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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Life and Truth

The on-line journal Public Discourse, under the brilliant editorship of Ryan Anderson, has become a key site for people interested in the rigorous analysis of contemporary disputes about ethics and morally-charged questions of law and public policy.  Its editorial policy is unabashedly and unambiguously pro-life, but it provides a forum for the airing of disagreements within the pro-life family.

Over the past week, Public Discourse has published an important exchange of opinions between two leading pro-life philosophers---Christopher Tollefsen and Christopher Kaczor---on the legitimacy of lying in the fight against grave injustices, such as the taking of innocent human life.  Rick Garnett has already called attention to this debate.  Its occasion is the "sting" operation carried out by pro-life activist Lila Rose and her organization Live Action, which has profoundly damaged the credibility and reputation of Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, by exposing the willingness of some of its employees to aid and abet those whom they were led to believe were involved in the sex trafficking of underage girls.

Tollefsen and Kaczor agree that Planned Parenthood is a deeply malicious organization that should, by all legitimate means, be vigorously opposed by everyone who recognizes the humanity, dignity, and right to life of the child in the womb.  The question in dispute between them is whether lying is a legitimate means.  Tollefsen, in line with the teaching of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, argues that lying is always and everywhere wrong, and may never be resorted to, even as a means of preventing wrongful killing and other grave injustices.  His account of the moral wrongness of lying focuses on its damage to the integrity of the liar and to the relationship (the communio) of the liar and the person to whom the lie is directed---damage that is unavoidably done whether one's lying is in a good cause or a bad one.  Kaczor appeals to a counter tradition, one associated with Cassian and St. John Chrysostom, that maintains that there are narrow circumstances in which lying (to those who have "no right to be told the truth") is permissible as a means of frustrating the efforts of a grave wrongdoer to achieve his evil objectives.

The blogosphere is now filled with people weighing in on the competing sides.  Catholic blogs, in particular, seem to be occupied with the question.  As has been pointed out by people on both sides, the original draft of the Catholic Catechism contained language leaving room for the Cassian/Chrysostom position; but that language was removed in the final official version.  The firm teaching of the magisterium, reconfirmed in the Catechism, is that lying is intrinsically immoral and is therefore impermissible even as a means of preventing grave injustices and other evils.  I don't see how it is possible to avoid the conclusion that this teaching requires of Catholics the submission of intellect and will that is known as "religious assent."

Even apart from the invocation of religious authority, it seems to me that Tollefsen (with whom I am co-author of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life) is correct that lying is intrinsically wrong.  So the only way I can think of to defend Live Action's tactics is to argue that the utterances and actions of those who represented themselves as sex traffickers and prostitutes were not lies.  My sense is that Rick is inclined to defend Live Action's tactics in precisely this way.  I don't think it can possibly work when it comes to the utterances of the Live Action team.  They stated things they knew to be false precisely with a view to persuading the Planned Parenthood workers that they were true.  That's just what a lie is.  And their utterances were not made in a context of social conventions that could render a statement one knows to be false something other than a lie:  such as when someone invites a friend out for a "quiet meal" on his birthday, only to deliver him to a big surprise party in his honor.  Could Live Action have pulled off the sting without making false utterances?

I think the answer to that is probably yes.  And that takes us to the next question.  What about deceptions that do not involve false utterances?  Some are plainly wrong.  Others, however, seem pretty clearly not to be.  Tollefsen points out that Aquinas, while condemning lying even in justified wars, held that military feints are not necessarily lies and can be morally permissible. Getting to just what it is that distinguishes the two is, I predict, where this debate is heading---and that, I believe, is just where it should head.  Getting greater clarity on the issue would be valuable to all who wish to use every legitimate means, while avoiding every illegitimate one, in working to defend human rights, protect the common good, and fight grave injustices such as abortion.

Catholics certainly, but non-Catholic pro-lifers, too, should reject lying even in the greatest of good causes.  What we fight for is just and true, and truth---in its unparalleled splendor and luminosity---is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.  It is the truth about the precious life of the child in the womb, and about the consequences of abortion for women and men, and the effects of abortion on families, on the medical profession, and on society more broadly, that will ultimately enable us to build a culture of life---a culture in which, as Fr. Richard John Neuhaus prayed, "every child will be protected by law and welcomed in life."

Professor Tollefsen is, I believe, profoundly right that we must not permit our cause to be sullied by lying.  We must not abandon faith in the power of truth to transform those who oppose us in the great struggle over the protection of human life in all stages and conditions.  We must not forfeit our standing in the debate as the tellers of truth

Does this place us at a disadvantage in the struggle?  Someone will say:  the entire edifice of abortion is built on a foundation of lies---lies about the the biological status of the human being developing in the womb ("a mere clump of undifferentiated tissue, no different than a mole or a fingernail"); lies about the number of maternal deaths from illegal abortions prior to Roe v. Wade; lies about the so-called "medical necessity" of partial-birth abortions; and on and on.  Why should we deny ourselves the use of weapons that many on the other side wield freely?  Do we not deeply disadvantage our cause and, in that way, sin against its unborn victims by refusing to lie?  Are we "keeping our hands clean" at the price of putting off the day when outfits like Planned Parenthood will be dumped onto the ash heap of history?

I understand the impatience; indeed, I share it.  The edifice of abortion is indeed built on a foundation of lies.  And in working to protect the victims of abortion, it is frustrating to hold ourselves to standards that so many on the other side freely disregard.  But there are no moral shortcuts to victory in this struggle.  A culture of life can only be built on a foundation of truth.  Lying may produce short term victories, but it will, in the end, frustrate our long term objective.  Respect for life---like respect for every other great human good and every other high moral principle---depends on love of truth.  Our efforts in the cause of life and every other worthy goal will, in the end, prove to be self-defeating if they undermine love of truth.

