Is Lying Ever Justified?

“The problem is not that we are sinners: the problem is not repenting of sin, not being ashamed of what we have done.” In his homily at his daily Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae on May 17, 2013, Pope Francis was discussing, and commending, the example of Saint Peter, who, having denied Christ, was now (in John 21:15-19) reaffirming his love for his Lord and Savior.  It is a moving yet painful scene; as Christ asks Peter three times if he loves Him, Peter’s shame over his earlier threefold denial of the Truth envelops him.  Yet it is that shame, Pope Francis says, that ultimately allows Peter to repent, to return to the Lord in love, to embrace once again the Truth that he had so fervently denied.

As I read the text of the homily, my thoughts were drawn from the shores of the Sea of Galilee to the debates of the present day.  Two millennia after Peter’s repentance and return to the Truth, the Catholic blogosphere in the United States is consumed with a debate over—of all things—the morality of lying.  And in the days before Pope Francis delivered his homily on the necessity of Peter’s shame, the words of Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio had been dragged into the debate.  Discussing incidents in his past during Argentina’s Dirty War, the man who is now Pope Francis had seemed to indicate that he had engaged in and counseled deception to save lives.  And Cardinal Bergoglio had discussed the incidents in question matter-of-factly, giving no indication that he had later repented of any possible deception—nor, it should be noted, offering any clear statement that he regarded such deception as morally right.

Nonetheless, these passages from Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words added fuel to a debate that had been reignited a few weeks earlier, after the pro-life organization Live Action, capitalizing on the coverage of the trial of Philadelphia “House of Horrors” abortionist Kermit Gosnell, released the results of its latest sting operation against abortion clinics.  Live Action had sent young women into abortuaries to tell the employees that they were seeking abortions, and to ask those employees if they would make sure that their babies were dead, no matter what happened.  In other words, they wanted to get abortuary workers to say that they would follow in Gosnell’s footsteps—and sadly, though not surprisingly, some did.

Those who had praised Live Action in the winter and spring of 2011, the last time the organization had made a national splash with similar tactics, rushed to do so again.  Those who had pointed out the Catholic Church’s perennial and unequivocal teaching on the immorality of lying (while condemning abortion and Planned Parenthood no less strongly than the defenders of Live Action’s tactics had) did so again.  And from there, the debate followed pretty much the same course as it had in 2011, which is to say that it was really no debate, but two sides each convinced of the rightness of its position, talking past each other.

Until, of course, the release of Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words, when the side defending lying in the service of a good cause thought that they had been handed a trump card.

In 2011, I had reluctantly weighed in on the side that cited the Church’s unequivocal teaching.  I say reluctantly, not because I had any desire to defend lying, but because, when I wrote my first piece in February 2011 (“Justified Deception or Lying? The Case of Live Action v. Planned Parenthood“), I was hardly concerned that Planned Parenthood employees were encouraged through deception to say things that they might well have said without having been deceived.  One can be convinced of the immorality of a particular action without being overly concerned when someone other than oneself (or someone for whom one is responsible) commits it.  And, sadly, it is fallen human nature to enjoy a bit of schadenfreude when the dastardly deeds of someone you dislike are revealed.  But as the debate, or rather nondebate, dragged on for months in 2011, I began to realize that my initial reaction had been wrong.  There is more at stake in this question than the defenders of lying acknowledge; it cuts right to the heart of the Faith and what it means to be a Christian.

Part of the problem is that the debate has largely been carried on at the level of anecdote and hypotheticals.  If lying is always wrong, the defenders of Live Action cry, what about the story of Rahab?  What about the Egyptian midwives?  Are you saying you would have handed Anne Frank over to the Nazis?  Do you really believe it’s wrong to tell your wife that the dress she loves doesn’t make her look fat?

Anecdotes—even ones drawn from Scripture—are material against which moral arguments can be tested, but they are not a substitute for moral theology.  And—it cannot be stressed enough—no single anecdote, or even a series of anecdotes, even ones drawn from Scripture, is sufficient to prove a moral argument false.  When Augustine and Thomas Aquinas fleshed out their cases for why lying is always wrong, they had to deal with the stories of Rahab and the Egyptian midwives, and they did.  (Both, Aquinas argues, were rewarded for their faithfulness to God, not for their deception.)  But their arguments against lying (and the Catholic argument in general) start, not with anecdotes or hypotheticals, but with first principles: You cannot do evil that good may come of it (cf. Romans 3:8); the Devil is the Father of Lies (cf. John 8:44); you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free (cf. John 8:32).

This is why, for Christians, any argument in favor of lying is stillborn.  Truth lies at the heart of Christ’s teaching, because Christ is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, and walking on the Way, and participating in the Life of Christ, means embracing the Truth, even when it is inconvenient, or painful, or seemingly not as effective in accomplishing the particular ends we hope to accomplish.  When Aquinas argues that the problem with lying is that our words are no longer faithful to reality, his (and the Church’s) entire understanding of reality lies behind his argument.  We participate in reality to the extent that we unite ourselves to Christ, and that means uniting ourselves to the Truth, because Christ is the fullness of Truth.  This is the full power of the scene between Pilate and Christ on Good Friday—not long after Peter’s threefold lie—when Pilate asks, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).  While some interpreters see Pilate as a forerunner of modern-day relativists, others, aware of the tradition that Pilate later repented of his role in Christ’s death and became a Christian, see Pilate’s question as serious, even earnest.  Yet, in either case, the irony could not be greater, because the Truth is standing right in front of him, and Pilate is too blind to see.

Every act, no matter how small, is a moral act.  Every act, no matter how small, draws us closer to Christ or leads us farther from Him.  These are uncomfortable truths in a world in which Christianity has largely been confined to an hour or so on Sundays and holy days, in which we are constantly told that “business is business” and that the point of political and cultural battles is the winning of them, rather than being able to say, with Saint Paul, “I have fought the good fight; I have run the race; I have kept the Faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Yet the Church has always taught that we will be measured not simply by what we accomplish but by how we accomplish it.  Christian morality is about the fighting, and the running, and the keeping of the Faith, as displayed in our actions, because those actions themselves, rather than the ends we hope to accomplish by those actions, reveal our commitment to the Truth.  This is the problem with consequentialism: When Saint Paul says that we cannot do evil that good may come of it, he is admitting implicitly that good may come out of evil actions.  And that makes sense, because God can take even the worst of our sins and turn them to the good—for instance, by bringing life into the world as the result of an act of sexual immorality.  That God can create life out of our sinfulness, however, does not lessen the moral culpability of the man and the woman whose action departed from what the Didache calls “the Way of Life.”

And here we arrive at the heart of the problem.  Aristotle argued that men always seek happiness, even when their actions will make them unhappy; Aquinas takes it further, and argues that men always seek the Good, even when their actions are objectively evil.  What separates the Christian from the pagan is the recognition that, in order properly to seek the Good, each of our actions must be good as well.  God, as the traditional Act of Faith reminds us, “can neither deceive nor be deceived”; to follow Christ means that we must do likewise.  When we deceive our fellow man, with even the best of intentions, we depart from the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.

(One very vocal defender of Live Action has suggested that the entire problem can be solved through a semantic shift, that we simply need to quit using the word lie, which has a pejorative sense, and replace it with the word deceive, which is neutral.  Yet the Church does not regard deception as an action that can be either good or evil, depending on the circumstances, as both the line from the Act of Faith quoted above and the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says that “Lying consists in saying what is false with the intention of deceiving one’s neighbor,” make clear.)

Over and over in Scripture the liar is grouped with the adulterer and the fornicator and the murderer (e.g., 1 Timothy 1:10), all of whom, Scripture says, share the same fate (cf. Revelation 21:8, 22:15).  Again, that seems a hard truth, and we rebel at the thought: What kind of God would consign someone who lies in order to try to save unborn children to the same fate as the man who rips them to pieces in their mothers’ wombs?  And so we seek other justifications.  Perhaps we even admit that Christian morality does declare that lying is always wrong, but, we reason, surely in this context lying is at worst a venial sin, while abortion is a mortal one.

A venial sin, however, is a sin, because it is a departure from the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  The classification of sins comes to us from Scripture (cf. 1 John 5:16-17), but neither Scripture nor Tradition justifies ever committing any sin, even a venial one.  The Church binds us to confess our mortal sins, but She urges us to confess even venial ones, because while they may not, in the end, deprive us of Heaven, they do draw us away from the Truth.  Every Catholic liturgy includes a general confession and absolution, because even venial sins make us less worthy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  (The second Confiteor immediately before Communion, found in the Traditional Latin Mass up until the Roman Missal of 1962, further stresses this point by reminding us that we may have committed venial sins even while engaged in worshipping Christ.)

But there is more.  As Blessed John Henry Newman writes in Anglican Difficulties, the Church “holds that it were better for sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions who are upon it to die of starvation in extremest agony, so far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, though it harmed no one ….”

