Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lying to Planned Parenthood: A response to articles published at

There has been quite a debate raging on various websites and blogs regarding the moral status of the “sting” operations which Live Action has carried out on Planned Parenthood facilities. Some have simply posed the question (Mark Shea), others have come down on the side of Live Action, and others have argued that these operations are morally unacceptable (the offerings of Germain Grisez and Christopher Tollefsen, are particularly helpful). It seems that the debate first began (at least on-line) here at The New Theological Movement – our February 3rd article, “It is a sin to lie, even to Planned Parenthood”, was published just days after the videos were first released (on February 1st). In response to the extensive debate, both in our comment box and on other blogs, NTM published another (more extensive and theological) article on February 9th: “Lying to Planned Parenthood, or is it mental reservation?” [on this same day, Mr. Shea and Dr. Tollefsen released their articles, Dr. Grisez spoke to Catholic News Agency on February 11th; Dawn Eden and William Doino Jr. made a good offering on February 10th]
It is my intention to consider two articles from which have attempted to argue that Live Action has not lied in these undercover operations. Before responding to these articles, I will first briefly summarize what was contained in the previous articles here at NTM. Though I have a license in sacred theology, my specialty is dogmatic theology – moreover, I am a parish priest and not a “professional” theologian. On this account, I will write with a simple style – but the arguments I make will contain all the power and force of Catholic teaching.