 

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Robby writes, "My sense is that Rick is inclined to defend Live Action's tactics in precisely this way. I don't think it can possibly work when it comes to the utterances of the Live Action team." Maybe. I didn't say anything about Live Action in my own earlier post, in which I called attention to, and expressed some doubt about, Tollefsen's argument. And, my sense, frankly, is that Robby shares those doubts, because he indicates in this post that it is sometimes permissible to act in ways that are designed to deceive (in order to bring about a good). Also, he accepts also that even some utterances that are designed to deceive are permissible (the "quiet meal" ruse, for example). Finally, Robby suggests that Live Action could have done pretty much what it did, so long as it avoided false "utterances", and not violated the relevant moral rule. Putting all this together, it sounds to me like Robby's view is not that "lying is always wrong", unless we limit "lying" to "utterances (not actions) intended to deceive (except in certain social contexts where it is permissible to deceive)." Robby?

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Feb 15, 2011 8:17:59 AM

Thanks for your comment, Rick. As I thought I made clear, I do think that lying is always wrong. The philosophical case for that position, as Chris Tollefsen has shown in his book, is very strong, and from a Catholic point of view I don't see how dissent from it is permissible. What is less clear is what counts as lying.

Knowingly false utterances are usually lies, though social conventions are sometimes such that they are not. To take the easiest sort of case, Samuel Johnson once observed that concluding a letter by saying that "I am, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant," knowing that one is, of course, nothing of the kind, is plainly not lying.

And, of course, sometimes one can lie without uttering anything at all. So, in the end, the central relevant distinction is not between utterances and actions. Some forms of deception that plainly do not involve utterances are nevertheless lies, on anybody's account of the matter. But here is the rub: Some forms of deception are not lies (unless we define deception in such a way as to equate it with lying, and then say that legitimate deceptions, such as military feints or bluffing in poker, are not, in truth, deceptions but something else).

How do we distinguish the two? The issue is complicated and the answer is far from obvious. I won't try to tackle it myself in a blog posting, though there is already good work out there by a number of moral philosophers, including Professor Tollefsen himself. But more progress needs to be made. My hope is that the debate triggered by the tactics of Live Action and Tollefsen's criticisms of those tactics will significantly move the ball forward.

The debate will, I hope, provide an answer to the question whether Live Action could have successfully pulled off its sting (which, there can be no doubt, had the very good effect of exposing Planned Parenthood) by means that were entirely morally legitimate. I do not want to rule out that possibility in advance of argument. Obviously, the answer will be highly relevant to questions about undercover law enforcement techniques, spying, and so forth.

Posted by: Robert George | Feb 15, 2011 8:57:48 AM

Robby, what I think you made clear is that "lying" is always wrong, so long as "lying" is not defined to include all deliberate deceptions. Some deceptive actions, and some deceptive utterances, are permissible; they are permissible because they are not really "lies" (or, perhaps, they are not "lies" because they are permissible?). Your comment concludes with this: "The debate will, I hope, provide an answer to the question whether Live Action could have successfully pulled off its sting (which, there can be no doubt, had the very good effect of exposing Planned Parenthood) by means that were entirely morally legitimate. I do not want to rule out that possibility in advance of argument. Obviously, the answer will be highly relevant to questions about undercover law enforcement techniques, spying, and so forth." The reservations these lines suggest about the conclusions that Tollefsen seems clearly (to me) to propose regarding these matters seem pretty much the same as those that I meant to express in my own post.

It's a hard question, of course (but not too hard for a blog post!: When, and why, is it sometimes permissible to deceive, through actions and / or utterances?

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Feb 15, 2011 9:10:30 AM

This is as much or more a response to Rick's post as to Professor George's. I come from outside the Catholic tradition and won't presume to write about that directly. I share what I take to be a certain degree of ambivalence that Rick expresses about when lying is or isn't permissible, part of which he expresses through the definitional question what constitutes a lie. I'm not sure I'm as ambivalent as Rick, but like another commenter on Rick's post I think it requires that we account for things like testers in discrimination cases, not to mention deceptions in the criminal investigative process.

But I think, Rick, that you might productively and thoughtfully consider a slightly different question. If we must "lie," or "deceive" as you say, from what internal perspective must we approach that conduct and what consequences or responses ought it to carry? Consider an analogous example: that of civil disobedience. It is commonplace in this argument that civil disobedience can best, and most virtuously, be carried out by doing so in a way that recognizes the moral weight both of legal obligations and moral obligation. That generally ultimately involves, among other things, making a good-faith challenge to the law if one exists, but also accepting the consequences of law violation.

In the same way, we might ask similar questions about how whether, when, and how to carry out a deception, and what to do about it afterwards. We would want to avoid doing so if it was at all possible. We would want to do so in a fashion that acknowledged and took responsibility for the lie. We would want to do our best to ensure that the lie was carried out with as clean hands as possible. We would want to act humbly and carefully, with due regard for others and for our own selves (or souls). We would, in short, want to act in a way that showed proper awareness of the gravity of the deception, that was not boastful or casual about the act, that didn't treat it as a mere public relations gambit.

That's a high standard -- so high that one might prefer Professor George's refusal to countenance any lies (depending on how one defines them) at all. For those of us who might nonetheless favor deception in certain instances, as in the example of hiding potential Holocaust victims in the comments to Rick's post, we may not be willing to go so far. But we can still think productively about how best to lie, if lie we must, as a fully moral agent. It is possible some actions meet these standards and others don't. I think there are at least fair reasons to conclude that the Live Action conduct, not least the arguably unclean hands of some of the actors and the ways in which the publicity was rolled out, do not meet this standard. I can say so, I think, without stating a position on the underlying issue of abortion, which is very relevant but not necessarily sufficient to justify any manner of deception, even if deception was required. Thoughts, Rick?

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Feb 15, 2011 9:43:20 AM

One possible answer to the question of when deceiving is not lying is when it is an accepted and integral part of the activity taking place, and a person knowingly enters into that activity. Feinting a punch in boxing, for example, is part of the art of boxing, and every boxer knows it. Something similar, I think, would be true of military feints.

