The Catholic blogosphere has been ablaze recently with discussions revolving around the actions of Lila Rose and Live Action and their sting operation against Worse Than Murder, Inc, with some bloggers like our own Joe Hargrave condemning these tactics since they involved lying, and other bloggers such as myself holding that there is nothing morally wrong with the tactics used in the sting. I certainly do not wish to raise from the dead this well flogged horse, but I thought our readers might find interesting a fascinating overview of lying, equivocation and morality in Note G of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua. It is a typical tour de force by Newman where he demonstrates his knowledge of the history, reasoning and practical application of a Church teaching on morality. Here is the note:
ALMOST all authors, Catholic and Protestant, admit, that when a just cause is present, there is some kind or other of verbal misleading, which is not sin. Even silence is in certain cases virtually such a misleading, according to the Proverb, “Silence gives consent.” Again, silence is absolutely forbidden to a Catholic, as a mortal sin, under certain circumstances, e.g. to keep silence, when it is a duty to make a profession of faith.
Another mode of verbal misleading, and the most direct, is actually saying the thing that is not; and it is defended on the principle that such words are not a lie, when there is a “justa causa,” as killing is not murder in the case of an executioner.
Another ground of certain authors for saying that an untruth is not a lie where there is a just cause, is, that veracity is a kind of justice, and therefore, when we have no duty of justice to tell truth to another, it is no sin not to do so. Hence we may say the thing that is not, to children, to madmen, to men who ask impertinent questions, to those whom we hope to benefit by misleading.
Another ground, taken in defending certain untruths, ex justâ causâ, as if not lies, is, that veracity is for the sake of society, and that, if in no case whatever we might lawfully mislead others, we should actually be doing society great harm.
Another mode of verbal misleading is equivocation or a play upon words; and it is defended on the theory that to lie is to use words in a sense which they will not bear. But an equivocator uses them in a received sense, though there is another received sense, and therefore, according to this definition, he does not lie.
Others say that all equivocations are, after all, a kind of lying,—faint lies or awkward lies, but still lies; and some of these disputants infer, that therefore we must not equivocate, and others that equivocation is but a half-measure, and that it is better to say at once that in certain cases untruths are not lies.
Others will try to distinguish between evasions and equivocations; but though there are evasions which are clearly not equivocations, yet it is very difficult scientifically to draw the line between the one and the other.
To these must be added the unscientific way of dealing with lies,—viz. that on a great or cruel occasion a man cannot help telling a lie, and he would not be a man, did he not tell it, but still it is very wrong, and he ought not to do it, and he must trust that the sin will be forgiven him, though he goes about to commit it ever so deliberately, and is sure to commit it again under similar circumstances. It is a necessary frailty, and had better not be thought about before it is incurred, and not thought of again, after it is well over. This view cannot for a moment be defended, but, I suppose, it is very common.
I think the historical course of thought upon the matter has been this: the Greek Fathers thought that, when there was a justa causa, an untruth need not be a lie. St. Augustine took another view, though with great misgiving; and, whether he is rightly interpreted or not, is the doctor of the great and common view that all untruths are lies, and that there can be no just cause of untruth. In these later times, this doctrine has been found difficult to work, and it has been largely taught that, though all untruths are lies, yet that certain equivocations, when there is a just cause, are not untruths. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
The Catholic blogosphere has been debating the morality of the Lila Rose sting operation against Worse Than Murder, Inc. a\k\a Planned Parenthood, with a diverse crop of conclusions ranging from Mark Shea and our own Joe Hargrave who are opposed to this as an example of lying to be condemned, to Dr. Peter Kreeft and myself who find absolutely nothing wrong with it. This of course obscures the fact that most Catholics understand that deceit in most circumstances is to be condemned.
Now, in one of those examples of synchronicity regarding events which help establish to me that God has an infinite sense of humor, we have an example of lying that I think all Catholics would condemn. Teachers have taken the lead in the protests against the public employees union legislation proposed by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Thousands of teachers have called in sick to attend the rallies. Doctors, as shown in the video above, have been passing out certificates to teachers, falsely indicating that they have examined the recipient of the certificate and that the teacher is ill. To me lying to save innocent human life is one thing, lying to allow an employee to avoid work is quite another, even if one might be sympathetic to the employee on political grounds. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
This issue just won’t die. In the ongoing debates among Catholics on the Internet over the methods of Live Action, a blog post titled “The Lila Enigma: Selective Outrage?” by Dr. Gerard M. Nadal is making the rounds. Since I am on the other side of the debate, I want to answer some of the claims he makes in his post on this controversy, and I invite him to comment here if he cares to respond. I will put his comments in block quotations, followed by my responses.
After beginning with a list of the serious damages done to Planned Parenthood as a direct or indirect result of the Live Action expose, Dr. Nadal writes,
This coupled with the most pro-life Congress since Roe v Wade who were ramping up to defund Planned Parenthood, and the Catholic blogosphere erupts in spasms of indignation at…
Not Planned Parenthood…
But Lila Rose.
In my view this is a disingenuous statement, especially when the title implies that this indignation is “selective”, as if those who are questioning Lila Rose are not also outraged at Planned Parenthood. It is really unfortunate that there may be left-wing groups falsely claiming to be Catholic that seize upon arguments against lying to bolster their utterly inhuman and anti-Christian agenda. Given their reprehensible positions on abortion, they have no credibility when they speak about the morality of lying.
But there are many of us, and I will gladly lump myself in with Mark Shea and others on this question, who have had nothing but contempt for Planned Parenthood and in our writings and other works have sought to oppose the efforts of the abortion industry. There is absolutely nothing “selective” about what I won’t even call “outrage” – since Lila’s methods do not “outrage” us. Quite the contrary, it is because we are consistent, or trying to be at any rate, in our application of moral principles and our observance of God’s law that we have raised objections, not “outrage”, in response to these deceptive methods.
Since I have posted, twice, on the methods and actions of Live Action’s undercover sting operations, I have been confronted with the issue more and more in the Catholic publications I read and circles I frequent. I am not going to talk about the morality of lying yet again. Instead I want to talk about what I find to be an incredibly disturbing attitude among people who I normally consider good-willed and faithful Catholics. It goes something like this:
“I approve of lies if they save innocent lives. And I don’t care if it were to turn out that such lies were actually sins. I would do it anyway, and I think God would understand.”
One more extreme version of this argument was “I would gladly die a heretic“, all for the sake of maintaining their own personal position on lying.
I’m going to follow up my post on Live Action and Lila Rose with a more general post on lying, because it sparked quite a heated debate. At the outset I want to say that I don’t condemn people outright who believe it is morally acceptable to use deception to expose evil, but I do believe that they are wrong. Moreover, I believe that the ferocity of some people in defense of this position is completely unwarranted and unreasonable; there have been notable Catholic saints and thinkers on both sides of this question throughout history, and so it hardly seems right or fair to violently denounce a fellow Catholic for taking up one position or the other.