beautiful said...

In the scenario laid out, they would also "hire" said pimp, implying monetary payment. The pimp would benefit from the arrangement precisely because he is a pimp, and one of, say 14 year old girls to boot (since LiveAction would want one that managed underage girls to make their point). At a soup kitchen, the pimp doesn't benefit because of his immoral activity, but out of charity to him as a person. And besides, whether it be Live Action or soup kitchen workers, shouldn't the pimp be reported to local law enforcement?

tired said...


"Lying is intrinsically evil when it is intentionally used to personally benefit the liar. Lying is morally acceptable when it is intentionally used to benefit someone other than the liar, especially the innocent who would unecessarily suffer but for the telling of the lie."

As Complicated has rightly said- where are you getting this from? If you want to believe that LYING is sometimes OK then go right ahead, but this is NOT AT ALL the teaching of the CHURCH or of Her Founder, Jesus Christ. And yes, the faithful do have the uncanny ability to live within the Magisterium, rejoice in Her, and proclaim Her to the world.

I fear, however, that your comment- precisely because it might very well be a perhaps 'common' approach to the topic can simply dismiss all the above discussion with a whimsical affirmation that has no grounding or precedent in the Catholic Faith.

The limits seem to have been reached with all of this- lying is intrinsically evil. If Live Action is lying they should change their approach if they care not to lie. Let's not just start defining things ourselves- that has a particular name...relativism...if you don't agree with Catholic teaching which is very clear on what it means to lie and what a lie is, then fine- not really fine, but we all must choose. Please do not, however, start coming up with quasi-dogmatic statements that cannot at all be backed up by the Catholic Faith for you will lead souls astray.

It is true that when we can no longer reason our position, the easy thing to do is simply define it as true, but this also has a particular name...ideology.

This is not about who gets the last word on the comment box- so simply restating positions that have been addressed above does not really add to the ratio of the discussion.

God Bless and Peace.

TJM said...

Does there not smack a bit of protesting too much amongst the comments? As a veteran liar, I've rationalized so many things with the same tiresome excuses (greater cause, larger evil, save someone's feeling). Those very justifications are themselves lies.

One of the earlier posts rightly points out the examples of martyrs who could have used broad or strict mental reservation (what an endless lot of drivel that really is, don't you think?) to save themselves...I'll just go along to get along but I'll keep my faith underwraps because I'm sure its worth more to God and to the world if I go on living. We humans continue to mistaken believe that our actions really mean anything...that somehow through cleverness, devious thinking, prevaricating, arcane wordsmithing, we actually make a difference. Yet we all acknowledge that God does not grow greater through our prayers and acknowledgement of His goodness, even by our good actions. So how is it we think that our human-crafted plan of action will amount to anything more than sawdust? The best things we can offer for ending abortion, for example, is the intensity and common focus with each other in prayer. God's power will reveal itself in due time and process. I find it amazing that so much has been written about many experts on lying yet how many admit that they lie regularly; that it has become a routine interaction tactic with its own 'levels' of acceptability, hurt, rationalization.

Nick said...


Anonymous said...

I posted essentially these same comments on the CNA site.

Lila Rose is testing not lying. She is testing Planned Parenthood to see if they are complying with the most minimal standards set by state laws that already allow abortions in the first place. It is not immoral lying when police officers pose as prostitutes or drug dealers to stop criminal activity. This practice has long been accepted by society and the Church. It is clearly good work that produces a good end. At least some of the police officers that engage in this work must be Catholic. Does the Church say they must resign or refuse to do this work? Why has this question not been raised before?

If the whole Church had stood up in unison to uncompromisingly oppose abortion, abortion would have been stopped a long time ago. If this is true, it is actually a condemnation of the church, since it says that the church could have stopped this but did not. The church has really done very little but voice a contrary opinion and then quickly run for cover. The world is dead, but the greater punishment goes to those who knew. We finally have some young people who are willing to go out there ,and put their heads in the lion’s mouth, and take action. What happens? They are attacked from within the church.