Regarding a surprise party, it seems to me it would not be acceptable—and it would count as a lie—to invite someone to a quiet meal as a reuse to get him to a surprise party if you knew he did not *want* a surprise party. So I do not think it can always be asserted that such reuses are not lies. Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren't. It may depend on a presumed though unspoken willingness of the person having a birthday to be surprised. (I wonder how many people are actually fooled by the reuses that are employed to get them to a surprise party.)

I would think there could be no objection to using deception to test airport security. I believe the US and Israel both do this. But of course the people being tested are well aware that any interaction they have with someone presenting himself or herself as a passenger may actually be a test. So that is another case where deception is an integral and accepted part of an activity that people willingly enter into knowing they may be deceived.

If a policy were established by law that there would be testing of health-care providers by occasional visits from inspectors posing as clients, then I do not think what LiveAction did would necessarily be lying. However, I don't think the medical community would (or should) stand for impostors being sent in to test doctors and counselors who are providing confidential medical advice and services in circumstances that may be in ethically gray areas. This would grossly alter the doctor-patient relationship. I think the seriousness of what LiveAction did was not just a matter of deception, but deception that will no doubt alter the way medical-service providers will interact with future clients. And I think it should be remembered that the Planned Parenthood personnel who were targeted in this sting were not abortion providers. The services they were in charge of were STD testing, pap smears, and other health-related gynecological services. Of course pro-lifers regard abortion as evil, and Planned Parenthood as evil because it is an abortion provider, but this attempt to discredit Planned Parenthood was not aimed at PP's abortion providers. I was appalled at the cavalier attitude of the Planned Parenthood employee to child prostitution and apparent sex trafficking, but there is nothing appalling about the health services she was in charge of providing.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 10:07:54 AM

To tell the truth is not the same thing as making statements that are factually accurate. To tell the truth is not a perhaps accidental correlation between assertions and fact; to tell the truth is an intention. It is the effect of a desire to inform, to advise, to forewarn. Only statements made in that context are truly true. This is not to condemn statements that are factual but morally irrelevant. They are permissable but they are not expressions of the truth.

To lie is therefore to make statements that are intended to confuse, to mislead, to disarm and make vulnerable. The moral significance of statements has to be understood in those terms. If I correctly understand the practices of LiveAction in making their inquiries, they lied to the employees of Planned Parenthood, as a tactic which seemed necessary and unavoidable to elicit the truth about the practices of Planned Parenthood. No one, on this chat group at least, seems to question the truthfulness of the responses that they elicited.

One immediate observation is that LiveAction didn't lie to the public. There is no issue of breaking faith with us the public by dealing in falsehoods, since they didn't lie to us. Just the opposite, they took steps to prevent Planned Parenthood from continuing to lie to us. Without any doubt, their tactics have served the truth well, in ways that could not have been achieved in any other way. The matter would be entirely different if the videos they produced were fictional, and produced purely to defame Planned Parenthood. In that case we would have to denounce LiveAction on grounds of misrepresentation and of breaking faith with the public. As long as a reports they have released are accurate, the tactics by which they secured them -- barring violence or corruption of the innocent of course -- have been instruments needed to uncover the truth.

The realities are brought home very clearly in an email that I and, I'm sure, many others received from members of the Congress, in response to a mass mailing opposing the funding of Planned Parenthood. In my case, the email came form the office of Senator Levin of Michigan. In it he engaged in fairly routine casuistry designed to suggest, without asserting, that Planned PArenthood does not engage in elective abortions. The letter describes Planned Parenthood is simply providing courseling, and of obtaining federal funding in furtherance of that goal. That email is in actuality a lie. Every statement therein is in fact true. It is the omissions that are lies.

Obviously I am a partisan, and my personal inclinations on the matter of LiveAction's tactics could fairly be summarize as an endorsement. I personallly think we should give them a medal. I can easily see however how some persons could be cooler on the subject, wishing that their virtuous ends might be accomplished in more seemly ways. But we have to accept that life doesn't always offer us precisely what we want. If wishes were crowns, as they say, we would all be kings.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Feb 15, 2011 10:23:47 AM

"this attempt to discredit Planned Parenthood was not aimed at PP's abortion providers"
False. (Deceptive?) Abortion was explicitly discussed in the interactions, and these employees play a role in the abortion process at the counseling stage.

It seems to me that if we could postulate that any undercover operation including by the police might theoretically be done without "lying," such a proposal would probably be self-defeating, because to the extent it limited the undercover agents to deceptive equivocations that are not "lies," the likely targets of such operations would simply impose litmus test questions that an agent could not answer without lying. Rejecting consequentialism, as one should, that outcome may well be acceptable. I just think it is worth pointing out that saying the agents could have done their operation without lying does not seem to be ultimately helpful to the discussion, and is not entirely fair to undercover agents especially if they are led to believe that they have some basis for pursuing their efforts. Professor Tollefson forthrightly said undercover work is not legitimate, and that conclusion makes sense to me based on his premises. But I am curious to know if there is a way to justify "lying" undercover work that I am not thinking of, in Professor George's view or the view of others. Could it be, for example, that just as the government uniquely and under strict parameters may intend to kill someone for the common good, it can also intend to lie for the common good in an undercover operation against crime, under parallel parameters? I really have no idea, not being a philosopher nor being familiar with the lying debate over the centuries. But it is certainly a worthy topic of debate both here and at Public Discourse.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 15, 2011 10:31:19 AM

Joel Clarke Gibbons:

In a nutshell, you seem to be saying that lying in service of the truth is not wrong, and perhaps not really lying.

It should be noted that the man and woman impersonating "sex workers" did not lie to Planned Parenthood. They lied to employees of Planned Parenthood. You say, "they took steps to prevent Planned Parenthood from continuing to lie to us." What are the lies that Planned Parenthood, the organization, allegedly tells to us? If we could do a sting on a number of Catholic priests who are engaged in pedophilia or protecting other priests who are engaged in pedophilia, would that prove that the Catholic Church is lying to us? The question is when actions performed by members of an organization can be fairly attributed to the organization.

It seems to me your whole argument boils down to "the end justifies the means." Lying for the greater good is acceptable.