This is not scrupulosity; this is a recognition of the fundamental damage that sin—even venial sin—does to our souls.  While venial sin, by itself, “does not break the covenant with God,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church warns that “Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin.”  And now we are back to where we began: “The problem is not that we are sinners: the problem is not repenting of sin, not being ashamed of what we have done.”  To wave the words of the Catechism and Pope Francis away by pointing out the enormity of other people’s sins is to miss the point: Their sins are theirs, and they will be called to account for them; our sins are ours, and we will have to answer for them.  And when we are called to account, our defense cannot be that we departed from the Truth in order better to follow Christ, because Christ is the Truth; nor that we departed from the Way of Life in order to save lives, because Christ is the Way and the Life.

If we make that defense, we will stand forever in the courtyard, dreading, as Peter did, the moment when the cock will begin to crow.  We will never make it, as Peter did, to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where our pride can give way to the proper shame that allows us to embrace the Risen Christ Who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.

Scott P. Richert


Scott P. Richert is the Senior Content Network Manager for Our Sunday Visitor and Editor at Large for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

  • Gary Walterscheid

    That was wonderful. I don’t have time right now to rip you a new one, but I’ll get right back to you as soon as possible. In the meantime, please keep track of the minutes that pass each day that you debate this vital topic. You hit on the very ESSENCE of the problem of the pro-life/abortion “war”. You see, FIVE of God’s human life creations (sexually generated via immoral sexy sex) are immorally TERMINATED every MINUTE that the abortion centers are open for business. Meanwhile, you sit in your pathetic phlegmatic perfectionist ivory tower and TYPE. Maybe from there you get a better view of all the carnage that you’re too pure to get involved in fighting. Go ahead and quote all the St. Paul and Aquinas and Aristotle you want. Those guys would KICK YOUR ARSE if they could. I don’t think they’d endorse your MISTAKE of ignoring INTENT in this whole discussion. You ignore the fact that the ENEMY DREW FIRST BLOOD. This is a SELF-DEFENSE RESPONSE, you priss. You have the guts of a guppy. The see-through kind. I’m ashamed to call myself Catholic when I read estrogenic vomit like yours. Have a nice day, and buy some new tampons. What a wuss you are. Lila Rose should personally teach you a thing or two about make-up. She’s pretty, yes — but at least SHE has the GUTS of a MAN…!

    • chrstn41

      Intent is not a trump card. Evil is never justified no matter the intent. The severity or culpability may be lessened, but it’s still a sin. From the Richert’s piece: “And here we arrive at the heart of the problem. Aristotle argued that men always seek happiness, even when their actions will make them unhappy; Aquinas takes it further, and argues that men always seek the Good, even when their actions are objectively evil. What separates the Christian from the pagan is the recognition that, in order properly to seek the Good, each of our actions must be good as well.”

      • Gary Walterscheid

        I think the Tower of Ivory Estrogenicists need to do some more homework regarding their Moral Theology. It is, in fact, moral and ethical to use appropriate violent force to repel a violent attacker. If I have to EXPLAIN how that applies to abortion, you need to shut the fork up and go home. Sheesh….

        • tedseeber

          Gary, I’m worried about this response. You aren’t about to follow in the footsteps of Scott Philip Roeder, are you?

          • Gary Walterscheid

            Who is Scott Roeder? A murderer? Why would you say something like that? Is that what YOU are automatically concluding? No, you see, I’m proposing a PEACEFUL act of intellectual warfare, which even the so-called “intellectuals” are too pussified to engage in, because they just can’t bring their little pansy parts to even THINK about something as yukkie as REALITY where REAL BABIES’ BLOOD is the real issue here — not some stupid theoretical “angels on the head of a pin” nonsense. Puh-leeeze.

            • tedseeber

              “It is, in fact, moral and ethical to use appropriate violent force to repel a violent attacker.”

              This sentence is what scared me. That is *exactly* the defense Scott Roeder took in court- and in a way he was right, considering that George Tiller was about as ethical in his practice as Kermit Gosnell. But that doesn’t give us the right to use violent force.

              • Maximus

                Ted: I think you might want to stop advocating the use of violent force against abortionists. That is a TERRORIST act and will get you thrown in prison if you advocate it online, as you seem to have already done here when you essentially say, “Scott Roeder was right”.

                Let this be your OFFICIAL NOTIFICATION that no one but YOU has brought up and advocated and justified violent force against abortionists.

                So YOU, sir, are advocating TERRORISM and should remove yourself and all your comments from this website and this comment thread.

                You are probably a pro-abort spy trying to foment the advocacy of violence, but your tricks don’t work here. We study your tactics and know how you operate.

                Even if you’re a law enforcement agent engaging in entrapment, let it be known by THIS POST that all statements made on this page have been about PEACEFUL and LAW-ABIDING activity.

                Only the person known as “tedseeber” has advocated using violence against abortionists.

                As required by the Patriot Act, this will serve as my legally-binding notice of disavowal and disassociation from any and all discussion with “tedseeber”, hereby presented in this format to the FBI and Dept. of Homeland Security, should an investigation into “tedseeber” be launched as a result of his Terrorist-Advocacy Statement (any statement that can be construed as advocating, endorsing, or approving of criminal violence, such as the statement “In a way, Scott Roeder was right”) here on this web site.

                DATED: 6/8/2013 4:21 PM. [My identity is available through Disqus and/or Crisis Magazine and its affiliates.]

                • tedseeber

                  Apparently, you can’t read.

                  “But that doesn’t give us the right to use violent force.”

      • Alecto

        BS. Withholding facts is not lying. There is no evil in that. And, I wonder if the attack would be as subtle if the anti-abortion activist was a man, not a woman. The witch trials continue….

      • Maximus

        The whole error here is this: You said the word “evil” in reference to the strategic deception tactics of Live Action.

        There’s your error. Strategic deception in time of war, in a matter of life or death, is NOT evil.

        Now go back to confession for having impure thoughts, and let the MEN
        handle the REAL war, okay little boys???

        You guys probably still kneel down at the foot of your bed at night and say your prayers before getting tucked in, don’t you…

    • Scott P. Richert

      Gary, if you’re going to engage in ad hominem attacks, it would help to know a little about the person you’re attacking. I don’t simply write about pro-life issues; I live it. I’m the father of eight, and I serve on the board (and as the treasurer) of the Rockford Area Pregnancy Care Centers, one of the oldest crisis-pregnancy centers in the country, which has saved the lives of thousands of children over the past 30 years.

      Beyond that, I’m happy to engage in a rational discussion of the points in my piece, but you’ll have to present specific arguments first.

      • Gary Walterscheid

        Sweet. I’m back at my keyboard. This is gonna be fun.

        Okay, Scottie. So… you are my absolute freakin’ pro-life HEROOOOOO!!!!

        O.M.G. You actually have EIGHT children??? O.M.G!!!!!

        Hey, everybody! Scotty knows how to have SEX!!!!

        That makes him SOOOOOO freakin’ Pro-LIFE as to garner HIM a shot at pro-life SAINTHOOD here in a few years!!!! Wow! Eight!!! That’s a lot of SEX there, my uber-pro-life sexy sexy friend!!! Congrats on getting so much TAIL… and then thinking that’s some kind of HEROIC ACT or something…!!!

        HA!!! Listen to your PATHETIC C.V., you dunderhead…!

        Oh,,, AND you EVEN “sit on the board” (means NOTHING, dear reader, esp since he’s the MONEY MAN of the org) of a regular “we’ll save a baby if we feel like it and it fits our schedule” CRISIS pregnancy center. Oh, such a crisis!

        Okay, champ. (Sorry, my keyboard doesn’t have the letter “u” right now.) You frost me. You sit there in your Ivory Freakin’ Tower and spew high-sounding Moral High Ground drivel while BABIES are being slaughtered left and right, all around you. What The Fut??? WHO do you think YOU are, dude??? You actually think you are MORALLY SUPERIOR by CRITICIZING the very people (in this case, a woman who has more balls than you do) who go INTO the Lion’ Den and actually FACE DOWN the murders, and without pulling triggers but rather carrying cameras, SHUT DOWN those same baby-killers while YOU sit in some cozy little office in your Ivory Tower and tell Lila Rose how WRONG and BAD she is.
        Seriously, Dude. This ain’t no ad hominem attack. I’m calling you out. Like Woody Harrelson said in Zombieland, “Do you want to feel how hard I can punch?”
        You maketh me SICK. Wuss.

        Your turn…

        • Scott P. Richert

          So, no rational discussion then. Got it.

          • Gary Walterscheid

            Exactly. You had your chance when you wrote your irrational article. Now it’s on. Come at me. Or are you just gonna use that PSEUDO-intellectual vestment you have on to run away from this actual “I’m calling you OUT” fight…?
            Like I said, YOUR TURN… Wuss…
            Come and get it. You deserve ALL that my fingers are ready to give you.
            Brace yourself.

          • Alecto

            I didn’t realize the number of children one has is evidence of the strength of commitment to pro-life ideals? Rather, I thought it was a theological, philosophical, spiritual and actual “fight” in which each of us pledges our respective talents and resources, whatever those happen to be? Just for that ill-conceived post, I’m sending you my first edition of “The Book of Snobs.”