I Would like to pose a separate question. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus on the road to Emmaus at the end of the journey is said to have “appeared to be going further”. (Luke 24:28). Clearly Jesus knew that he was not going any further. Was he lying? This also happened in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus was walking on the water and Mark said that “he meant to pass them by”. (Mark 6:48). Again, clearly, Jesus knew that he was not going to pass them by. Other translations in both cases say he “acted” as if he was going further or passing them by. Was Jesus lying? I would like these passages reconciled with the proposed teachings on lying as applied to Ms. Rose.

Left-footer said...

Dear Father R. 2489 I quote from the Cathechism:

" No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it." 283

There is, of course, a semantic difference between 'reveal' and 'tell', but am not sure sure, as a non-philosopher, that there is a practical moral difference between 'not telling the truth' and 'telling a lie'. If we say the someone doesn't tell the truth, we usual mean that (s)he lies.

If this has already been covered, my apologies. My eyesight is weak.


John said...

Anonymous @ 9:46,

The kingdom of heaven does not need our lies. What Lila Rose aims to accomplish is laudable, her methods are not. Abortion is wrong in and of itself. While it is interesting to see our suspicion that evil leads into further evil confirmed, this will not bring it down.

You say it yourself, the Church must stand up and speak truth to combat this. Adding to the cloud of deception will do injury to all in the end. If nothing else, at least our enemies should be able to recognize our honesty.

As for the Road to Emmaus, you mistake misdirection for lying. Christ did not tell them, write for them or gesture in sign language that he meant to go on. That is simply how it appeared to them.


Reginaldus will likely respond to this, but I'll take a stab if you don't mind. I am not a philosopher by vocation either, but morality is accessible to all of us I think.

So it seems simple to me, the difference between revealing and telling.

If I am a government employee and a very polite foreign spy asks me to divulge certain secrets I am under no obligation to reveal anything to him and will keep silent.

If in the same situation I answer him directly and untruthfully then I have lied, that is I have created an untruth knowingly.

Again in the same scenario if I chose to respond by: asking why he thinks I would know anything on the subject, or tell him that he could find better information elsewhere or pose the hypothetical that I could be a counter-intelligence agent and inform him of the risks involved in his query that is a form of misdirection and an attempt to avoid questioning that may compromise me.

If my interpretation of Scripture/Catechism/Doctors is correct then it certainly poses difficulties. It may mean that we have been accepting of certain mistakes in the past, even going so far as to praise them. It may also be an utterly impractical standard to live by. This would not be contrary to Christ's calling however.

If nothing else I will be thinking more closely about what I say and how reverent of truth I am.

Anonymous said...

Actions speak louder than words. Surely you do not deny that a purposeful action is the same, if not potentially even stronger, than the spoken word. A purposeful action can be a lie as surely as the spoken word can be. There is no reasonable question about that. The word of God is clear that our Lord acted as if he were going on, when he knew he was not. He was in fact testing his disciples. That is plain. "Testing" is most definitely not the same as "lying". A "test" is a planned purposeful act, for a good purpose, to determine whether someone is acting according to the proper law. This is different from a lie. The actions of Jesus prove this. You have been unable to respond to this point.

I think it is fair to raise the question of motive. When it is so clear that these same arguments apply to undercover police work, why has this issue not been raised over the many decades that undercover police work has been done? Your own statements in the article show that you cannot distinguish police undercover work from the work of our Ms. Rose. Why have they been given a pass for all of these years, but now, suddenly, this accusation is brought out against the pro-life movement?

"Testing" is not the same as "lying".


John said...


You are going far into equivocation there and stretching a great deal of meaning out of that verse.

"And they drew near to the town whither they were going: and he made as though he would go farther..."

Which means that Christ began to walk on, had they not stopped him he likely would have continued walking. There is no deceit in that, in seeing what people will do.

You are right, that is testing; the input of a stimulus to observe the results. Whether this is a hypothetical question or initiation of an action, and it is not lying so long as there is no deceit on the part of the initiator. Christ often did this, to draw out the attitudes and hypocrisies of his day.

But this has nothing to do with what has happened here! These people went in, claimed to be what they weren't and then made statements about people and situations that did not exist, with the express purpose of making another think they did. That is lying, and intent and object can only alter the gravity of the lie (however much you may wish it was otherwise).