It is, of course, true that the federal government does not fund abortions with tax dollars to Planned Parenthood.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 10:51:12 AM

I can't help but note the comparison to the all-encompassing torture debate of recent years. There was an enormous amount of righteous indignation directed against the idea that one could legitimately debate the scope and meaning of "torture" and acknowledge the hard cases. I'm not sure there's any difference in our present case: "lying" is one of those words where "everyone knows what it means," and yet people are far more willing to debate its scope and meaning and acknowledge its hard cases. The blood just doesn't boil as much and as a result, real inquiry into something we don't know as well as we think we do is possible.

Posted by: A Catholic School Teacher | Feb 15, 2011 10:52:14 AM

CST that may well be true, but in this case even Prof. George concedes that what is including in "lying" is a tough call that has been debated for 1500 years or so; and--unless the Catechism has done so--the Church has never definitively declared one side of the debate out of bounds. So sure, someone could compare Cassian and St. John Chrysostom with torture defenders, but I don't know how helpful that would be.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 15, 2011 11:17:41 AM

CST, I may have misunderstood you and I don't want to suggest you were comparing "lying debaters' with torture defenders--on second look, you seem to have been suggesting that it is helpful that people have NOT been making such comparisons, and I generally agree.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 15, 2011 11:21:55 AM

Matt, and keep in mind that the Catechism allegedly did so only after previously declaring the opposite position to be true in a previous edition. As Judge Posner would say: There's an authority problem here.

Posted by: Mike | Feb 15, 2011 11:24:16 AM

I agree that working out the exceptions is hard, but I'm inclined to agree that lying to save lives can't be one of them.

The cases that fit into one of the "exceptions" are cases where the act of deception is fundamentally qualitatively different from that of (what everyone agrees constitute) lies. A military feint is not a lie because no one interprets the actions of an enemy to be a genuine attempt to impart truth; hence, it falls more in the category of withholding information (which is often morally fine) than betraying a relationship/community of trust. Deception about a "quiet meal" is a harder case, but in that case it nonetheless seems that the act of deception is not a betrayal of trust. Deception occurs in that case not to manipulate the person into acting as she wouldn't otherwise act, but rather so s to not spoil the surprise: it is an act according to the spirit if not quite according to the letter of truth-telling. We might broaden this principle to say that, in friendship generally, what we trust our friends to do is to respect us and look out for our well-being, not necessarily to always tell us the truth (when deception is in fact consistent with respecting us and looking out for our well-being, as it is in the surprise birthday party case, but probably isn't in the vast majority of other cases.)

But these contexts simply don't apply to the Live Action case. A person whose job it is to offer advice and aid trusts those who request such advice and aid to portray themselves truthfully. It IS a betrayal of trust to portray oneself falsely to such a person, quite regardless of the moral quality of the "advice and aid", or of the person or organization as a whole. It is a degradation of proper opposition: part of the point of opposition, especially opposition carried out with love and respect, is to replace falsity with truth, and lying is in direct conflict with that end.

Posted by: WJH | Feb 15, 2011 11:28:00 AM

Paul, nice question. I should, just to be clear, emphasize that I have not, in my posts and comments, been sneakily trying to propose that, in fact, I think lying is fine. I was simply taken aback by the seeming breadth of Tollefsen's argument. It's not that, for me, wrongs are made right by virtue of the fact that, sometimes, wrongs seem to yield increases in social welfare; it's that I think some respectful reservation is warranted when even so accomplished a scholar as Tollefsen suggests that a practice which is widely practiced *and* widely regarded as, in itself, not morally problematic (e.g., using spies and undercover officers) is, in fact, covered by an absolute prohibition. Maybe it is. But I did, and do, want to hear more.

I think, Paul, that I am trying to emphasize (to avoid coming into conflict with the Catechism?) the definitional questions ("What counts as lying?") more than the question whether and when "lying" is morally permissible.

In any event, it strikes me that Paul's suggestion that even justified deceptions (so, not "lies"?) carry with them some still-operative responsibilities to the truth is a really interesting, and appealing one.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Feb 15, 2011 11:29:54 AM

Mike,

Surely you wouldn't argue that, since the old version of the Catechism defined lying in one way, and then Cardinal Ratzinger changed that definition for the official Latin version, that the unofficial previous version can be used to call into question the official, Ratzinger-approved Latin version.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 11:52:28 AM

Mike I think it is an interesting question about the Catechism. Certainly the previous formulation took sides in favor of the "no right" position. But does the current version exclude the "no right to truth" formulation, or does it just frame the issue more generally and still leave the question open? In addition, is not the Catechism a summary, that announces authoritative teaching only in so far as the footnotes and source documents already announce it: In his book Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Ratzinger considers the question of the authority of the Catechism and writes, "The individual doctrine which the Catechism presents receive no other weight than that which they already possess." http://www.jimmyakin.org/2005/02/ratzinger_on_th.html So it seems that the Catechism doesn't change the situation, whatever it is, on whether the "no right to truth" position or a variation thereof is legitimate. But what is the extra-Catechism source saying that the Church has considered the centuries-long debates and has come down on one side and against the "no right to truth" formulation? There might well be one--as I mentioned, I have no reading on this topic. I am honestly asking where we are at on it.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 15, 2011 11:52:32 AM

What Lila Rose and Live Action have done is use the age old practice of investigative discovery. They are simply posing as the type of client that Planned Parenthood would encounter in their day to day practice. They are not placing these workers in a position that they would not normally be in. There is nothing immoral or unethical about what these pro-life journalists are doing here. As a Catholic fully versed in Catholic teaching, I fully support what they are doing in these videos. As regarding following laws themselves, neither Lila Rose or Live Action have broken any laws regarding recording individuals. They have been care and diligent in following all local and state laws regarding the recording of individuals. Compare that with Planned Parenthood's unwillingness to even show ultrasounds to prospective abortive women.