            • tedseeber

              In fact, I know a few pro-life people who are pro-life precisely *because* of fertility issues and/or misguided actions as children.

              I’m one of them.

        • Jambe d’Argent

          Oh, shut up, you blathering moron!

        • Maximus

          I think I feel the above person’s anger. As a young person growing up in this disastrous situation we find ourselves in (where homicide is LEGAL if you kill the right person in the right way), I just want to say that this is no time to be nit-picking about “which tactic” is morally superior or not. Babies are being killed, Mr. Richert. Don’t ever forget that. This isn’t theory. If it were one of YOUR eight children in danger of DEATH, I think you’d drop your Summa, your Prumer, and your Latin Vulgate Edition of the obscure document that proves your Pharasaical point, and kick some butt!! Or, maybe not. You tell me. Would you? All I’m saying is that as a young person, looking back on how you older people pissed away the last 40 years and kissed off 55 million of my fellow classmates — well, you’ve got a lot of NERVE when you sit there and tell US that we can STOP this carnage — but ONLY if we don’t commit a Venial Sin in the process…! Are you kidding me??? You have some serious reality issues, dude. Seriously. Get over yourself, and stop confusing people. Think before you type. You’re dangerous. For the last 40 years, we’ve seen that guys like YOU get BABIES KILLED. Think about it. 🙁

          • Ohio Person

            Actually, lying is a mortal sin, not a venial one.

      • Alecto

        Scott, it’s clear you have good intentions, are a solid Catholic and all-around nice guy. However, you have no sense of humor, and like most Catholics, take yourself too seriously. This makes you appear sanctimonious and therefore, it’s all the more irresistible to make fun of you. Capiche?

        • Maximus

          Alecto hit the nail on the head. Guys like Mr. Richert need to lighten up. Try to be more sanguine, not so melancholy or phlegmatic. Take Karl Keating, for example. THE most phlegmatic melancholy guy you’ll ever meet. SMART as can be when it comes to the Faith. But NOT a “people person” AT ALL… Can’t STAND to be around people. RUNS from them…! That’s just his personality, not his fault. So we all need to try to overcome our personality faults (weaknesses, that’s all) and try to UNDERSTAND that other people aren’t “bad” — they’re just NOT “YOU”…!!! Example: Karl Keating fired the writer who used to write ALL the direct mail fundraising letters that Catholic Answers used since its INCEPTION to raise TENS OF MILLIONS of dollars… Karl Keating HATED those letters because they made it seem like he HAD a personality… Karl FIRED that million-dollar-fundraising writer and told all the donors his plan in a letter… he said, “The letters just didn’t SOUND like ME…” Apparently Karl doesn’t know that letters don’t have SOUND, per se. However, he never understood that direct mail lives on Adrenalin, as Steve Wood once said, and you HAVE TO have “over the top” copy in order to keep the reader’s ATTENTION, or else you don’t get the DONATION. See? But Karl Keating, in his infinite wisdom, FIRED the professional writer, and then TOLD all his donors in the very next fundraising letter that HE would be writing the letters from now on, since before he had been DECEIVING everyone!!! Can you imagine that??? Karl Keating sent out a fundraising letter that told all his donors how he had been DECEIVING THEM all these years by hiring someone ELSE to write the letters, and Karl just signed them since he CAN’T write good fundraising letters that raise MILLIONS of dollars like the pro could. But Karl tells the donors, “Hey, I’ve been lying to you all these years. So now you’ll be getting horrible, boring letters — and you need to give MORE money because of that.” Yes, that’s what he actually SAID in the fundraising letter that went out to the entire list of tens of thousands of people. I kid you not. I know this because Tyler Durden knows this.
          — I am tyler durden

          • Alecto

            Tyler Durden? You can’t be. He runs Zero Hedge!

    • tedseeber

      “You see, FIVE of God’s human life creations (sexually generated via immoral sexy sex) are immorally TERMINATED every MINUTE that the abortion centers are open for business.”

      And given that, it seems to me that dumpster diving would work better than lying at showing this truth.

      • Gary Walterscheid

        Ted, you’ll have to re-state your statement. You lost me between the word “And” and the period at the end of the sentence. Could you use that “logic” thing, por favor? 🙂

        • tedseeber

          If you are trying to prove the speed at which abortionists work, and the horrific size of this genocide, far better than lying to the abortionist to get them on video would be to simply divert the “waste” flow out the back door and film that.

          That’s how they got Douglas Karpan in the end- by documenting and forensic analysis of the fetuses killed. NOTHING else, not the three whistleblowers, not the Operation Rescue data, nothing else worked.

          • Rock St. Elvis

            Lila Rose and those like her demonstrate for all the see just how low abortionists will go. Remember the guy who called and asked if he could make a donation to abort a black child? Remember how the clinic worker encouraged him? We wouldn’t know these people were that sick without these stings.

            • tedseeber

              Due to the methods used, though, the evidence that they are “sick” comes off as just another case of not understanding the other side’s point of view well enough to argue it.

              • Rock St. Elvis


          • Maximus

            I doubt if anyone such as Lila Rose or most other pro-lifers are out to “prove the speed at which abortionists work”… as you seem to be focused on. And you keep using the word “lying”… When this ISN’T lying… but strategic deception, which IS justified in time of WAR. And, according to your own admission, this is a REAL… BLOODY… DEADLY… WAR. Now, as for HOW you win the war, does it really matter? War is war. War is hell. Just ask all the bodies you dug out of all those dumpsters. Yes, that worked when you exposed Douglas Karpan. But you broke the law to do it, didn’t you. You are going to Hell then. Sorry. Rules are rules. Laws are laws. Trespassing is trespassing. Shame on you for trespassing while trying to save lives. Maybe you should just carry a hidden camera and CATCH the dirtbags BEFORE they put more dead bodies in those dumpsters…! Would THAT be okay with you? Huh? Then you can stop “dumping” on all other pro-life work, even Operation Rescue, which works with Lila Rose to SHUT DOWN abortion mills. YOU? You merely want to count the dead bodies………WTF????

            • tedseeber

              See quote above.

              • Maximus

                Hi, Ted… Just saw your reply from yesterday. Is your brain working better today? Your Mommy told me about the head injury. Sorry. You should always wear your helmet. Okay, well, you take care and try not to get on the Internet when you’re on your meds. Okay? Remember, they mess up your thinking ability, and people have to make fun of you online. Try not to do that anymore, okay, Ted? Thanks. That would be GREEEAAATTT…. 🙂

                • tedseeber

                  My brain injury, as you neurotypicals get bigoted about it, is rather permanent, but wasn’t caused by any head injury.

                  And if anything, I’m off my meds at the moment. But that just makes your neurotypical idiocy borne from an inability to read all the sillier.

  • Jon Sorensen

    I think Gary’s comment is over the top, but I will say this; No matter how this argument is spun, I have a problem imagining heaven closing it’s gates on people like Oscar Schindler or anyone else who did what they had to to save innocent lives. I’m not a theologian and I respect the opinions of others, but I just don’t have a problem with Lila’s methods.

    • Scott P. Richert

      Part of the problem in this debate has been precisely this: “I just don’t have a problem with Lila’s methods.” As I mention in the article, that’s why I initially was reluctant to discuss this as well, back in 2011. But the question of the morality of the methods doesn’t have anything to do with whether you or I have a problem with them.

      • Jon Sorensen

        I agree with you on the question of the morality of the methods, but me (and others) saying “I just don’t have a problem with Lila’s methods” is not the problem. The problem is that there is disagreement on the application of the principles. Perhaps there is some room for legitimate disagreement on this issue like there are on other issues. As I said before, I’m not a theologian. If there is some clear teaching from the Church on this, then perhaps I need to be educated. I’m more than happy to defer to the authority of the Church, but it needs to be made clear to me that I am in the wrong.

        • Scott P. Richert

          Is there any discussion in the article of Church teaching that you find unclear? I’ll be happy to try to clarify it, or to point you in the direction of others who can do so.

          • Jon Sorensen

            I have read other opinion columns that don’t totally agree with your position. They too quote magisterial documents and the opinions of theologians, I have yet to find their opinions any more or less persuasive than your own.

      • Gary Walterscheid

        I have a problem with Special Opps forces (who I’ve personally trained with) using such yukkie things as espionage and other forms of deceit to save millions of people’s lives from worldwide terrorism. I think all Special Ops guys are going to Hell. They just don’t fight FAIR. Don’t you agree that we all need to fight FAIR????