Summary of previous articles
In the first article, I argued that “a lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” (CCC 2482; citing St. Augustine, De mendacio 4,5) As a lie is not only an offense against the person to whom we lie, and society in general, but also against God himself; lying is always wrong. Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. A lie is determined not so much by the subjective state of the individual to whom we speak, but by the objective quality of our words – whether or not they accord with what we hold to be true in our mind. Thus, even in those cases where the other person does not have a right to the truth, we cannot lie to them (though we can withhold the truth by remaining silent or using discreet language).
Christ our Savior strongly condemned lying: 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) Thus, the Church teaches that, “by its very nature, lying is to be condemned.” (CCC 2485) It is always a sin to lie.
In the second article, I discussed the question of mental reservation – the theory that, when there is a grave reason for concealing the truth from another (when that person has no right to the particular truth), we may use ambiguous language to deceive the person. I distinguished between broad (or, wide) mental reservation and strict mental reservation. This distinction is brought out well by the Catholic Encyclopedia: “In the strict mental reservation the speaker mentally adds some qualification to the words which he utters, and the words together with the mental qualifications make a true assertion in accordance with fact. On the other hand, in a wide 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.” Strict mental reservation is actually a lie, and was condemned by Pope Innocent XI in 1679. Broad mental reservation is not a lie; hence, it can be used for a just reason.
I claimed that the work of Live Action was a case of strict mental reservation, and involved lying. Moreover, I provided an account according to which it would be possible for police and other agents of the State to engage in undercover work and espionage while still avoiding lies through the use of broad mental reservations – I admit that this would be difficult in practice, but it is at least theoretically possible. Hence, my rejection of the methods of Lila Rose does not constitute a condemnation of all undercover work.
Now, we turn to the two articles published at – the first, by Joseph Bottum, titled “The Unloving Lies of Lila Rose?” is a response to the article by Dr. Tollefsen; the second, by Dr. Miller, is much more serious and is titled “Did Live Action lie?
Response to Joseph Bottum: A faulty analogy and a faulty premise
The central claim of Joseph Bottum’s article rests upon an analogy to naval warfare. He writes: “Let’s try, for a moment, a metaphor of naval warfare. […] In the realm of naval warfare, there are recognized tricks – each a ruse de guerre that the international laws of war do not condemn. Sailing under false colors, prior to engaging in battle, for example.” Mr. Bottum (perhaps wrongly) claims that Dr. Tollefsen and his “noble philosophy” would condemn such naval practices “as lies.” He even admits that Dr. Tollefsen is correct: “And rightly so.” Bottum continues, “In the monastery and the convent, too, they would be theologically condemned.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Bottum objects, “War, however, is not fought on those fields” (i.e. the “fields” of theology, spirituality, and reason). Mr. Bottom’s whole argument rests on the claim that the pro-life movement is at war with the culture of death and, therefore, is able to follow “the international laws of war.” How dangerous is the method of thought he has adopted! The entire crux of the argument rests on the claim that, although theology (as well as spirituality and philosophy) seem to condemn an action, because the international community has agreed, it is morally acceptable for the Christian. Simply because “the international laws of war do not condemn” the action, Mr. Bottum presumes that it is perfectly acceptable for Lila Rose and the Live Action project to lie. His argument is based on human consent rather than natural or divine law. What should we think if international or national laws began to legalize gay marriage? Whither would Mr. Bottum’s logic lead him then?
The logic of Mr. Bottum’s argument is so deeply flawed that it seems to us that we need not address his article any further. Let us simply state that war is waged between nations, not between movements or individuals within a single nation. The pro-life movement is not “at war” with Planned Parenthood – though we may use this metaphor (and I myself use it at times), strictly speaking we are not really “at war.” Even “the international laws of war” dictate that declaration of war must be made by States, not individuals – hence, Mr. Bottom’s logic fails its own (very illogical) test.
[In her article, Dr. Miller is at least intellectually honest enough to admit that the “war” we are in with the culture of death “is a spiritual war before it is anything else,” though she leaves it to us to infer that the international laws of war do not hold for spiritual warfare.]
Though Mr. Bottum has stated that Dr. Tollefsen’s article is filled with ideas “so silly that only an intellectual could convince himself to believe in them,” we will avoid any personal attack against Mr. Bottum and only comment that it is surprising that would stoop so low as to publish such an ill conceived piece.
Response to Monica Migliorino Miller: Strict mental reservation is a lie
First, I would like to express my admiration of Dr. Miller for all the good work she has done for the pro-life movement. May Almighty God reward her for the dedication she has shown over many years of service in defense of the Culture of Life. Even this particular article, with which I take great objection, is written in such a spirit of intellectual honesty and studious devotion that I am slightly pained to criticize it. Nevertheless, the splendor of the truth must shine forth, and I intend here to take Dr. Miller up on the offer she made when writing, “I hope this treatise will provoke thought and I welcome responses.”
Dr. Miller’s article is long and complex. It contains citations of several very interesting passages from the works of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas – in particular, we refer the reader to the discussion of the deception accomplished by Jacob and the question regarding ambush in war. However, for all its complexity and its many examples (as well as its length), we are quite shocked that Dr. Miller has neglected to account for the distinction between broad and strict mental reservation. Though she makes use of the term “mental reservation,” Dr. Miller does not even define it. Moreover, while referring to “wide” or “broad” mental reservation, she never distinguishes this from “strict” mental reservation – she neglects to even mention the phrase “strict mental reservation.” Needless to say, when Dr. Miller claims that Live Action has engaged in a mental reservation, she fails to inform the reader that one form of mental reservation, namely strict mental reservation, has been condemned as lying by Pope Innocent XI.
It is quite surprising that a lengthy article by a moral theologian would neglect to discuss such an important point as the difference between broad and strict mental reservation. As Dr. Miller has neglected this, we will simply offer a brief recounting of our own position (which is based on the Catholic moral tradition): Broad mental reservation occurs when the ambiguity in the words (which gives rise to the deception) comes from something in the external world (either from the words themselves, or from the circumstances); but strict mental reservation occurs when the ambiguity comes from something solely in the mind and not from the external world.
Dr. Miller implies that Lila Rose and company could say to the people at Planned Parenthood, “I am a prostitute;” meaning, “I am playing the role of a prostitute in order to test you.” Dr. Miller claims that this is a case of mental reservation – and we agree, but we insist that it is strict mental reservation and is therefore a lie. For there is nothing in the circumstances or in the words themselves which gives rise to this ambiguity, but it stems solely from the mind of the “actor.”  Thus, the deception perpetrated on Planned Parenthood is accomplished through intentionally presenting falsehood as truth – this deception is not a case of broad mental reservation, but is actually a lie.
If Dr. Miller had made the essential distinction between broad and strict mental reservation, she might have concluded that Live Action’s methods involved lies (under the auspices of strict mental reservations).
On another level, Dr. Miller claims that, if what Lila Rose has done is a lie and is sinful, then all undercover police work would also be sinful. I have already dealt with this objection extensively and have argued that some level of undercover work could be morally acceptable, if accomplished by agents of the State through extensive use of broad mental reservations – for more on this point, please see the section on “Lying and undercover agents” from my previous article.
Finally, Dr. Miller’s concluding point – that a lie is only a lie if told to someone who has a right to the truth – is refuted not only by both of my previous articles and by the revision of the Catechism, but even by her own article in which she cites both St. Thomas and St. Augustine (witnesses to the entire tradition of Catholic moral theology) who insist that the nature of a lie is not determined by the subjective position of the other to whom the lie is told, but by the very nature of the words themselves and their relation to the intellect (i.e. a lie is the intentional presentation of falsehood as truth).
Promised statement from Lila Rose
Apparently, Lila Rose will be issuing a public statement in response to the criticism which her “sting” operations have received from some Catholic writers (including ourselves). If and when this statement is released, The New Theological Movement will offer a commentary and a brief response.
The final word must be one of praise for the great dedication which Live Action (and Lila Rose in particular) has shown in service of the Culture of Life – may its works always be accomplished in the light, free from every shadow of darkness.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I would ask that all comments be given with a name or "tag" or "id" or some sort of pseudonym.
If not in the "identity" line, at least at the end of the comment (as shown below).
Also, I ask that all comments addressed to a particular person (whether myself or another reader) name that person directly and give the time of the comment (when applicable).


Reginaldus said...

Christopher Tollefsen has offered another (this time, very long) article on "Why Lying is Always Wrong" --
He offers very good reasoning.

Nick said...

" which have attempted to argue that Live Action has not lied in these undercover operations."