Posted by: Brian F Hudon | Feb 15, 2011 12:24:49 PM

What Lila Rose and Live Action have done is use the age old practice of investigative discovery. They are simply posing as the type of client that Planned Parenthood would encounter in their day to day practice. They are not placing these workers in a position that they would not normally be in. There is nothing immoral or unethical about what these pro-life journalists are doing here. As a Catholic fully versed in Catholic teaching, I fully support what they are doing in these videos. As regarding following laws themselves, neither Lila Rose or Live Action have broken any laws regarding recording individuals. They have been care and diligent in following all local and state laws regarding the recording of individuals. Compare that with Planned Parenthood's unwillingness to even show ultrasounds to prospective abortive women.

Posted by: Brian F Hudon | Feb 15, 2011 12:24:49 PM

If the Live Action sting operation is immoral, then does it not follow that police stings of a similar nature are equally wrong. So, when an undercover agent infiltrates the mob, that is immoral as well?

Posted by: Francis Beckwith | Feb 15, 2011 12:30:21 PM

Prof. Tollefson believes that it does follow:
"The truth that all lies are wrong and that they must all be avoided is hard, no less for polities than for individuals. And this brings us to the final set of objections, which I will here address only briefly. Those objections concerned the practices of undercover work, espionage work, and other forms of journalistic, police, and governmental work that might require lying. Some have expressed surprise that these practices should be called into question; yet Augustine felt it necessary to address the morality of lying precisely in order to stop the practice of Christians infiltrating heretical sects for the defense of the faith; so questioning the legitimacy of undercover work is a very old part of the Christian tradition (I have argued against such work in a philosophical vein in my book Biomedical Research and Beyond: Expanding the Ethics of Inquiry)."
http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/02/2547

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 15, 2011 12:40:04 PM

Pardon me: Tollefsen.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 15, 2011 12:41:06 PM

Brian,

You say: "They are simply posing as the type of client that Planned Parenthood would encounter in their day to day practice."

If this is indeed the case, why did Planned Parenthood report the visits to the FBI? I really doubt that Planned Parenthood deals with people who let on that they are pimps, prostitutes, and sex traffickers in their day-to-day business. They may deal regularly with some unsavory characters, but the unsavory characters are no doubt smart enough not to let on that they are engaged in illegal behavior.

You have made absolutely no argument regarding the issue at hand—whether LiveAction engaged in lying, and whether lying is ever permissible.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 12:53:28 PM

For what it's worth, and since the issue of prosecutors has been raised by some commentators, part of the materials that folks who teach Professional Responsibility to lawyers will know about is the question whether it is unethical (from the point of view of professional ethics, not ethics proper) for a lawyer to lie in the service of his client's interests. There are rules which prohibit lying to a tribunal, but there is also a rule, 4.1, that prohibits a lawyer from knowingly making a false statement of material fact to a third person.

Formally, under Rule 4.1, it makes no difference whether the lawyer is working for a government office, like a prosecutor's office, or not. But as a practical matter, the proscription against lying to others really only has bite (when it does so) in the private practice context.

My own view is that there are important reasons of policy and history that distinguish the prosecutorial and government contexts from the private context, but not everyone agrees.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Feb 15, 2011 1:03:48 PM

PP didn't report those visits to the FBI until many days after, when at headquarters they realized that this may have been a sting done at several clinics. A normal perosn would have walked out of the room and called the FBI then and there. These videos show that PP does deal with such people regularly, by the nonchalance and free facilitation that PP offered these actors.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 15, 2011 1:08:52 PM

Francis Beckwith:

"If the Live Action sting operation is immoral, then does it not follow that police stings of a similar nature are equally wrong. So, when an undercover agent infiltrates the mob, that is immoral as well?"

No - the state is empowered ethically to take actions that are forbidden to individuals. Under certain just conditions the state can declare war. You and me - not so much. This is not to say that "sting" operations by the police are per se ethical - only that the ethics of such actions by private individuals doesn't really tell us anything about the ethics of similar actions by agents of legitimate authority.

Posted by: sd | Feb 15, 2011 1:09:33 PM

Planned Parenthood in fact did not report all the instances which they claimed they did. By the very fact that they went public to state that they reported these instances reveals why they reported it. I believe that they realised that Live Action was behind these events and wanted to preclude another bad public relations moment. And if they knew what was happening was wrong and they in fact reported these events to the FBI, why was the woman in the first Live Action video subsequently terminated? Yes, I fully support what Live Action is doing here because the truth about Planned Parenthood must be revealed. To simply suggest that walking up and asking Planned Parenthood if they report instances of sexual exploitation would be effective in demonstrating their compliance with the law is naive at best. To suggest that we reject their finding is sanctimonious, hypocritical and disingenuous at best and at worst makes one an enabler of the legalized instututional practice of abortion.

Posted by: Brian F Hudon | Feb 15, 2011 1:16:10 PM

Brian Hudon:

"They are simply posing as the type of client that Planned Parenthood would encounter in their day to day practice."

Look, I have no love for Planned Parenthood. They're evil and they should be fully defunded. That's that.

But your statement has no basis in data. For all we know the Live Action "sting" was the first time that any of these clinic workers had ever encountered a potential client claiming to be involved in pimping prostitutes or trafficing in underage girls. The assumption by many pro-lifers seems to be that Live Action caught on tape a practice that happens frequently at PP clinics. That might be true.

But its equally possible that Live Action caught on tape an absurd scenario of their own making. We don't know because what Live Action did was not to hide cameras in PP clinics and record what goes on there. What they did was to insert themselves into clinics, under the cover of multiple lies, and create a scenario. Yes, the PP workers caught on tape reacted badly to the scenario (at least, they did in the tapes released - its entirely possible that Live Action is sitting on 25 tapes of clinic workers saying "get out of here scumbag.). But you have no evidence whatsoever to make the jump from that observation to the hypothesis that this sort of thing goes on at PP clinics frequently and that their employees engage in this conduct regularly.