      • kalbertini

        If your so concerned about morality of lying then why aren’t u concerned about what one of the commandments
        state—-that we should not make any graven image of earth AND HEAVEN,which churches and houses are filled of. MY
        point is u don’t take scripture let alone catechism fundamentally.Form your conscience

    • Gary Walterscheid

      Thank you, Jon Sorensen. I definitely am Mr. OverTheTop… on purpose. It’s the only thing that gets through to these professional Ivory Towerists who I personally put into business in the first place. I am Dr. Frankenstein, and I have created Monsters. I started the very financing programs that most of these Ivory Tower Intellectuals now benefit from on a daily lucrative and ever-so-removed-from-reality basis. I know their bullshit. I know their lies. I know their lives, and I know their hypocrisies. They just don’t know ME…. heh heh heh… :-O

      • Jon Sorensen

        Hi Mr. Waltersheid. I am familiar with your work. I hope you didn’t take my post as an insult. I think Scott is a good dude. I just don’t completely agree with him on this.

  • ColdStanding

    When we perceive wrong in others, the principle is to search our own hearts for how we have been lukewarm in our love and devotion to Jesus Christ. I am a thousand times more wrong than Lila Rose for not exhausting myself in prayer, emaciating myself in fasting, draining my treasure in alms giving, dressing in sack cloth, and covering my head in ashes to make reparations to Jesus Christ for the insults He endures daily because His Father in Heaven’s will for the highest good for His creation is daily tossed into the garbage like so many diner scraps.

    • Scott P. Richert

      ColdStanding, your basic approach is correct. One of my favorite authors is Saint Ephrem the Syrian, and what you have written is very close to the sorts of meditations he wrote. Where you may go wrong, however, is if saying “I am a thousand times more wrong than Lila Rose” is prelude to justifying another’s actions.

      You’ll notice that, despite the picture placed at the top of this article by the editor, I did not mention Lila Rose or anyone else by name here. My discussion is obviously occasioned by the actions of Live Action, but even more so by the debate over those actions. The point is not to condemn Lila Rose or anyone else; the point is to examine why the Church has unequivocally and perennially taught that lying is a sin.

      • ColdStanding

        Scott, thank you for pointing that out, but I am an avid reader of Catholic blogs and have seen this ruckus played out a variety of websites. It would be impossible for me not to know whom you refer to. Your intent might not have been to condemn, and I will take you at your word that it is not your intent to condemn Lila Rose or anyone else, but the case you present certainly leads the reader all the way to the door of condemnation, only leaving it to the reader to decide if they want to take the last step. I see it as a better choice to condemn myself, first and foremost.

        I really had to struggle with my wording of the above post. My initial attempts, upon reflection, were the words of the selfishness complaining to God about Him being too demanding with all this truth talk. Please, though you will, thankfully, never read those words, accept my apology for the harshness that arose in my heart towards you. I was very wrong in that.

        I chose to post as I did because we really do not have any other choice as serious Catholics. Having the laity carry on about who did what wrong goes against the fundamental genius of Roman Catholicism, namely that our priest are our shepherds, because, by their public example of personal sacrifice, they have earned the right to judge.

        If you look at the saints, especially Doctors of the Church, who were harsh in their condemnations, like St. Peter Damian or St. Lawrence of Brindisi, they could speak like that because they had earn the right to do so. Not only were they confirmed in the apostolic succession, they, not resting upon simple authority, lead by personal example of piety and holiness. If ever you feel doubt the Holy Spirit’s gifts are active in your life, spend some time with their writings and you will feel the fear of the Lord! But you know that.

        I could bring myself to be upset with what Lila Rose has done, but I am positively repulsed by the riot that caused by those that strayed perilously close to claiming the mantle of Catholic quasi-imans in all this.

        • Scott P. Richert

          ColdStanding, thanks for the reply. Let me be a little more clear: When I say that my intent is not to judge Lila Rose or anyone else, I mean that. So what is my intent (since I haven’t made that clear)?

          My intent is to try to help others not to be drawn into actions that the Church has perennially and unequivocally declared to be sinful. I am responding to the debate over Live Action’s actions, because I see people who have not themselves done what Live Action has done, but who have been reading defenses of lying written by Catholic authors they respect and, through that reading, have been drawn away from the Church’s perennial and unequivocal teaching. Those are the people I’m am trying to reach.

          And I’m trying to reach them not by citing myself as an authority, but by presenting the teaching of others. You’re right about the fundamental genius of Catholicism; but I would argue that those Catholic writers who dismiss the Catechism, Aquinas, Saint Paul, and Cardinal Newman are the ones who are going against that fundamental genius.

          • ColdStanding

            Scott, your intent is laudable, but I fear your methods will only cause further scandal and confusion.

            Hmm. Where have I heard that before?

            • Scott P. Richert

              My methods? Examining Church teaching, and the reasons behind it? Stressing the importance of following Christ, and not departing from the Way, the Truth, and the Life?

              I understand why that might cause scandal—after all, Saint Paul warned that there are those for whom Christian teaching is a scandal. But confusion?

              • ColdStanding

                Yes, confusion. With a topic as hot as this one, it is best just to lay off and let the firefighters (hierarchy) put it out. Seriously. As knowledgeable as you are, you do not speak with authority. The authors you quote are authoritative, but that does not grant the mantel of authority to you. Hey, you are the one that has taken ultra-literal line on this topic when it comes to the mistaken tactics of others. Why does this straight-laced attitude get put by the wayside when you deem it fit to assemble a brief on this subject? By this I mean, you are, in effect writing a piece that is prosecutory in tone. Everyone can see this, or, at least, many have and have gainsaid you on account of this. This is the confusion. You speak as judge, but you are only prosecutor.

                Which leads me back to my original post. Who would oppose you or argue against you if you were to call for more prayer, self-mortification and repentance, knocking our heads on the side walk outside of the chancellery begging for guidance if need be.

                Speaking with authority you do not have only breeds scandal and confusion. Disagree with me if you choose. I’m going to take my own medicine.

                • Scott P. Richert

                  Of course, the hierarchy has the responsibility for teaching. And it has. The editio typica of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is perfectly clear, which is why those who want to defend lying point to the “first version” of the Catechism, which has no magisterial authority.

                  “Who would oppose you or argue against you if you were to call for more prayer, self-mortification and repentance”? Well, the article began by quoting Pope Francis on repentance; it ended by reminding us that our sins are our own, and that we will have to answer for them, and calling us—all of us—to repent as Saint Peter did.

                  So who would oppose that? I think you’ve answered your own question.

                  • ColdStanding


  • Austin

    If lying is always wrong should there be no surprise attacks in war;
    Was the deception in ww2 wrong? Should we disband our military?
    Please explain how to win a war without deception. Really.

    • tedseeber

      The best way to win any war, is not to fight.

      • Rock St. Elvis

        Especially if it’s a war of cliches.

        • thebigdog

          I believe that the Bumper Stickers defeated the Count of Twitter in the 100 Cliche’ War.

    • BigBlueWave

      The point of the article that these scenarios and objections are not good theology. You do theology with principles, not “what happens if…”

      • Rock St. Elvis

        Principles are useless if they cannot be applied to actual situations.

        • But you don’t discover principles with anecdotes. This is not how theology is done.

          • Rock St. Elvis

            No, but you test their soundness with them. If they don’t stand up, you haven’t discovered anything but an erroneous premise.

  • poetcomic1 .

    If you are dealing with a dangerously demented human being (in or out of a hospital) one can certainly smile and agree and distract them. Your ‘Nazi’ / Anne Frank type scenarios can take into account brainwashing, diminished faculties and so forth.

  • Daniel Kluge

    Unfortunately, I see two major problems with Richert’s article: first, I think we lack enough support to call the ‘Church’s’ teaching on lying “unequivocal” as the ‘right to know’ argument has been used before, even by the first version of the CCC. Secondly, and much more importantly, the same saints and theologians he–and I–invoke to defend the absolute prohibition against lying make a clear distinction between lying and deception. The church permits, and always has, the performance of certain deceptive actions. It is perfectly fine to make an ambiguous statement under certain circumstances, with the hope that the hearer will understand it in a way that does not actually represent reality. It is ok to lay an ambush. Thus, a strict definition of lying (an assertion of fact made contrary to believed truth) must be employed instead of a broad one (any deception), otherwise, one could never use colloquialisms (“I’m fine” “raining cats and dogs”), or lay ambushes, etc. example: a saint bishop once dressed up as a centurion to go visit his parishes, clearly desiring that his persecutors be deceived about his identity, but not making any knowingly false assertions (lying). I fully support an absolute prohibition of lying in the strict definition. But we have to stick to that definition–a broad one is indefensible.

    • Scott P. Richert

      “The church permits, and always has, the performance of certain deceptive actions.”

      That argument doesn’t fly because, as I noted in the piece, the Catechism defines lying in terms of deception. Not in terms of, say, “unjust deception,” but in terms of deception, period.

      • Daniel Kluge

        The catechism is a useful guide–and intended as such. It is not intended to have the theological and philosophical precision necessary in this debate. While it is up for debate whether or not God permits lying in the bible, especially the OT, it is unquestionable that He not only permits, but encourages certain acts of deception (in battle, for instance) and even engages in it *Himself*. To hide is to attempt to deceive someone about your location, and our Lord hides himself. He also uses ambiguous statements to confuse his opponents, as does St. Paul. The same die-hard defenders of the absolute prohibition of lying are the ones who use the strict sense and permit deception in certain situations. Furthermore, there still remains no magesterial clarification on the matter–there are saints (in the east) who advocate for noble lies, and while other saints in the west have refuted them, the magisterium has not levied any definitive judgment. The CCC should only be used for what it was intended for. It was not intended to settle this centuries-old discussion.