This is exactly why I'm no longer pro-life. Instead, now I consider myself a Christian first who adheres to the Church's social doctrine (such as on human life and on engagement in the political community). I've seen too many Christians put politics before faith and compromise sacred doctrines for political reasons. This is just one more instance of that, it seems.

- Nick Childers

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Nick (12:38pm),
I certainly understand where you are coming from! While I think it may be a bit much to say "I'm no longer pro-life" (since it can be easily misinterpreted), I definitely agree the with the central thrust of your comment: We must be Christian even before we are "pro-life" (and being a "pro-lifer" isn't enough to be a Christian).

Yes indeed, even good goals (like ending abortion) can become a sort-of "false God"...
A friend of mine once commented, "I'm glad we have a Walk for Life, but when will we start the Walk for Christ?" He meant no disrespect to the pro-life movement, but he was pointing out that pro-life politics sometimes tend to eclipse the centrality of the Gospel...

Thank you for your continued participation in the discussion!

Nick said...

I agree, good ends can become false gods. Like you, I hope NTM clears up a lot of the bad stuff in the Church.

I'll ask my pastor about the Walk for Christ. It sounds exciting! :)

Benjamin said...

I think it is important to use exact quotes from Live Action when discussing this. We must show what words they used, in which we consider to be lies. They never said, *we are pimps and prostitutes*. Maybe they used WIDE mental reservation during all their undercover activity. I have not seen a transcript but I know we cannot judge them on what they may or may not have said.


Anonymous said...

I'm afraid that Lila and Co. operate on a "ends justify the means" mentality. If this is the case they should really caution themselves from this as I believe that is the same reasoning so-called "pro-life" terrorists use to justify bombing abortion clinics. It could lend to a slippery slope that could harm what I believe are ultimately good (if imperfectly expressed) intentions of Live Action. As a young group that in the future could theoritically expand and include diverse members it's best that they get a handle on such ethical issues before they get out of control.

I am glad that they have been bold to stand up to Planned Parenthood and have produced some good results but one always has to wonder- at what cost?

Thank you Reginaldus for providing what I see as much needed constructive criticism for a group that could have otherwise been misinformed and led down the wrong path by those who were all too eager to let certain ethical issues slide. I think Live Action and many other pro-life groups could benefit from such advice. We need to learn to maintain control our passions lest they control us, and we must always strive to stay true to our call us Christians to witness to the Truth.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Benjamin (6:18pm),

A clear lie is the claim that they manage girls as young as 14, who are from other countries and don’t speak English (or even Spanish) – though the “sex work” is ambiguous, it does not seem that young girls who don’t speak English (or have insurance) and who have just arrived from other countries really work for the Live Action “actors.”

Also, the “pimp” claims that he has a “burning sensation” and that he thinks he got it from one of these (fabricated) girls.

Finally, the “pimp” states that the young girls he manages are going to need birth control and may need abortions – something which (we hope) is a lie.

The use of the ambiguous phrase – “We are involved in sex work” – may be (at least initially) a broad mental reservation (and therefore not a lie). The conversation that continues, however, specifies this “sex work” in such a manner that it is clearly a lie – since the “pimp” claims that the girls he manages may need abortions and will definitely need contraception in order to carry out the “sex work” in which he is involved.

Moreover, such an extensive use of (even broad) mental reservation does not seem to be open to civilians. Remember that the whole question of mental reservation comes up in relation to those who are being unwillingly forced to answer questions – it is not clear how it applies to a voluntary undercover ruse (especially one carried out by vigilantes).

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Nick and John (anonymous, 7:24pm),
Thank you for your kind words. I am very pleased to hear that these articles are helping people!

gedda fan said...

reginaldus- trying to follow your general logic- was Pius XII wrong to direct and effect thru many including John XXIII , false baptismal documents etc. for jewish children, deliberatey deceiving the Nazis' in order to ave their lives? tell me plainly- a yes or no will do

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Father Ryan Erlenbush said...
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steve said...

To those that are questioning live action's work: this reminds me of a phrase from Father Corapi, when he said that this generation will be judged as having been "educated into imbecility". This is a real war, real blood, real death, real battlefield. Sure, it has a spiritual component, war always does. She is taking the fight to the enemy, and helping to save lives. I see such useless nonsense being passed around as theology in some of these responses. Steve.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

gedda fan (8:57pm),
Simple answer: No, I do not think Pius XII or John XXIII lied -- because I am not convinced that the documents say what many claim they say (there is much scholarship on this point, and I would rather not get into it here)... we would have to see exactly what these supposed documents say, for they may not be true lies.

More fully: On the supposition that a Pope would issue false legal (or false sacramental) documents, I would say that such a Pope would not only have lied but would have committed the very serious sin of forgery.

Deceiving Nazi's is one thing (it can be done through broad mental reservation), but direct lying is another (and is always wrong).

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Steve (9:30pm),
Speaking of "useless nonsense"!