Posted by: sd | Feb 15, 2011 1:18:42 PM

sd, with respect, I'm not sure that's exactly on point. Declaring war is not an example of agents of the state lying to the people. Surely you would agree that in the main, it is not morally permissible for states to lie. For example, it would not be morally permissible for a state to lie about the reasons it was declaring war.

In order for your claim to work, you need to come up with a situation in which it would be proper (or not unethical) for agents of the state to lie where it would not be proper for private citizens in an analogous situation to lie. Francis Beckwith has come up with that kind of situation, though I may disagree (I think) with his conclusion.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Feb 15, 2011 1:19:44 PM

This whole discussion of the ethics of lying leaves out another moral problem with what Live Action is doing in these cases - the problem of temptation.

The fact is that the Live Action actors went into clinics, looked in the eyes of human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God and whose eternal salvation is being worked out in real time across the span of their days, and told lies with the expectation that it would cause the workers to commit a sin - indeed likely a mortal sin. The fact that these same workers presumably commit mortal sins regulalrly in the normal course of assiting the business of PP is of no matter. Christians/Catholics should not be in the business of playing games with other peoples' eternal souls.

Posted by: sd | Feb 15, 2011 1:22:17 PM

The state does in fact lie as was evidenced in the first Gulf War when military briefings deliberately gave incorrect information to the media as to movement of American forces in the region, knowing that the other side was gathering information from our media. In short, they lied and I'm glad they lied.

Posted by: Brian F Hudon | Feb 15, 2011 1:23:47 PM

The PP tapes are themselves evidence of the regularity of PP dealing with these kinds of situations: in the free and easy nonchalance with which the counsellors assist; in their failure to report to the authorities anytime soon and not even until days later as a preemptive pr strategy; in some admissions in the videos of their providing "services" to similar entities like the girls down at the strip club; in the many other videos and audio recordings and lawsuits in the last 10 years showing PP does cover up underage sexual abuse to make money off abortions; and in the fact that PP has produced ZERO instances of situations in which Live Action actors WERE told "get out of here" and did have the cops called on them that minute--situations that if even one existed we would definitely know about from PP's public relations machine. So I think the assertion is amply supported, that PP facilitates sexual abuse including of underage slaves who we know from DOJ exist in our land extensively. But this string is not a debate about the substance of the videos--it is about the lying issue, which however it is resolved does nothing to take away from the evidentiary value of those videos.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 15, 2011 1:25:30 PM

As was shown in each of these videos, Planned Parenthood clearly knew the protical for each of these instances where keeping sex work quiet was condusive to a happy client. Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director, who was in the employ of Planned Parenthood for 8 years, for a very large clinic in Texas, has testified to this fact. She is now a pro-life spokesperson who Planned Parenthood tried to silence in court in the fall of 2009.

Posted by: Brian F Hudon | Feb 15, 2011 1:27:18 PM

Matt: I think we agree. My point was simply that the *Catechism* is not the relevant binding authority. You're right. Perhaps there is a right answer--indeed there probably is!--based on the underlying documents. More narrowly, though, that answer is not immediately obvious based on the Catechism qua Catechism, particularly because it has had two different opinions on the matter--thus hinting at least some legitimate disagreement in the relevant authorities. I'm open to Professors George and Tollefsen being correct; I just don't think the Catechism is the proper authority to cite in the context given its history. At best it's "persuasive," but probably not even as much as the relevant Constitutions or learned authors like Aquinas.

Posted by: Mike | Feb 15, 2011 1:32:56 PM

Matt,

You say: "PP didn't report those visits to the FBI until many days after, when at headquarters they realized that this may have been a sting done at several clinics."

However, EWTN News says:

**********
On the evening of Feb. 1 Planned Parenthood Central New Jersey CEO Phyllis Kinsler said her organization was “profoundly shocked” to see the video, saying the employee behaved in “a repugnant manner that is inconsistent with our standards of care and is completely unacceptable.” She reported that Woodruff had been terminated.

Planned Parenthood national spokesman Stuart Schear claimed in a statement that the New Jersey center notified local law enforcement in New Jersey.

The organization, the nation’s largest abortion provider, has said at least 12 centers in six states received visits in January by men claiming to be engaged in sex trafficking, according to the Washington Post. The organization claims that in each case the clinic’s staff notified federal and local authorities.
**********
http://www.diometuchen.org/news/?i=11023

I fully agree that Amy Woodruff deserved to be fired, but I have read several news accounts saying that someone at the New Jersey office where Woodruff worked notified local authorities of the visit by the alleged pimp and prostitute.

Note that although there were 12 centers visited, we have only one damaging video.

I don't think, though, we should be arguing the facts of the case in this thread. It is about whether lying in such cases is always wrong. We know enough of what happened (by watching LiveAction's own videos) to know that they lied.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 1:37:36 PM

Not all of the videos have been released yet.

Posted by: Brian F Hudon | Feb 15, 2011 1:39:18 PM

David you block quoted as you are apt to do, but your quote doesn't say WHEN PP notified authorities, so your quote doesn't contradict mine.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 15, 2011 1:52:26 PM

Mr. Beckwith writes: "So, when an undercover agent infiltrates the mob, that is immoral as well?" It could be, couldn't it? Maybe it's prudent police work, protective of the public at large ... and also immoral. They are not mutually exclusive, are they? Maybe we are all supposed to think and act charitably toward others. If we operate a sting against others, we're thinking other folks are up to bad ends (maybe with good reason; but maybe not with good reason in hindsight, given I'm sure some stings result in uncovering nothing untoward). If we did nothing but think and act charitably towards others, maybe we then accept the possibility they are *not* up to evil, and we live a true, un-lying life as our example to them, and while some criminals don't get caught, maybe we're better off, morally, in the end.

Posted by: DFoley | Feb 15, 2011 1:58:22 PM

Brian,

You say: "In short, they lied and I'm glad they lied."

That does not speak to the morality of lying. The whole point of this discussion, as I see it, is whether we can make a reasonably objective moral judgment against something wrong when we are glad it happened.