        • Daniel Kluge

          Wait, what am I saying?! If the CCC isn’t the place to resolve this issue, the blogosphere certainy isn’t! Touché.

    • Scott P. Richert

      Many writers who should know better have advanced the “right to know” argument and argued that the presence of that phrase in the first version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is proof of ambiguity in the Church’s teaching. It’s nothing of the sort.

      In the Catholic Church, the normative documents are ALWAYS in Latin. When the Catechism was initially released, it was composed in French. The Vatican allowed translations to be made from the French text, with the caveat that the publication of the French text and all translations be accompanied by a notice that the text was not authoritative; that a Latin editio typica would be forthcoming; and that all translations—and the original French edition as well—would have to be brought into conformity with the editio typica when it was released.

      That is what was done. The “first version” bears no magisterial weight; only the editio typica does.

      Why is this important? Because the French provenance of the original draft explains the departure from traditional Catholic teaching on lying, which teaching was reasserted in the editio typica. The editio typica is different because the original French draft was in error.

      Here is the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) entry on lying:

      Note the final lines of the piece, which make it clear that the “right to know” argument is a modern (French!) consequentialist innovation, which has not been accepted by the Church:

      “Others wished to change the received definition of a lie. A recent writer in Paris series, Science et Religion, wishes to add to the common definition some such words as ‘made to one who has the right to truth.’ So that a false statement knowingly made to one who has not a right to the truth will not be a lie. This, however, seems to ignore the malice which a lie has in itself, like hypocrisy, and to derive it solely from the social consequence of lying. Most of these writers who attack the common opinion show that they have very imperfectly grasped its true meaning. At any rate they have made little or no impression on the common teaching of the Catholic schools.”

      • tom

        Leave it to the French to lie about lying.

  • dwduck

    “…Planned Parenthood employees were encouraged through deception to say
    things that they might well have said without having been deceived.”

    That suggests to me that deception may not be playing a role here. If a woman goes into Planned Parenthood with the intent of luring them into making these sorts of statements, then clearly, that’s deception. But what if she goes in and tries her best to emulate a woman in a crisis pregnancy situation? Where’s the deception there?

    If done not with the intent to deceive, but truly with the intent of discovering what will happen when presented with this situation, I don’t see that much difference between Live Action and, say, social scientists or secret shoppers.

  • Jambe d’Argent

    And yet we have the concept of “felix culpa”…

    • Scott P. Richert

      The concept of “felix culpa” is precisely what I was talking about when I wrote that “God can take even the worst of our sins and turn them to the good.” We, however, are never justified in sinning so that God has that opportunity. To do so is to place ourselves above God.

      • Jambe d’Argent

        One of the things that really irk me in Catholicism is its occasional but distinct tendency to sound like that white trash girl in the British series “Little Britain”: “yeah, but, no, but, yeah, but…” An ambiguous talk like that is of dubious value in every respect. Or is this why some people say that Catholics have an answer to everything?

        • Rock St. Elvis

          We heard you the first time . . .

          • Jambe d’Argent

            Yeah, thanks for your attention.

          • Jambe d’Argent

            Yeah, thanks for your attention.

      • Jambe d’Argent

        One of the things that really irk me in Catholicism is its occasional tendency to sound like that white trash girl in “Little Britain”: “Yeah but, no but, yeah but, no but…” It is call casuistry, I believe. Whatever happened to Jesus’ advice: “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37)?

  • thebigdog

    Sacrificing good on the altar of perfection is the folly of the self-righteous.

    • Scott P. Richert

      So avoiding sin is “sacrificing good on the altar of perfection”? Cardinal Newman obviously saw that differently.

      • thebigdog

        Self-righteous and pedantic.

  • tom

    “Perhaps we have been guilty of some terminological inexactitudes.”
    ― Winston Churchill

  • Reta Tallman

    Gee what an interesting blog……..I’ve always heard the Thomas Aquinas theory on these things to be you can’t do something bad to make something good come about……….however, there are any number of instances where so called ‘deceptions’ have been necessary to save many lives……imho as in the case of abortion. In other words we can finesse the truth of your child is hiding in the closet when a killer breaks in your house and asks where your child is………you are certainly permitted to not give the right answer I would think, even though you are being deceitful to someone who doesn’t have a right to the truth, as it were.

  • don

    Let’s start with the commandments. There is no commandment that says Thou shalt not lie. The command is ‘Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbour.’

    So what is false witness? Any time deception is taking place? Those half truths that are told so as not to be lying but leading someone to believe something, you wish them to believe, which may not be true. Those white lies. No that dress does not make you look fat. Who is it that is defining fat?

    Then there is that qualifier ‘against thy neighbour.’ Who is your neighbour? Not your enemy in a war.

    • tom

      False witness implies a sworn statement under oath. A person accused of a crime is NOT under oath and is free to state, “Not guilty”.

      Which of us would reveal the location of Ann Frank or answer Herod’s soldiers that there’s a male baby in the home?

    • By that logic, masturbation, fornication, and homosexual acts would not be immoral because the commandment is “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” But that isn’t true.

      In fact, the recent compendium of the catechism makes this explicit:

      493. Although it says only “you shall not commit adultery” why does the sixth
      commandment forbid all sins against chastity?

      Although the biblical text of the Decalogue reads “you shall not commit
      adultery” (Exodus 20:14), the Tradition of the Church comprehensively follows
      the moral teachings of the Old and New Testaments and considers the sixth
      commandment as encompassing all sins against chastity.

      • don

        Lets see…. In this case the deception exposed the truth, not deformed it. The circumstances, and intentions were to expose the truth and to advert harm. Now if you are claiming the destruction of someone’s goods reputation, if exposing the truth harms their reputation then they were not entitled to a good reputation. And I don’t think there is any illicit advantage to the people who are exposing the truth of abortion.

  • msmischief

    “Both, Aquinas argues, were rewarded for their faithfulness to God, not for their deception.”

    Except in both cases, their faithfulness to God was manifested in action as deceiving people with outright untruths. Would telling the truth and thereby handing over the babies or the spies have been unfaithfulness to God?

    Which is where the problem arises. All those who are arguing for moral lies are not arguing for optional lying, they are arguing for situations where you do your duty by means of lies, and have no other means to do so.

    • Scott P. Richert

      If we think that there is only one moral action in any given situation, we suffer from a lack of imagination.

      • Rock St. Elvis

        You are generally capable at arguing your case but this response is weak.

        You don’t confront the heart of msmischief’s post, which is “Except in both cases, their faithfulness to God was manifested in action as deceiving people with outright untruths.”

        BTW, is the use of aliases, such as msmischief, a sin?

      • Rob W


  • hombre111

    It is decades since my seminary prof discussed this question, and I don’t want to have to dig out the books and find the answer again. But what he taught us was a lot more nuanced than this article will allow.

    • ColdStanding

      Pastoral, even?

    • As long as those nuances do not add up to permission to lie.

  • Howard Kainz

    This is not primarily a theological issue, but a philosophical issue. Ethically, the duty of telling the truth does depend on whether the person you are addressing has a right to the truth. If someone asks you what your income is, or wants information about your private life, you have no obligation to tell them. If someone comes to your door, with murderous intent, asking for a person whom you are hiding, and they do not have a right to that knowledge, evasive answers are permitted. Those who conduct undercover investigations on suspected miscreants are within their rights, as long as they are seeking the truth. We have an obligation not only to tell truth, but also to seek the truth. And seeking the truth from inveterate liars requires special strategies. If Planned Parenthood is using cover-ups to avoid getting caught, those who are not clients but investigators do not have to declare their intent — which would make their investigation impossible. Government agents in just wars can act as spies, in an attempt to defeat the unjust enemy.

  • Alexander

    If you’re going to quote Newman on the danger and wrongness of venial sin, you should at least read what he said about the issue of untruths. He did NOT agree with the aboslutist position that any untruth is a sin. Quite the contrary. See

    • Scott P. Richert

      I agree, Alexander, that everyone should read that. And then they would see that Newman’s statement that I quoted does not contradict what Newman wrote about untruths.

      • Alexander

        Not sure I follow. I didn’t say or suggest that Newman’s writing on lying contradicted his writing about venial sin. I was just making that point that Newman said we should avoid all venial sin (a point on which you and I agree), but Newman said not all untruths are sins. So I think Newman would disagree quite strongly with your statement that “any argument in favor of lying is stillborn.”

  • C

    Mr. Richert,
    Is there any room for lying in the legitimate exercise of self defense on behalf of the innocent? Since one is allowed to use force, up to and including deadly force, to protect our lives and those of our loved ones, can that line of reasoning be used for deception in the defense of our most vulnerable neighbor(s) ?