I do not think you need me to explain this to you, but it would have been testing if they had gone in and asked the manager what they would do in these situations. Even if they were taping, that seems more like bringing a witness in. However if they had been asked if they had a camera, then they would have to answer truthfully.

Speak the truth in all things, trust God for the rest.

Anonymous said...

The new American Bible states it as follows: “he gave the impression that he was going on farther.” It is a short statement, as all gospel descriptions are, but it describes exactly the same thing that you are accusing Ms. Rose of doing. You conveniently skipped over Jesus’ state of mind, which is the cornerstone of a lie. In fact, he knew that he was not going on any further, but yet he purposefully gave the impression that he was. According to your standards, that is clearly and undoubtedly a lie. No less so than with Ms. Rose. How is it not?

What about Mark 6:48? “About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them.” Are you suggesting that he did not know that he was not going to pass by them? Of course he knew. So Jesus lied with his actions as Ms. Rose lied. There is no difference.

Your explanation with regard to police undercover work is equally fallacious. Of course a police officer posing as a drug dealer is lying according to your standards. He probably has no drugs to sell. Even if he does, he has absolutely no intention of actually selling them. What did you say? As long as he doesn’t actually say he is not a police officer he is not lying? That is absurd. Everything he is doing and saying is a lie according to your standards.

The reason you cannot explain this is that your position is wrong from the start. Testing is not lying.

What you are doing is very destructive. Planned Parenthood facilities are factories of death. Your attempts to defend them are not noble. You are stabbing courageous young people in the back. There is a legitimate and real difference between "testing" and "lying" which you have not accounted for.


BobRN said...

I don't know if this has already been discussed earlier, but I would add my two-cents.

First of all, I think Reginaldus is wrong to argue that police have the authority to do undercover work under the doctrine of broad mental reservation while laymen don't because it is the job of the police to manage social order. What do you do when the police are corrupt? The state authorities have, probably in many cases willingly, decided to ignore or not be bothered investigating the crimes of PP. Are citizens to simply mind their own business because the authorities have decided, "Move on. Nothing to see here"? If the state has reneged on its responsibility to keep social order (ie: stop PP from killing children, harming women and girls and providing cover for rapists and pimps), does that responsibility not then pass to the citizenry?

Also, FYI: there are a number of states where it is perfectly legal for citizens to carry concealed weapons.

John said...


I do not know how I can be clearer. Of course testing is not lying. But what Live Action did was to clearly tell a lie. There is no lie per se in a simulated action. A lie begins when a purported truth is divorced from reality.I don't claim to know Christ's state of mind, I can only infer certain things.

What about Mark 6:48? “About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them.”

Again you are reading a lot into this simple statement. The intent ascribed is that he meant to pass by them. What he did next hinged on the free-willed actions of the disciples.

It is simple really. Live Action claimed something was true, that was not true in a very clear fashion. They did not indicate, they did not allow someone to misunderstand, they did none of these things that can skirt the edge of truth but remain honest (if not always clear).

I brought up no such example of undercover work. Was that directed elsewhere?

I do not defend Planned Parenthood, and I think you are warping your perceptions a great deal to claim that I am. Besides, what has this accomplished? Will proving that abortion clinic managers engage in other crimes end abortion? Did Kermit Gosnell's arrest stop the practice? These young people have noble aims, but they are misguided. Abortion must be tackled in law, in the courts and in our open democracy. This can only be done by standing and proclaiming the truth and changing hearts and minds.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the question of whether there is a sense in which Ms. Rose's statement "I am a prostitute" can be true, I have heard it said that Romans 12:5 supplies the answer. "So we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." In other words, perhaps Ms. Rose is identifying closely with the prostitutes with this in mind. Personally, I don't find this argument very persuasive, but it was advanced by a priest that I very much respect. What are your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

If the legal taking of a human life is permissible in order to prevent the criminal taking of an innocent life then how can legally denying the truth of one's identity/activity not be permissible in order to prevent the criminal falsification of the truth???

The latter is exactly what Live Action (praised be to God) did: they legally concealed their identity (did not say they were from Live Action)
and their activity (did not say that they were engaged in undercover recording-note: they did this ONLY in states which permit citizens to do this)
in order not to intentionally and personally harm the people working at PP or to intentionally and personally benefit themselves but rather to expose the criminal activity of PP which violates the legal requirement to report child abuse. Gus

P.S. A very well reasoned approach that is consistent with Church teaching and history can be fond at:

John said...