Here's the quote I reproduced in the other thread:

*****
The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as 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 willful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse. - John Henry Newman
*****

Who of us would not tell a lie to keep millions from dying in agony? I wonder if Newman himself wouldn't have told a lie to keep millions from dying in agony. But according to Newman, the Catholic Church teaches that it would be wrong.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 1:59:01 PM

Anyone tempted to justify lying for the sake of a greater cause ought to pause long enough to consider the theological implications. Would not the greatest of all causes belong to God—the sin, evil, and injustice of the world? It would seem that God has the greatest possible justification for lying. Well then, did God lie to us in the Word he spoke to us? Perhaps the Word-made-flesh is just a divine ruse—a lie told by God for God's higher purposes.

It doesn't take long to see the disastrous theological implications of utilitarian justifications of the lie. Telling the truth is not optional for Christians—indeed it's our creaturely way of participating in the God who spoke the truth to us in Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Charlie Collier | Feb 15, 2011 2:35:00 PM

Matt,

You say: "David you block quoted as you are apt to do, but your quote doesn't say WHEN PP notified authorities, so your quote doesn't contradict mine."

I block quote in order to document what I say, and it's something I am proud of.

But I, for one, am vowing not to mention Planned Parenthood or LiveAction again in this thread. It is really about whether it is ever morally acceptable to lie. When we have Robert George and Rick Garnett willing to discuss a topic like this, it seems a shame to waste time having yet another discussion of Planned Parenthood. I'll be more than happy to discuss LiveAction and Planned Parenthood in another thread, though. I do agree we have a fuzzy idea of when they notified the authorities, and it seems clear to me they notified the FBI only when they thought a hoax was being perpetrated.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 2:36:02 PM

What about Catholic hero Father Marie-Benoit, who used the printing press in the basement of his Capuchin monastery in Marseilles to create thousands of false baptismal certificates for distribution to Jews during World War II? Or all of the other Catholic clergy who must have uttered, at some point, some falsehoods to the Nazis in order to protect Jews? Are we really obligated to condemn them as sinners in these actions? Yes, they should have tried in those circumstances to avoid uttering any untruth through equivocation or the use of discreet language, but when that wouldn't work, were they really obligated to give up the location of the Jews they were hiding?

Posted by: Alexander | Feb 15, 2011 2:49:30 PM

Matt,

You say: "But does the current version exclude the 'no right to truth' formulation, or does it just frame the issue more generally and still leave the question open?"

I believe, and I understand this to be the position of Robert George, that the current version excludes the idea that a lie is deceiving someone who has a right to know the truth. Remember that the omission of the phrase was ordered by Cardinal Ratzinger for the official version of the Catechism in Latin. It seems to me the two formulations are really quite different, and the formulation that Ratzinger chose does not in any way include the former version, but quite definitely excludes it.

So I think Robert George is correct when he says, above:

**********
The firm teaching of the magisterium, reconfirmed in the Catechism, is that lying is intrinsically immoral and is therefore impermissible even as a means of preventing grave injustices and other evils. I don't see how it is possible to avoid the conclusion that this teaching requires of Catholics the submission of intellect and will that is known as "religious assent."
**********

Here's another mention of lying in the Catechism:

**********
1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).
**********

I don't think lying could be called "intrinsically disordered" if it were the case that lying was depriving someone of the truth who had a right to know it. I could be wrong here, but I would say that lying is only intrinsically disordered if one goes by the "perverted faculty argument."

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 3:03:52 PM

To return to the question about what constitutes lying, which is always intrinsically wrong, and what constitutes pretending or as Robbie George put it, permissible 'military feints', I'd like to suggest the following. As was already mentioned, there are cases of 'deception' which we find morally justified such as undercover law enforcement or investigative journalism. The point in these cases in not that 'the ends justify the means', i.e. we are permitted to lie in order to bring about a morally good end, but that a certain technique, feign or a slight of hand is employed in order to ascertain the truth. This technique is successfully employed by consumer watchdog organisations including, and perhaps most similar to the LiveAction case, the use of fake diners and secret shoppers to test the services offered by different establishments. In fact, it is the stores, restaurants or bars themselves who carry out these kinds of checks in order to ensure that their employees are adhering to legislation or company guidelines. If PP was really interested in ensuring that cases of statutory rape and sex-slavery were being reported to the authorities by its employees it should have offered to hire Lila Rose and the LiveAction team as its own internal watchdog. Clearly the evidence shows that they are not at all concerned by this problem and that it is very likely that the employees have been specifically told to turn a blind eye in these kinds of cases. In this case therefore, as in cases of watchdog groups or undercover police work a certain short-lived pretence has been employed in order to ascertain the truth of a situation, not something which is intrinsically wrong.

I think that two important factors put the LiveAction in the category of 'pretending' rather than 'lying'. The first is once its purpose had been served the pretence or ruse was promptly revealed and made known to everyone involved and second the intention to drop the ruse was present from the very beginning of the action. This is the case in other examples of 'deception' such as acting, magic tricks, story-telling, the 'surprise party' or as has already been mentioned undercover investigations by police, journalists or watchdog groups. It is not the case in examples of lying in which I do not wish the other party to know the truth at any future point, and I certainly do not go into saying the lie with the intention that I will promptly and of my own free will reveal the truth and my reasoning for the lie to the other party.

There is certainly more to be said, but perhaps these categories can help us to make some useful distinctions?

Posted by: Paula Olearnik | Feb 15, 2011 3:11:37 PM

Alexander,

You say: "Are we really obligated to condemn them as sinners in these actions?"

I think we are obligated NOT to condemn ANYONE as sinners. And of course even if their actions were objectively wrong, if those actions were done in good conscience, then they were not sins.