You state this this is "a real war" and a "real battlefield"...I wonder: Who made the official declaration of war? Which nations are involved? What steps were previously taken by these nations to avoid war?
Moreover, if it is a war, then we would be able to kill without trial -- are you suggesting we start killing abortion doctors without trial?

How dangerous it is when zealous men (who are also thoughtless) begin ranting...

steve said...

Reginaldus, are there any nations not in this war? As far as a declaration of war, does roe v wade ring a bell in that thoughtful mind of yours?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Steve (9:57pm),
Perhaps you are intentionally misunderstanding...
War is between nations, not individuals or movements; so, what nation is at war with what other nation?
Also, Roe v. Wade is not a declaration of war, it is a Supreme Court decision... if you recall, the Supreme Court does not have the authority to declare war.

I believe you are intending to use "war" metaphorically... but then, if it is only a metaphor, it is not clear why you insist that the moral teachings of Christ and his Church no longer apply... [they would apply even if we were in a real war]

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...
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Karen said...

I was a little uncomfortable with the sting videos but I really couldn't put my finger on why. Now I know what was bothering me: Is the lying OK?" I see now that it is not, although I can't help but be happy that the results are now public (is that wrong?). However, back to the subject of war (you never know what times are coming), would it have been wrong to tell Nazis that "No, you are not hiding Jews" when in fact you are? What about being sent to kill in a war when no bad act (killing) can be used to bring about good (then end of the war)? I really am trying to set up some kind of parameters in my own mind. What about defending your family from an intruder with a gun? Can you shoot him yourself? There seem to be so many situations.


Joshua C said...

You say the following quite easily:

--"The arguments I make will contain all the power and force of Catholic teaching."

--"I am slightly pained to criticize it. Nevertheless, the splendor of the truth must shine forth"

--Lastly, you say you will avoid any personal attack on Bottum, but you make the clear implication that it is not "intellectually honest".

Maybe some practice in humility would help. It seems to me you are speaking as if you had all the authority of the Church and that is clearly not the case, otherwise this discussion would not have faithful Catholics on both sides.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@karen (10:06pm),
I'm glad that the article has been helpful!
1) No, you cannot lie even to Nazis. But you could use discreet language which would mislead them -- so, you can't say "No, I am not hiding Jews." but you could say "No, I am not hiding any of those 'Christ-killers'."
2) Killing is not always bad, in fact it can bee good at times. In war, it is lawful to kill enemy soldiers directly (willing primarily to defeat him). In self defense it is lawful to kill the aggressor indirectly (willing primarily to defend yourself).
3) I don't think that it is wrong to be happy that PP is receiving increased pressure from these would just have been better if LiveAction had not lied.

Peace to you!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Joshua C (10:06pm),
I'm not sure if you have read any of my other articles ... in them I state very clearly that there are several matters about which I am not certain -- the primary being what we should say about undercover police work.
I certainly dong think that I have all the answers or all the authority of the Church.

I am certain about this though: "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving," and "By its very nature, lying is to be condemned." (CCC 2482, 2485)
Thus, my conscience binds me...I can see no way whatever in which what LiveAction has done is not a lie; therefore, I have condemned it.

If you are so quick to condemn my pride, I can only imagine how harshly you must have criticized Mr. Bottum for his scathing personal attacks against Dr. Tollefsen... oh, nothing?...

Joshua C said...

The point I was making is that you seem too quick to say your argument is backed by Church teaching. But, the other side is saying the same thing.

Actually, I agree with most of your analysis - I am just very bothered by your assurance. It reminded me of the language that is used when an infallible declaration of dogma is proposed and you are not infallible.

Bottum's argument is not a very good one, but you contradicted yourself in saying you wouldn't sink to his level, but you did.

My conscience also binds me to tell you this.

Thanks for starting the discussion, but please be careful in how you present it.

dan said...

I think Reginaldus is right. It's a sin to lie. LiveAction lied. LiveAction sinned. It's like in football when someone on your team breaks a rule that leads to an advantage, you hope the ref didn't see it, you hope he gets away with it. But he did it. He did it. It was wrong.

Anonymous said...

I think you might be hung up on scrupulosity.

Anonymous said...

This makes me sick! You are arguing over them saving babies. The actors of live action use " Ifs"...if I have girls ages 14 or 15..... The bottom line is that Lila and her friends are fighting for the lives of the unborn. What are you doing to end this genocide? Are you standing outside abortion clinics or do you fail to realize there exists such things? There is a war. A battle between good and evil. PP is the spawn of Satan. But let's just discuss that fact instead of actually saving lives...

Meg @ True, Good and Beautiful said...

@Joshua C (10:26)
Actually, Reginaldus is the only one providing documented Church teaching (primarily from the Catechism, but also noting Popes and Church Fathers) in this discussion. I have yet to see others clearly and plainly state Church teaching for their position. He can speak with assurance because the Church has taught with clarity and certainty under the guidance of the Spirit.