    • Alexander

      I don’t know if Mr. Richert holds this view, but many who take the absolutist position on untruths say it would be fine to use force to punch or shoot the proverbial Nazi hunting for Jews hiding in the cellar (in defense of their innocent lives), but it would be a sin (and therefore something one should never do intentionally even if it’s only a venial sin) to tell the Nazi that there are no Jews in the basement. Makes no sense to me.

  • Rosalinda Lozano

    I am so disappointed by this article. I have followed your work for a few years and I’m surprised that this is the stand you would take on this very, very difficult subject. Without the work that Lila Rose and her team have done, the world would continue to support and defend the work of Planned Parenthood and all their affiliates and be stay comfortable in their complacent lives! Fr Frank Pavone, who is in the front lines of this war and not on a comfortable couch somewhere, supports their tactics. I stand by them 100%!

    • FrankW

      Agreed. Where this article falls down is in assuming that there will never be an instance where telling the truth will put an innocent person (including a child) in danger of losing his freedom or life. The failure to address these situations makes the position taking by the author flimsy and unsupportable.

      Look at it this way: It’s 1940, and I live in Warsaw, Poland. Jews are being persecuted, and I decide to offer my attic to friends of mine, a Jewish family, to protect them from being sent to concentration camps, and having their children under 12 gassed. They take up residence in my attic, and I take steps to conceal them from the enemy. Then one day, German police officers knock on my door and ask me if I know anyone who is hiding Jews, or where any Jews are hiding. The reason I lie to the officers is because telling them the truth will result in the death of innocent people. In fact, my Catholic faith tells me that I have a moral obligation to protect them, even if lying to protect them is required.

      Giving situations like these no consideration while debating this issue is denying reality. Religious persecution is real, and is taking place right now in nations like China, North Korea, and Afghanistan. We would be fooling ourselves to simply believe that situations like these rarely (or never) occur, just because we don’t experience them ourselves, and therefore there is no need to consider them when discussing the possibility of justifiable deception.

      As I stated previously, Live Action would be wasting its time if the abortion clinics they visit were abiding by existing laws. What Lila Rose is doing is investigative reporting. Our government is too worried about the politically correctness surrounding the abortion issue to enforce regulations at abortion clinics. Miss Rose’s work is designed to show there is a need for regulation, and her work should be supported.

  • Alecto

    If one weasle in the clergy had one one-hundredth the courage and tenacity that Lila Rose does, abortion would have gone the way of the dodo decades ago, so don’t you dare lecture ME or any WOMAN about some egghead coward spelled p-o-p-e!

  • slainte

    When Macchiavellian tactics (means) are employed to achieve a desired end, we concede on some level that God’s grace, through prayer, is insufficient to counter evil.

    Our lack of trust in God’s sufficiency coupled with an inflated view of our own power causes man to meet the effects of sin with more sin. For this, we are diminished.

  • Br. Bonaventure Rider, fbp

    I think it is unfortunate that folks should think that Lila’s tactics equate to lying. When Solomon was to hear his first case, it was between two mother’s who were both claiming that the same baby was theirs. Solomon led the mother’s to believe that he was going to cut the baby in half to settle the dispute. Of course, he had no intention of doing so, but he said this and made the two women believe that he would do such a thing, in order to uncover the truth. Sacred Scripture does not call this “lying,” or debates whether it is a venial sin or not. No. Scripture calls it “wisdom,” and so should we. Lila and Live Action are doing a terrific job, and for those with eyes to see, we too call her tactics, Wisdom.

    • Did you read the article? He said, “Anecdotes—even ones drawn from Scripture—are material against which
      moral arguments can be tested, but they are not a substitute for moral
      theology. And—it cannot be stressed enough—no single anecdote, or even a
      series of anecdotes, even ones drawn from Scripture, is sufficient to
      prove a moral argument false.” When you take out the anecdotes, Scripture overwhelmingly condemns lying.

      Lying is always and everywhere wrong. Our entire faith in, and knowledge of Our Lord Jesus Christ is based entirely on the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles, and it is all in vain if we entertain the idea that they were running around with the idea that it is ok to lie in a good cause or when your are really in a pinch. When we lie we fear men, not God.

      • Br. Bonaventure Rider, fbp

        I did read the article. But just because Mr. Richert finds Scriptural precedent in difficult moral cases to be anecdotal, does not mean the rest of us have to, so I find his rules for engagement to be insufficient and not convincing, so I ignored them and don’t find that I, or anyone else, should feel compelled to be boxed in by them. Lying is wrong, I agree. A sting operation is not lying, otherwise Scripture would be misguided in praising Solomon and all the other “liars” glossed over in the article that seem to be dismissed as only being “anecdotal,” rather than what they really are, which is precedent. We should be trying to understand why in those cases found in Scripture it would seem that an apparent practice of deceit won godly praise, instead of dismissing them carte blanche. I suppose we are to believe that in war, camoflague would be sinful, since we would be leading someone to believe that we weren’t really there and that our assailants were really just looking at a bunch of shrubs. The effect is the same, leading someone to believe something that isn’t true, but not for the purpose of leading them into error, but in preserving, or as in the case of Solomon and Live Action, in actually discovering the truth and preserving life.

        • Br. Bonaventure Rider, fbp

          All that being said, you never did address the argument I proposed, only that I wasn’t allowed to make such an argument, which of course, I dispute. Here we have Lila Rose practicing a form of camouflage, a sting operation that pretended to show people wanting to procure a ghastly abortion, not to lead people into error, but to arrive at the truth where a baby’s life hangs in the balance. I presented Solomon who practiced a form of camouflage, hiding his real intention under the guise of willingness to commit an act of infanticide, not to lead the two women into error, but to arrive at the truth, a truth that also held a baby’s life in the balance. Moreover, Solomon’s act was called Wisdom, which I think also should be applied to Live Action’s ministry.

          • Rob W

            Amen Br. Bonaventure!

  • BM


    Since most of the responses have been negative, I would like to congratulate you in your effort.

    I am sitting here looking at my books, including dozens of weighty Catholic texts devoted to moral philosophy/theology spanning the ages and not one of them teaches that lying can be justified; all argue that it is in itself (in se) evil. It is amazing to find such agreement among saints, eminent theologians, philosophers and Doctors of the Church, including the three highest (Augustine, Aquinas and Liguori, in moral theology), only then to look at the Catholic blogosphere and find it almost universally rejecting its own tradition.

    • Alexander

      What you got against Blessed Newman?

      • BM

        Nothing. I like reading him now and then. But I wouldn’t consider him a great moral theologian. I find him a little too loose in his thinking generally. Worth reading, though. An excellent writer.

      • BM

        You know, Alexander, you are probably right. I spoke too strongly. It is true that there have been differing opinions within the Church. But as Newman himself says, the great and common view, held for the longest time and defended by the Church’s greatest thinkers, is that defended by Augustine and Aquinas. After Leo XIII, when thomism became standard and dominant, virtually every major moral theology text defended this common view. (These days, you never know….)

        I’m not sure how to understand Newman on this. He is loose in his approach to many questions and this seems to be one of them. Not that we always need to have a scholastic disputation, but when approaching such a difficult matter, one needs to proceed carefully and from proper principles.

  • From one Scott to another, thanks for this. All lies have only one father, and it isn’t God.

  • AnneG

    Asking a question and then listening to the response is not lying, entrapment or encouraging grave sin. There was no entrapment or begging for an immoral act or complicity. The information was freely given because the truly pregnant woman fit the profile of the customer at PP, where all pregnancies are crisis pregnancies and potential customers.
    However, if you, Scott, went into the offices, said,”I’m a prolife, Catholic author,” they would have thrown you out.
    Kermit Gosnell only got caught because he was selling prescriptions for controlled substances and the Feds got involved. Most PP “only” kill babies and the occasional woman.
    Lying is wrong, but necessary in some cases to protect the innocent, as in the cases mentioned from Scripture and in the case of some governments.
    I understand your angst, but some of the comments about Lila Rose seem a lot like the Pharisee and priest who were hurrying to do a more important, pressing service to the faith than tending a man along the road as the Samaritan did.

  • AcceptingReality

    The question should be, “Is investigative journalism lying?”. Or is criminal investigation where a cop poses as one seeking the services of a prostitute lying? Well, then how about actors in a movie. Are they lying because they are pretending to be something they are not? Don’t think the article thinks deeply enough….