No idea if I'm arguing with the same guy, but I'll put in my last word on the matter here.

Killing and lying are not analogous. Lying is intrinsically evil, killing is not. To lie is to fundamentally oppose the nature of God.

I take no issue with them concealing their identity, but I do take issue when they blithely state a false identity. I would not be so quick to invoke God in this either.

In such cases motive and circumstance can only further damn the action, they cannot redeem it. We may say it is only a venial sin in that case, but there is great danger in saying "only venial".

The mass reading of the beatitudes for this Sunday dealt directly with that line of thinking.

That is a good article, and I will consider it. I will not respond here though, I think I've cluttered up Reginaldus's combox enough.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@David (2:16pm), (4:58pm), and also Left-footer (10:14pm),
You have claimed that a lie is only a lie if told to one who "has a right to the truth"...

@Anonymous (10:42pm) -- who is most inconsiderate of others and did not leave a "tag", "name", or "id"; not even at the end of his comment,
You have claimed that a lie is only a lie when it is used to personal benefit...

Both objections have been answered by "Complicated Life", "tired", "Matthew Siekierski", others, and also myself (in the original two articles)...

First, I would ask you to re-read the articles and the relevant portions of the Catechism...all the answers are there.
Second, I would ask you to consider the method you are adopting for your arguments -- you are not citing texts (at least not citing them properly in context), you are not citing the Tradition, you are not citing Catholic theologians and saints...instead, you are stringing together a few scattered thoughts and vomiting forth your "new" ideas...What good does that do anyone?

The inconsiderate "anonymous" does not deserve a he left no name...

To David and Left-footer, I will state: A lie is defined as "the intentional deception through uttering falsehood", or "the intentional uttering of falsehood as truth"...the Catechism's definition and that of St. Thomas can both be synthesized in this which I have given.
Now, there is NOTHING WHATSOEVER in the definition of a lie which relies on the subjective state of the person to whom one lies -- IT DOES NOT MATTER whether or not they have a right to the truth, we cannot lie to them.

HOWEVER, if they do not have a right to the truth, we need not tell them the truth -- in this case, for a serious reason, we can employ "mental reservation"... We can use ambiguous language which will deceive them, but we cannot lie (we cannot state a falsehood as truth in order to deceive them)...

I want to impress upon you something more... please please please think about the way you are entering into this discussion...think about the way you are (ab)using the Catechism...think about your approach to the Church's teachings. Rather than trying to come up with your "clever" justifications, look to the Tradition, look to the faithful theologians of the past, look to the papal pronouncements (esp. that of Innocent XI)...make your judgment based upon the solid foundation of truth, rather than your own clever interpretation.

That is all I have tried to do here...I do not offer these articles so much as my own thoughts -- I am simply presenting the Tradition of the Church to the best of my ability.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (3:44pm) [who is also most inconsiderate in not leaving any "name", "tag" or "id", at least at the end of the comment],
Since you did not identify yourself with at least a pseudonym, I will not respond to your comment.

However, I will note that the article you reference from "" is actually quite poor -- the author fails to make the important distinction between broad and strict mental reservation! As I have shown, a broad mental reservation is ok (for a just reason), but a strict mental reservation is a lie (as condemned by Innocent XI)...
What LiveAction has done may be a mental reservation -- but it is a strict mental reservation, and therefore a lie.

dcs said...

I will note that the article you reference from "" is actually quite poor -- the author fails to make the important distinction between broad and strict mental reservation!

@Fr. Reginaldus,

Not only that, but the author fails to make the distinction between mortal and venial sin! She states that because the Church has never disciplined those involved in undercover work, excommunicated them, or refused them Holy Communion that there is no sin in such work. However, all she has done is show that undercover work falls short of mortal sin (and it is questionable that she has shown even that, since only public sinners are so disciplined by the Church, and undercover work by its nature is generally not public!!), not that it is not a sin at all. Those who are guilty of only venial sin can still approach the Sacrament without confessing beforehand. I am frankly surprised that a professor of moral theology would fail to make this distinction.