@Anonymous (11:09)
Have they saved a baby? I thought all they had done was expose immoral and illegal activity... I'm glad it's exposed and I hope that one day, it leads somehow to lives being saved, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. The fruits of Live Action's recent sting operations have not, as yet, included saving a single life.

And just because someone isn't lying to expose the immoral activity of PP, doesn't mean they aren't doing any number of virtuous and good works to end the horror of abortion. You seem to mock the discussion, but the discussion is important, lest we ourselves become convinced that it is morally acceptable to sin in order to stop sin.

Anonymous said...

Whoa! I just noticed all of the typos in my previous comment. Sorry about that! I should have done a better job proofreading it.


Nick said...

Spiritual warfare is not inter-state conflict. But even in spiritual warfare, God shows us the way. How?

He withheld from the Devil the truth of Mary's Virginity, not because He lied but because Satan had no right to it.

Contrast this with Satan, who, in the Garden, lied to Adam and Eve by twisting God's Commandment and making a false promise.

So the truth must be lived, even in the keeping of secrets and confidentiality, like the Seal of the Sacrament of Confession.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I have removed the picture originally associated with this article, as it could be easily misinterpreted...also, it seemed a bit too "light" for such an important topic.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Unfortunately, I don't believe that I will be able to continue the discussion any further in this comment box.
I will leave it open for a few more days, so that readers may discuss the issues freely.

Peace to all!

Mark said...

I think it is very straightforward to prove that Live Action's stings are legitimate as "tests" which the Bible does not necessarily consider to be lies in the first place. Genesis 22:1-14 has one good example. (There are many more). God said to Abraham (22:2):

"Take your son, your only son, your beloved Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, where you are to offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall point out to you."

God then allows Abraham to labor for a significant period of time under the belief that he is going to have to kill his son. Of course God then intervenes at the last minute and stops it. God knew from the moment that he said that to Abraham that he was not going to have him kill Isaac. So this is clearly a lie, is it not? Well it is not because God does not lie.

The answer is in the preceding verse, which says that God wanted to put Abraham to the "test". This is a clear example showing that "testing" is not always lying. What could seem to be a lie in another context is not a lie if it is part of a legitimate "test". Of course when we humans "test", it must be done according to certain ethical standards. But scripture clearly shows that "testing" is not necessarily "lying". There is no need for complicated rationales justifying the "lies" of Live Action. They were "testing". This is not mere semantics. This is an entirely legitimate and important distinction established in Scripture.

Anonymous said...

Ok, lets see if you pass your own test in this article..

Is wearing makeup sinful?
She doesnt look like that.

How about wearing girdle?
He's not that skinny.

How about wearing high heels?
She's not that tall.

Augustines definition of the lie is not the only supposed definition. But I would like to see a follow up article where you call all women wearing makeup and high heels sinful little liars.

John Church

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Anonymous said...

The 8th speaks specifically about bearing false witness- and of course, that didn't happen. It is intrinsically immoral to speak falsely in a serious matter for an unworthy motive (such as to gain something to which one has no right, or to avoid a punishment that is justly due), but to defend the unborn from slaughter? "To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error" (CCC 2482, 2483). Lila et al did not lead others into error, thus she did not lie. As a church, we forged documents stating Jews were Catholics during WWII- again NOT a lie because we were not leading others into error.

blackrobe said...

A story is told of, I believe, Athanasius. On one of the occasions he was fleeing from the authorities, he hid in some reeds along a river bank. A boatload of his pursuers came by but did not immediately recognize him. "Have you seen the scoundrel Athanasius?" they asked. Athanasius replied "I am certain he is very near."

mubashar said...
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gedda fan said...

oh reginaldus - you change [quantify] the argument but that's ok. - I fear for truth when intelligent people become confused on the priority of action and what is required see matt 11;25.- Lying[deliberate false words with the intention to deceive] may be always wrong... ok.- but we must be clear in mind the limits of any culpability; if the all important matter of intention is to save a precious life from the hands of PP and a wayward mother / father- for time to baptise.....
I'd willingly lie to do that and take my chances with the Divine Judge. To do otherwise just doesn't pass the smell test...

I can envision "well intentioned, principled' folks being principled into catatonia [ we can't free those slaves - we'd be lying if we said we didn't know where they were]- does 3,000 deaths per day mean anything in the grand prioritized scheme of things or is it all lost[ leveled ] in principle? must not every drop of shed infants blood be paid for with the equivalent drops of blood from Principled folk who stood by[but annually marched??!!] and allowed them to be butchered? - let this generation pass and let a new generation come into play, like venerable Lila , et. al. who are willing to engage in the battle for life against sin at the effective level and not stand by and promulgate esoteric argument in lieu of real manly[ St. Joseph like] action

dcs said...

@John Church, in what way is wearing makeup, high heels, etc., saying something that you know is false?

@Anonymous, Dawn Eden and William Doino deal with the myth of the false baptismal certificates during WWII. In short, it did not happen. But even if it did, it would not show that lying can be justified.

Mara said...