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  • Jim Russell

    Hi, Scott–here is the problem–you are referring to the teaching on lying as “the Catholic Church’s perennial and unequivocal teaching on the immorality of lying”, but this is not the case. Yes, the Church perennially and unequivocally teaches that there *is* an immoral human act prohibited by the 8th Commandment which we refer to as “lying,” but the 2000-year-old moral theological debate has been whether certain specific acts involving falsehood or deception actually *are* examples of this immoral act. This historical fact cannot merely continue to be glossed over.
    Further, the appearance of the common teaching on lying in the Catechism does *not* “elevate” that common teaching to a magisterial teaching that requires of us Catholics the assent of religious submission of mind and will. In the last 20 years, we’ve replaced “What Does the Church Teach?” with “What Does the Catechism Say?”, and these are not *always* equivalent questions, since the CCC contains much nonmagisterial content, including quotes from saints and Church Fathers as well as the common teaching of Catholic theologians.
    We ought not put ourselves in front of the Magisterium on this question–the truth is, Church doctrine on what is–and is not–the sin of lying is far from settled, and the common teaching on lying remains inadequate to the moral theological task of resolving the debate. More work needs to be done. Meanwhile, let’s not divide over something the Magisterium has not settled.
    God bless you,
    Deacon JR

    • Jim Russell

      BTW, it is also worth noting that Cardinal Newman’s essay on “Lying and Equivocation” makes it quite clear that he recognized in his day that Church teaching on lying was far from a settled and “unequivocal” issue. What Newman is quoted as saying above does not negate his understanding of the plurality of permissible views on lying which he outlined in his appendix to the Apologia Pro Vita Sua…..

      • slainte

        If we can “know” Truth, we can know when we deviate from Truth. The latter constitutes lying.

        Your suggestion that we need a mediator to identify, with particularity, what constitutes lying is an insult to common sense.

        • Jim Russell

          Your definition (“lying”=deviation from Truth) is actually not sufficient. Which is really the whole problem. There are all sorts of exceptions to the definition(s) formulated by Augustine and Aquinas, and I think they both recognize this, particularly Augustine, whose own work “On Lying” begins with his *own* catalog of various human acts which may–or may not be–lying, before he settles upon a definition he thinks is worth discussing in his work…. God bless you, JR

          • slainte

            When confronted by His accusers, Jesus did not lie, misrepresent, deceive, or malign, nor did he seek exceptions to the moral absolute that we may not do evil to avoid evil.

            A dilemma that appears to mandate the use of an immoral means to avoid an evil end should be re-evaluated to determine whether a better alternative is available.

            Peace to you.

            • Jim Russell

              Thank you, and with your spirit.
              But here is the thing–the issue in question is not whether to use an “immoral” means but rather the issue is whether the means being considered actually *is* immoral (whether it really counts as the sin of lying).
              The problem we face is that the moral theological framework currently in use does not adequately define lying nor can it adequately address a great many cases of deception or falsehood that may or may not count as sinful. So we continue to propose this common teaching as “safe” but without resolving the longstanding moral issue regarding certain cases. As such, good Catholics may form conscience according to the “safe” common teaching or according to a less rigorous theological opinion.
              God bless, JR

  • NE-Sceptic

    Mr. Richert’s rigid interpretation if applied consistently puts the whole US Episcopacy in a very bad light, including Cardinal Dolan – e.g. as recently reported in the New York Times (, The Archdiocese of New York has unionized workers whose health plans include support for abortions. The Church has for ‘many years’ paid and continues to offer and pay for those health insurance plans. Thus ‘supporting’ abortions as well as significantly undercutting their position against abortion mandates in Obamacare. This ‘arrangement’ is not exclusive to the New York Archdiocese. Just sayin’.

  • Terrye Newkirk

    Oh, please. Even Mark Shea has apologized for his rigorist position on this topic. And an absolutist position against ANY deception would, as you rightly note, doom the Jews in the attic, as well as making ALL undercover work (police, intelligence, reportage) impossible. Even the fake fleets that fooled the Germans in the English Channel during WWII would be verboten. Moreover, you’d put all magicians, actors, and clowns out of work immediately.

    • Carl

      Careful Terrye you could be “misleading.” 🙂

      Mark Shea apologized for the way he made his point and NOT his argument itself.

      • Terrye Newkirk

        Yes, that was pointed out to me on Facebook, and I apologized for having misread his apology. 😉

        My point stands, however. The CCC says that lying is an offense against Truth because it might lead others into error. What goes unsaid is that legitimate targets of espionage or withholding truth (Gestapo, abortionists, enemy spies, etc.) are ALREADY in error, and that the cost of providing them with the truth is human lives.

        Stealing is always wrong, right? Yet we have no problem with the famous scene in “The Sound of Music” where the nun swipes the distributor cap from the Nazi car to save the lives of the von Trapps. Of course, she makes her culpa to the Abbess immediately, and no doubt confesses it at the first opportunity. 😉

  • Raphael Walker

    What we need is official Catholic Church condemnation- from Pope Francis, even from Pope Emeritus Benedict- rigorously and with no room for Lila defenders to wiggle out- condemnation of “Hitler’s Pope”- not, as is typical, for not doing enough, but for lying, as Pope, as successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ, outright lying in order to save the lives of any Jews at all. Because, as even Shea would agree, the Pope lied a lot. And it’s just consequentialism to be lying to save Jews from extinction. So it’s even worse for Hitler’s Pope, qua pope, to have given scandal by, just, like, totally outright officially on behalf of the Church of Rome liar liar lying. Let’s begin here, at the heart of the Magisterium, and not play tough cases or mere anecdotalism canard-cards.

    • Terrye Newkirk

      Before he was Pope, as Secretary of State Cardinal Pacelli issued more than 500,000 phony baptismal certificates to Jews to protect them from the Nazis. I’m sure he’s burning in Hell right now for that!

      Oh, wait: He’s being canonized.

  • Felix

    Catholic Catechism2483″ Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord. ” . “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. ” Lila Rose and Live Action does not try to lead someone into error,just the opposite is true.They expose the Truth and lead others away from murder. I wish more time was spent on real scandal ,like proaborts claiming to be catholic going up to receive Communion.If one is really concerned with lying write about Enda Kenny ,who is claiming he is not changing the Irish law on abortion.His proposal actually encourages lying in order to obtain abortions.

  • Carl

    I find it curious that only within the abortion debate do some Catholics bring up “lying”

    when used to undercover the atrocities of this industry. We’re throwing Lila Rose under the bus while at the same time silent when “ardent catholic politicians” lie about Church teachings. “I support my Faith put refuse to force my faith on others” for example! So they know abortion is murder but refuse to stop someone from committing this act and even perpetuate it? Why is this so hard to reconcile?

    I argued this lying issue with Mark Shea in comm boxes here when he was an absolutist on the torture issue. He supported the Army Interrogation Manual which included at least what would be called deception! Although Mark Shea was consistent with torture when it was disclosed that Obama is drone killing accused terrorists including American citizens. I remember Mark Shea scuffing at my lying argument. Basically my point was that if torture is absolute then lying should be held to the same standard.

    But what’s different is that torture is not easily defined while lying is lying! Holding captive someone in solitary confinement is torture to some but to a Trappist or Carmelite Monk for example it is not. Constantly playing rap music in the background would be torture to me but edifying for many teenagers!

    So when do we begin to not support and not vote for politicians who are proven liars?!

  • Carl

    Was it ever confirmed that these women who went into the abortion clinics didn’t actually consider having an abortion? In this case they wouldn’t have be lying right?!

    But, oh golly, the deception of recording the conversation held and disclosing it to others would be lying???

    I just wish these rigorous applications were held to politicians too!

    Interesting now Mr. Shea is rigorous with the lying commandment today when he supported lying when interrogating terrorists with the Army Field Manual. Mr. Shea was consistent though when it came to politicians though, his rigorous application here was to not vote at all because no politician out there is the second coming of Christ. So not voting at all accomplishes what?

    • chezami

      What are you talking about?

  • Terrye Newkirk

    On the subject of deception, the issue of “handles” was raised. I, for one, would prefer to see the real names of those with whom I am conversing–unless, of course, you’re working undercover, or revealing your identity would endanger your life or livelihood. 😉

    • Carl

      What is gained by knowing who you are talking to? How does that add to any conversation? In light of the current political scandals how easy do we have to make it for government to find us? Anyone for that matter. An IRS employee who comments on this thread and doesn’t like what I say could have me audited.

      • Carl

        Where’s the need to know? CCC 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.

      • Terrye Newkirk

        That would fall under “livelihood.” 🙂 I’m an old FidoNet sysop/moderator. I know from that experience that “real name” boards were always far more civil than “handle” boards.

        But I was really trying to make a point about the advisability, for some people at certain times, of engaging in a little deception. Thanks for helping me make it.

        • Carl

          Not sure what you’re talking about? And I really don’t care. Personal opinions you may have of me or anyone else are inconsequential to me.

          If a famous person say a professional athlete enjoys conversing his faith but doesn’t want to disclose his identity he is not deceiving. The examples here are limitless! Look what happened to Romney’s political donors, ridiculed and besmirched by the media, audited by several government identities.

          This web site can ban and limit conversations, if some commentor needs to be found, it can be done.

          I’ve learned a lot through comment threads, Mr. Mark Shea makes a living in part using them so it makes sense for him to identify himself to sell his books and writings.