Matthew said...

How is Live Action's actions any different than the following scenario:

A police officer enters an internet chat room where pedophiles are known to enter as well for the purposes of eventually molesting children. In order to separate and draw out the pedophile, the police officer portrays himself/herself as a young girl (most pedophiles are male)and would identify themselves as a young child (needed to draw out the pedophile).

Is this a lie? Is it a sin?

Solomon's Chariots said...

Hi Reg,

Thank you for your posts on this topic.

When I read the first post, my immediate response was to reject what you have proposed (re-proposed the Church's teaching, actually).

But in reading the reasoning and examples you have given, I have been forced to reassess my position. I'm not surprised that I initially resisted the conclusion so violently; we live in a culture that constantly looks to rationalise graver and more sins and I regularly struggle with this particular sin (even to the point where I have said things that are untrue before I even think!)

I still have much thinking to do on this matter to realign my thoughts.

One thing I wonder about is the nature of the duty to repair a lie. Sorry to take the SS example, but say perhaps we have been asked where the Jews in our house are, and we have already told a lie (e.g. in the pressure of the moment or out of a long developed habit of dishonesty such as in my case), and reason that we have just told a lie and that this is sinful.

My question is, are we bound to correct ourselves? Is our continued silence on the matter an act of complicity in our sin?

Once again, thank you Fr for writing (righting) on this topic. It is a very merciful and charitable thing to do.

God Bless your work in this ministry!

dcs said...


I think that what you have described is a lie or at least strict mental reservation because there is no way that a police officer could say "I am a 14 year old girl" and for that to be true even in the broad sense. Of course, if the police officer used hypotheticals ("what if I told you that I was a 14 year old girl? What would you say?") that might be permissible. I would add that I think the whole business of entrapping pedophiles in such a way is distasteful, since no crime actually occurs until the police officer leads him to commit the crime. In other words, the police officer is responsible for putting another man in a near occasion of sin.

BobRN said...

Regarding the question of how it is justified to kill an unjust aggressor but not lie to him, it came to me that the key is the definition of lying and murder:

For instance, every lie is an offense against God. Every murder is an offense against God. We are never justified in lying to another. We are never justified in murdering another.

However, not all deception is lying, and not all killing is murder. There are cases where one is justified, perhaps even obliged, to deceive another. There are cases where one is justified, perhaps even obliged, to kill another. But lying is never justified. Murder is never justified.

dcs said...


It would be interesting to have an Orthodox Rabbi's views on the meaning of the 8th Commandment.

With all due respect, why? We are Christians not Jews. And modern Orthodox rabbis are the intellectual and spiritual heirs of the Pharisees, whose tradition was condemned by Our Lord.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I have offered a response to two articles published in favor of Live Action over at

Anonymous said...

Sorry Reginaldis,
I disagree with your logic. But since this sheep does not have the education of the shepherd, I can only offer an example.
The Pharisee and Levite who traveled by the man that was beat up and left for dead were correct. They did not want to defile themselves in view of the Law.
It was the unclean Samaritan that looked on the man, poured oil and water in his wounds, took him to the inn and did what he could.
In your view, the Pharisees and Levite did the right thing while the Samaritan sinned.

To the best of my knowledge, Christ was more angry with the "knowledged ones" of the church than the common folk.

Sorry, Shepherd, this sheep looks to the good that the Samaritan (aka Live Action) did rather than the those that correctly passed on the other side. Just my view, only God knows if we are Samaritans or Pharisees. But I chose to stand with the Samarian and LiveAction.
sign me a baa-baa black sheep ;-)

Anonymous said...

to dcs
from baa-ba black sheep.

"I would add that I think the whole business of entrapping pedophiles in such a way is distasteful, since no crime actually occurs until the police officer leads him to commit the crime. In other words, the police officer is responsible for putting another man in a near occasion of sin."

So you would rather the pedophile actually take the innocence of a child and not get caught?
Get real and get a real life. It's the pedophile's desire to go online and look that brings him to the police officer. If he never went on line, he would not have committed a crime. If pedophile's have enough fear of getting caught, they will stop trolling. If the mouse wasn't out looking for the free cheese, it would not have found the mousetrap.