IF the police, FBI and government cared enough to do their own investigative work, Live Action wouldn't need to do this! But as sidewalk counselors have testified, police turn a blind eye, and governments allow clinics to operate without oversight. I find this "lying" debate ridiculous and shifting our focus away from what is the real problem.

Anonymous said...

From "A Catholic"
To: Mara

I like your comment. This debate is turning the attention away from the grave moral situation of our tax money going to support the murder of unborn children through Planned Parenthood. However, the moral question of whether the Live Action undercover individuals committed a grave sin against the 8th commandment is an important one to address, if we claim to be Catholic, which I do.

Be sure to read Dr. Monica Migliorino-Miller's treatise on

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Mark said...

The Police have been conducting sting operations for decades if not centuries. The church has never objected on moral grounds. Clearly that is proof positive that the church considers this acceptable. This issue has not been legitimately raised. I hope the prolife movement will see that ignore this and carry on. Bottom line, approaching abortion rights will be like approaching a hornets nest. As the movement comes closer to actually doing something the attacks will become furious. Some will come from within the church as this one has. This must be understood and accepted. The prolife movement will have to learn to go forward in the face of this to be successful.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

On account of some very aggressive commentators, I have had to enable comment moderation (at least for a day or two).

John said...

I must admit, I find the focus of several of these comments quite horrifying.
Seems that many want to insist that LiveAction has committed some sort of sin with their video efforts and/or that warfare must always involve force of arms and must always occur between at least two nation states.

I must assure you all, these views are dangerously negligent.

Warfare, in it's strictest sense, DOES involve a declaration of a state of war by a competent authority. Make no mistake though, warfare happens quite often and use of force of arms only comes into play fairly rarely.

Thanks be to God.

As for Planned Parenthood and Live Action, I think you're kidding yourself if you think Live Action has committed some horrid act, or if you think Planned Parenthood will behave legally when no one's looking.

And, I think these worries about their ethics are somewhat overblown. Yes, there's risk to it. I hate to tell you this, but we aren't going to win ANY battle of any kind if we won't take chances. Planned Parenthood and their friends aren't going to quit merely because we show them a Bible.

I think it noteworthy though that, to date, no film I've seen from Live Action has accused anyone of murder or any other crime without proof. I think they're walking a VERY fine line and they know it.

All they've done is walk into clinics, pose as someone who would be completely plausible as a "client", and allow Planned Parenthood's staff's actions to speak for themselves.

For me then, the question is not, when will they quit.

The question is, when we will demand that appropriate law enforcement agencies conduct these operations, such that actual arrest warrants can be issued?

If you're still insistent that Live Action acts immorally, may I ask what you think of Rosa Parks actions on the bus?

Her refusal to move was not only illegal, but considered "immoral" by many then too.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@John (7:44am),
I'm surprised at how concerned you are with issues of legality. You seem to think that I share your same concerns...I do not (at least not to the same extent).
Live Action has done nothing illegal -- here we agree.
Planned Parenthood has (possibly) done something illegal -- again, we agree.
Rosa Parks did something illegal -- again, we agree.

I never said that LiveAction's lies were wrong because they broke the law. They are wrong because they are contrary to the natural law, and divine positive law as taught by Christ and his Church.

Rosa Parks' actions did not involve lies -- so I'm not sure why you bring her into this...

Finally, I find your statement - "Planned Parenthood and their friends aren't going to quit merely because we show them a Bible." - very enlightening; it stinks of despair. You intimate that the moral means (and specifically those which are accepted by the Bible) are not enough to win the battle. You seem to claim that we need something more drastic...

Remember what happened to Saul when he decided that he needed to take extreme measures and went to the witch...
No, I tell you, God will win the battle; and we need to fight with him who is both Life and Truth!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Mark (12:13am),
I can see that you have not read my earlier articles... it's ok, they are a bit long...

The point is: In the second (of the three articles I have written), I argued that what Live Action has done is significantly different from what police sting operations are doing.

Moreover, I attempted to show that it would be possible for a police agent (or spy) to do undercover work without lying, making use of "broad mental reservations".

Please read that portion of the previous article before making any further comments.

Also, I'm very sorry that you see me as attacking the pro-life movement -- it is a sad day when reason and public discourse are seen as a threat...

Blessings. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@"A Catholic" (11:57pm),
Though I had to delete your other comment, I thank you for this one.

Indeed, reason and discourse are essential... I will second your comment: "Be sure to read Dr. Monica Migliorino-Miller's treatise on"
In fact, by entering into this debate (and responding to her article), I am implicitly encouraging others to read what she has written.

What has concerned me most is this: Not so much that people disagree (that is to be expected), but that some people are trying to shout down any and all discussion of this topic! They will say that public discourse is "ridiculous" or "sickening" ... they close their ears and rush forward to stone any who question.
Simply for raising a question about one particular "operation" of Live Action, I am labeled an "enemy", I am lumped in with PP supporters.

Moreover, many people are asking for my identity... I would mention that, in the comments to a previous article, several persons began discussing a hypothetical situation in which I would get knifed to death by the mafia... do you think this makes me particularly inclined to tell people who I am and where I live?