          • Terrye Newkirk

            Whatever. I wasn’t commenting on YOU at all. But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people are out to get you. 😉

  • Jim Russell

    Hi, Scott–I hope for the opportunity to engage in the “rational discussion” that this subject deserves. I think readers are likely to get the wrong impression of the history of lying due to the manner in which your piece glosses over what the Church has–and has not–said on the subject.
    God bless you,
    Deacon JR

    • Jim Russell

      Scott–here is a potential starting point for discussion: Why does Newman, in his essay on “Lying and Equivocation,” coin the term “material falsehood,” and what does he mean by it? JR

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    St Augustine says:- “You hate all who do iniquity: You destroy those who speak falsehood (Ps 5:6) Now He hates all who work iniquity: but all who speak falsehood He also destroys. Which thing being fixed, who of them which assert this will be moved by those examples, when it is said, suppose a man should seek shelter with you who by your lie may be saved from death? For that death which men are foolishly afraid of, who are not afraid to sin, kills not the soul but the body, as the Lord teaches in the Gospel; whence He charges us not to fear that death: but the mouth which lies kills not the body but the soul. For in these words it is most plainly written, “The mouth that lies slays the soul. “ (Wisdom 1:11) How then can it be said without the greatest perverseness, that to the end one man may have life of the body, it is another man’s duty to incur death of the soul?”

    “If the ancient Church was in error, the Church is fallen. If she should be in error to-day, it is not the same thing; for she has always the superior maxim of tradition from the hand of the ancient Church; and so this submission and this conformity to the ancient Church prevails and corrects all.” – Pascal

    • Jim Russell

      Great quotes, but St. Augustine does not equal “the ancient Church” (nor does he equal the Magisterium of the ancient Church). St. Augustine was a great theologian, with great and often-incisively-correct theological opinions, but he also occasionally possessed often-incomplete or erroneous theological opinions.

  • Jim Russell

    Above, it is said that “Anecdotes—even ones drawn from Scripture—are material against which moral arguments can be tested, but they are not a substitute for moral theology. And—it cannot be stressed enough—no single anecdote, or even a series of anecdotes, even ones drawn from Scripture, is sufficient to prove a moral argument false.”

    The proper use of casuistry in moral theology is both viable and legitimate in testing the soundness of moral arguments, so indeed “anecdotes” (or more properly called, cases) are *part* of moral theology. Not as “proofs” for moral argument but as evidence considered alongside the use of reason.

    And it is Chesterton who says, “But every man is a casuist or a lunatic.”

  • FrankW

    With all due respect to the author of this article, this argument is old, tired, and has been dismissed by far too many cases of reality. Dismissing the Anne Frank example as an anecdote is a cop-out. What’s worse, this absolutist approach also condemns the behavior of so many others who took steps to protect Jews from concentration camps and gas chambers.

    Among those condemned would be Pope Pius XII, and all the Catholic Clergy who took steps to hide Jews at the Vatican, at Castel Gandolfo and anyplace else that would hold them. It condemns the printing of false baptismal certificates which Jews would use to deceive the enemy and escape the gas chambers. Courageous people (who risked their lives) like Corrie Ten Boom, Irena Sendler and so many others who deceived the enemy to protect innocents? The logic presented in this article would condemn their behavior and suggest that it would have been better had they done nothing than to commit the
    evil of deception against the Nazis. I’m sorry, but that twisted logic is pathetic. This behavior is absolutely Christian in both character and practice. Any suggestion to the contrary cannot be taken seriously.

    This absolutist approach also condemns any kind of undercover police work where law enforcement works its way into the good graces of everything from drug cartels and organized crime families to terrorist cells. This work would be condemned despite the fact that has saved lives and put dangerous criminals behind bars and out of business.

    As for Live Action, what are they doing is nothing more than investigative reporting. We all know that abortions take place in Planned Parenthood clinics, and unfortunately, this is not against the law. But if these clinics were abiding by existing laws, then Live Action would be wasting its time. The work Live Action is performing is work that our government should be doing, but refuses to do because of political correctness. Is it wrong to expose this law-breaking?

    According to the author, it’s better than the law-breaking continue until we can convince the law-breakers to stop what they are doing. Meanwhile, laws continue to be broken, and in this instance, innocents like those babies who survived abortions in Kermit
    Gosnell’s offices are murdered.

  • MLT

    Dear Mr. Richert,

    I find your article helpful in opening the door to understanding Aquinas’s position on lying, but another place worth looking at would be here, in an article by Janet Smith a couple of years ago in First Things. There, she deftly describes both Aquinas’s position and why she believes Aquinas’s position is wrong. It is worth reading:

  • Jason Negri

    I have never read either Augustine’s or Aquinas’ explanations in this area, so all I have to work with is this article, but I think the author is wrong. The examples of first principles that he attributes to Aquinas’ position are 3 Scripture verses taken out of context, with no accounting for interpretation or proper exegesis. This is hardly a sufficient foundation for something as complicated as the proper response to various situations we face.

    IF the author is correct and the Church really does hold this absolutist opinion, then the Church is wrong. Of course, those whose faith precludes the possibility that the Church could EVER be wrong about ANYTHING cannot accept this, so they go through contortions and explanations to justify what the rest of us know to be unjustifiable.

    The Jews had a better solution with the Commandments – “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”. This is not the same as declaring all lying to be forbidden because it supposedly does some sort of violence to the fabric of being.

  • Jason Negri

    I have never read either Augustine’s or Aquinas’ explanations in this area, so all I have to work with is this article, but I think the author is wrong. The examples of first principles that he attributes to Aquinas’ position are 3 Scripture verses taken out of context, with no accounting for interpretation or proper exegesis. This is hardly a sufficient foundation for something as complicated as the proper response to various situations we face.

    IF the author is correct and the Church really does hold this absolutist opinion, then the Church is wrong. Of course, those whose faith precludes the possibility that the Church could EVER be wrong about ANYTHING cannot accept this, so they go through contortions and explanations to justify what the rest of us know to be unjustifiable.

    The Jews had a better solution with the Commandment – “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”. This is not the same as declaring all lying to be forbidden just because it supposedly does some sort of inchoate violence to the fabric of being.

  • Rob W

    When Newman was around there wasnt the state sponsored killing of babies, “doctors” twisting the heads off live children, “doctors” keeping babies feet in bottles as trophies. The Church also teaches not to steal, but if Im starving Its ok for me take food to live. When my mom cooks me a meal and she asks how it is Im gonna tell her its good even if it tastes horrible, and if it comes to a human life?…If I had a Jew hidden and the Nazis asked me I was knew where any Jews were Id look him right in the face, lie, and sleep like a baby. Keep up the good work Lila!

  • Rob W


  • All Roads

    I respectfully submit that the Ten Commandments are more than an anecdote. These are the words of God The Father. ” Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”.

    I suggest that “against” is the operative word. Miss Rose and her companions are not testifying against the “clinic” workers. They are lying to the people they are talking to in order to bring the truth to the public. Some may argue this to be a distinction without a difference. Words mean things. I applaud the writer of this article for his devotion to Gods work and his family. To be disrepectful to him is sinful. He offered a well reasoned argument for his opinion. I simply disagree with him on the issue. I love and respect Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. However I must go with the literal translation of the direct word of God to Moses passed down in scripture through the centuries.

    I believe we are all Catholics here. If we cannot be civil to our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, how will we bring others to the good news of the Gospels.

    • However I must go with the literal translation of the direct word of God
      to Moses passed down in scripture through the centuries.

      Instead of this Lutheresque “literal translation”, how about obeying the Church which unambiguously teaches to lying is objectively wrong? One might as well say that because the Commandment is literally “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery” means that masturbation and pornography use is acceptable. That’s actually a good analogy because lying is to the mind is like what masturbation is to the body.

  • steve5656546346

    There have been a few articles CLEARLY demonstrating that the Church teachings on what constitutes a “lie” is not definitive. To ignore that, and to ignore that issue in this article, is…well…not exactly honest? 🙂

    Look, I can empathize: I too think that it absolutely outrageous that people can dissent from my views–ESPECIALLY if I attribute them to the Holy Spirit! But, I’m a layman, and I just have to turn this issue over to the Church…which is not real big on quick response times nor clear, definitive answers issued invoking authority.

    I also wonder how it the world did the tactics of Live Action become the primer moral issue of our day and discussing it our top priority. Or at least, nearly so. At least, judging from the amount of ink spilled on the subject in some quarters.

  • Rob W

    An Italian Catholic activist and journalist who was declared a Righteous Gentile for saving Jewish lives during World War II has formally been put on the road to sainthood by the Roman Catholic church.

    Odoardo Focherini was beatified – the step before sainthood – at a ceremony Saturday in his hometown of Carpi, near Modena in northern Italy.

    Declared a martyr by the church, Focherini is believed to be the first Righteous Gentile, and the first person to be killed for saving Jews, to be beatified.

    Born in 1907, Focherini saved about 100 Jews during World War II by establishing a rescue network and arranging false papers to help them flee to Switzerland….he arranged FALSE papers, and is going to be a saint. When lives are concerned its ok to be deceptive.

    • Being a candidate for sainthood does not necessarily justify every act he did. I believe St. Ignatius once fought a duel over an argument about the Holy Spirit for instance. Just like the article points out–this is just more anecdotal (non) evidence.