In any case, "A Catholic", I second your statement: "The moral question of whether the Live Action undercover individuals committed a grave sin against the 8th commandment is an important one to address, if we claim to be Catholic."

Mark said...

As a matter of fact, I did read your previous article. Undercover agents posing as drug dealers usually do not actually have any drugs to sell. Even if they do, they cannot sell them or they would be breaking the law. So they cannot say they are drug dealers because they are not drug dealers-they are in fact the police. (Does this point really have to be further established?) One can surely lie with purposeful actions as easily as with the spoken word. A police officer posing as a drug dealer is lying with every action and every word (according to your standard of lying). In fact, even you admit as much in the article when you later say you don't know what the answer is. Clearly, you will have to do better than that. With all due respect, if that is your best argument, I think your case completely fails. I would like to put this to a Church authority (or even just a fair arbitrator) to see whether any fair minded person could possibly agree with you. There is no difference, from a moral standpoint, between police sting operations and private party sting operations. (Also note that private parties also include for example private detectives, and security for various institutions including universities, corporations, etc. who also run sting operations.)

My question was really a different one. Given the clear similarities between police undercover work and what LiveAction is doing, which even you concede in your article, why has this question not been raised before over the many years of police undercover work? The Church routinely comments on, and objects to, practices by the police or other authorities it believes are wrong. Why is this argument suddenly now being brought out against the prolife movement? Why can the prolife movement not reasonably conclude that since the church, over all these years, has never raised an objection, it is in fact a legitimate practice?

I would also like to ask a completely separate question that I would greatly appreciate an answer to. According to the exact same standard of lying that you are applying to Live Action, was God lying in Genesis 22:2 when he ordered Abraham to kill his son Isaac? (Please note use of the word "shall".)

"Then God said: "Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.""

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Mark (7:22pm),
I'm interested to see that the answer is so clear to you. Even I, as bold as I am, was hesitant in regard to the question of the police and the relation between the LiveAction vigilantes and undercover police work...

However, you have intimated that those who agree with the articles I have written are not fair minded people. You wrote: "I would like to put this to a Church authority (or even just a fair arbitrator) to see whether any fair minded person could possibly agree with you."
I'm sorry you feel that way.

I myself can see that fair-minded people can disagree on this point: for example, Dr. Miller disagrees with me.
However, fair-minded individuals do not disagree about whether lying is always wrong. The point of debate is whether the police sting operations can be done with broad mental reservations (and I have argued that they can be, and are therefore morally acceptable). Also, the debate hinges on whether what Live Action has in fact done is broad or strict mental reservation -- I think it is strict mental reservation and is therefore a lie.

You on the other hand have stated that the police are lying in their undercover work. You imply that LiveAction also is lying. But you claim that there is no problem with these lies, since the Church has not specifically condemned the police.

I would ask you this: Did you have to read an encyclical condemning topless bars before you decided that it would be wrong for a man to manage such an establishment? Or was it enough for Christ to say, "Do not have lust in your heart"?

For me, it is enough for the Church to say that "lying is to be condemned" -- why does she need further to specify that police cannot lie in their undercover work?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Mark Shea has, in the end, decided that what Live Action has done is to lie -- therefore, it is wrong.

This is a follow up article to his first, which was written in relation to the first article written here at NTM.

John said...

First, I haven't given in to despair in any manner. I regret that you didn't understand my comments regarding the Bible, law, morals, or Rosa Parks, but it seems you didn't, so I guess I'll refocus.

Frankly, I'm quite shocked by the reactions that you and numerous others offer in response to these videos.
Simply put, too many seem to believe that Planned Parenthood has been wrongly maligned by a group of reckless hooligans, while Live Action has been cast as a reckless band of vigilantes.

I find these attitudes..incredible.

So, in spite of Lila Rose herself being a college graduate, in spite of the general nonchalance of the Planned Parenthood staffers, in spite of Planned Parenthood's known euphemisms and behavior, you're still going to insist that Live Action acted immorally or that Planned Parenthood did not?

How much morality will you twist to deny the Truth?

When I commented on Rosa Parks and/or the Bible, I tried to emphasize how society needed to be confronted by the gross injustice of segregation and so forth in the south. I think the same thing needs to happen with regard to abortion and various related actions.

You insist that Planned Parenthood did something illegal..only possibly. You or another insisted that Live Action could be concealing numerous other tapes that're friendly toward Planned Parenthood.

I think these concerns reflect a reasonable desire for justice, but it's aimed the wrong way.
Live Action's videos have both showcased behaviors on the part of Planned Parenthood AND the laws that should apply, but haven't been enforced.
And, judging by the reactions of the staffers in those cases that've been documented on video, I suspect that the questions Live Action raised have probably been heard numerous times before.

Offering someone the benefit of the doubt is good, but let's make sure we apply it both ways.

Ultimately, I wonder if many people are reacting poorly to these videos and giving Live Action a tough time because..too many don't wish to see the routine contempt for law that Planned Parenthood very likely could be exercising. Too many people don't wish to admit that one sin could lead to another.

I think it noteworthy that, as a result of Live Action's videos, several State's Attourney's General have begun paying rather more heed to Planned Parenthood clinics, while at the same time, I have yet to hear even one official complain about the legality of Live Action.

What we do see and what we don't seems rather telling, does it not?

Evil and falsehood can only remain concealed for so long....

John said...

Since some are VERY concerned about lies in this discussion, let me ask you this:

Would you approve of the videos if Live Action had arranged for an active pimp to have conducted these "stings"?
Why or why not?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@John, I have never, nor will I ever, support Planned Parenthood in any way.
I have never claimed that the videos by LiveAction were fake, or doctored, nor have I intimated that they were hiding other (favorable) videos.
I have never defended Planned Parenthood.

All I have ever done is to say that LiveAction should not have lied ... I am sorry that you think that this makes me an enemy ...

I would say that Planned Parenthood is the enemy ... I just want my friends (Lila Rose and company) to fight valiantly and in the Truth.

John said...


What do you believe Live Action should have done instead?

Quaeritur said...

You may have covered this, but in regard to using the war language; what about action of a militia as opposed to a state run army? You say, "Let us simply state that war is waged between nations, not between movements or individuals within a single nation." What about the revolutionary war or the Civil war? The revolutionary war was fought/won by the militia, and the Civil war was within a single nation?

Mark said...

Actually I said that they lied according to your standards. The point is larger. There are many who conduct sting operations including the police, the FBI, and also private detectives and security, not to mention news organizations like 60 minutes, 20/20, etc. The practice is widespread. You have gone in and selected out one prolife group and accused them of lying while somehow apparently trying to maintain the rest aren't. I realize you haven't addressed some of the others I brought up yet they are out there and well known. Either they are all lying or they are all not lying. To pick on one and say they are the only ones lying in my opinion violates basic standards of fairness that even the secular world recognizes. That was my point.

I notice you did not try to answer my question about Abraham. In fact I think that passage proves that scripture and therefore the church clearly teach that such activity is not necessarily lying. This is the reason society and the church have long accepted such stings as legitimate in principle.

Anonymous said...

Are we a bunch of Kantians with scrupples about lying but willing to concede everything else? What if there is a second Civil War in this country about abortion, the way the first was about slavery? Will you scrupple then about lying to win such a war? This is how I know the pro-life movement is not serious. Where are the pro-life Daniel Websters, the pro-life Abraham Lincolns, the pro-life John Browns? I know from history what a movement looks like when it is serious, and this one is not.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The Revolutionary War and Civil War were between two nations (in a sense) -- they were fought by people who claimed to be a new/separate nation.

However, you do bring up a good point ... there are times when people can fight a "war" of sorts within a single nation -- this then leads to a quasi-anarchy. It is justified in some extreme cases, as when the nation no longer functions as a nation.
If we were to hold that the USA was at this point -- justifying a "war" on PP -- then we would be giving up on any legal recourse and abandoning the Constitution, etc.
However, LiveAction is precisely not doing this -- the whole goal is to bring the illegal measures of PP to the attention of the public so that the government will be forced to act.

Thus, it is clear that Live Action does not think that we are in anarchy or a time of civil revolt ... hence, they cannot claim to be "at war" with PP (except in the most removed metaphorical and spiritual sense).

I hope that this makes sense...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (11:56am), You wrote, "Are we a bunch of Kantians"... what a strange thing to say!
What in this article (or in any of the comments) has resembled anything whatever of Kant? strange some people are...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Mark (12:10am),
You have a very interesting interpretation of the test of Abraham.
I, however, am Catholic; hence, I believe that the Church has the supreme authority when it comes to interpreting Scripture.

Thus, if someone were to quote Scripture and say, "Telling a falsehood with the intention to deceive is not lying" (as you have); I would say, "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving." (CCC 2482)
You see, this is what separates us...I interpret the Scriptures in light of the Church's teachings.
You, on the other hand, interpret the Scriptures according to your own fancy...and then you force the Church's teaching into your mental construct...

[Dr. Monica Miller has explained (in her article, which favors Live Action) that there are ways to interpret difficult passages from the Old Testament so as to show that there are no lies or deceptive falsehoods involved -- it often has do to with prophecy and foreshadowing]

Finally, I have already explained that it is possible to do undercover work without lying...Why do you keep bringing that point up? What I have said is that LiveAction lied -- they could have avoided lying by using broad mental reservations, but they didn' that really so hard for you to understand?
[even if they had used broad mental reservations, then I would say that they are still vigilantes and are at least pushing the limits of moral acceptability]

Also, part of the reason I expect more from Live Action is because they are Pro-life...hence, it more important for them to have a very high standard of morality.
It is because I am on the side of Live Action that I challenge them.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Mark Shea has posted a very good final reflection on this whole debate.

I will post a link to his article, then I will be closing the comments...