In general, I don't think this question can be answered by asking, "But what about that wonderful person so-and-so who did such-and-such." In fact, I think that obscures the issue. Wrong actions are not made right because good people do them with the best of motives.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 3:11:37 PM

To return to the question about what constitutes lying, which is always intrinsically wrong, and what constitutes pretending or as Robbie George put it, permissible 'military feints', I'd like to suggest the following. As was already mentioned, there are cases of 'deception' which we find morally justified such as undercover law enforcement or investigative journalism. The point in these cases in not that 'the ends justify the means', i.e. we are permitted to lie in order to bring about a morally good end, but that a certain technique, feign or a slight of hand is employed in order to ascertain the truth. This technique is successfully employed by consumer watchdog organisations including, and perhaps most similar to the LiveAction case, the use of fake diners and secret shoppers to test the services offered by different establishments. In fact, it is the stores, restaurants or bars themselves who carry out these kinds of checks in order to ensure that their employees are adhering to legislation or company guidelines. If PP was really interested in ensuring that cases of statutory rape and sex-slavery were being reported to the authorities by its employees it should have offered to hire Lila Rose and the LiveAction team as its own internal watchdog. Clearly the evidence shows that they are not at all concerned by this problem and that it is very likely that the employees have been specifically told to turn a blind eye in these kinds of cases. In this case therefore, as in cases of watchdog groups or undercover police work a certain short-lived pretence has been employed in order to ascertain the truth of a situation, not something which is intrinsically wrong.

I think that two important factors put the LiveAction in the category of 'pretending' rather than 'lying'. The first is once its purpose had been served the pretence or ruse was promptly revealed and made known to everyone involved and second the intention to drop the ruse was present from the very beginning of the action. This is the case in other examples of 'deception' such as acting, magic tricks, story-telling, the 'surprise party' or as has already been mentioned undercover investigations by police, journalists or watchdog groups. It is not the case in examples of lying in which I do not wish the other party to know the truth at any future point, and I certainly do not go into saying the lie with the intention that I will promptly and of my own free will reveal the truth and my reasoning for the lie to the other party.

There is certainly more to be said, but perhaps these categories can help us to make some useful distinctions?

Posted by: Paula Olearnik | Feb 15, 2011 3:11:37 PM

Keep an eye out for my colleague Gerry Bradley's intervention at NRO. Should be up soon.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Feb 15, 2011 3:11:57 PM

It is important to have some perspective here. Yes the catechism classifies lying as intrinsically wrong, but the Catholic tradition also recognizes there are various degrees of sin and different types of lies. Aquinas distinguishes malicious lies that are always mortal sins), from jocular lies that are venial sins. LESS sinful still are beneficial lies that are told to achieve some good. So yes, strictly speaking the position defended here is correct, the lie of the Live Action participants is sinful, but we are dealing with a sin that is LESS serious then using a falsehood to be humorous. I think that this is important to keep in mind when we enter this dispute. For a scholarly presentation of the point see Fr. L. Dewan OP "St. Thomas, Lying, and Venial Sin", The Thomist Vol. 61 (1997): 279-300

Posted by: Jason West | Feb 15, 2011 3:13:07 PM

David Nickol,

I think you're avoiding the underlying question. OK, agreed, we are obligated not to condemn anyone as sinners. But let me rephrase: are we really obligated to condemn the specific actions of Father Marie-Benoit and other clergy in World War II as objectively wrong? If you were in their position, would you really do something different? If you're serious about your position, I think intellectual honesty requires you to have the courage of your convictions and say yes, I would refuse to print false baptismal certificates and would never utter an intentional falsehood to a Nazi, even if it led to the certain death of Jews I was hiding.

Posted by: Alexander | Feb 15, 2011 3:30:06 PM

David that's an interesting interpretation of the Catechism, but you avoided the question of the magisterial weight that the Catechism claims to assert. Apparently the answer to that is none, independently of another magiaterial source. So saying that the Catechism thinks x about lying doesn't get us anywhere. The question is what document other than the Catechism, and relied on by the Catechism, says x about lying--or, says x-y about lying, and people contend that it means x. Just like what the Catechism says about contraception is only relevant to the extent that the Catechism is summarizing what Humanae Vitae, an authoritative document, says about contraception.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 15, 2011 3:35:02 PM

Alexander I think that's an even further step, because even if we grant that x is lying, that is different than saying we must condemn a person who engaged in x. Your Fr. Marie-Benoit example is a good one. Even if we said the falsehoods were lies, that wouldn't mean that the appropriate response to that situation would be for us to go out and start declaring how those were bad lies. The proper response might be the Lord's response to the Hebrew midwives, to praise them. And the final distance between this discussion and David's view, is that even if Fr. Marie-Benoit had engaged in falsehoods, the very last person who would have standing to complain about that would be the Nazis advocating for the lack of humanity of the Jews he was saving. People, such as David, who openly admit that they arrogate to themselves the authority to determine that some human beings are not persons and may be killed including the preborn, cannot legitimately enter a discussion among faithful Catholic theologians and attack people who are attacking Planned Parenthood, his ideological ally.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 15, 2011 3:42:10 PM

I'm inclined to think the Live Action's are immoral, so please take the following as more along the lines of playing devil's advocate than justifying the tactics.

Others have noted that deception within a certain arena is not lying when such deception is an accepted part of the activity of that arena, in particularly when all participants have chosen to enter that arena. A basketball player doing a head fake, a football team running a play action pass, a bluffing poker player, or a general executing a military feint are not guilty of lying.

It seems there is not a consensus on undercover operations by law enforcement that include deception.

Is it possible that by partaking in an activity as politically charged as providing abortions, that Planned Parenthood has entered an arena (politics) where deception is an established part of the deal. (And that by accepting a job with an organization as entwined in politics as Planned Parenthood, the employees have also entered such an arena).

As I write this, it seems that this may be an exception big enough to drive a host of evils through.

Still, my intuition seems to place Live Action's tactics (as well as undercover law enforcement operations) as somewhere between play-acting and lying, though I am guarding against the possibility that this is the same sort of "intuition" that leads them to see embryo-destructive research as something less than killing and waterboarding as something less than torture.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Feb 15, 2011 4:12:11 PM

@Jason West, I think that is correct. At the very least we can say that officious lies are generally venial sins rather than mortal sins. However they are sins and not merely imperfections.

I am not altogether certain that we can say that there was no malice in Live Action's lies, though.

Posted by: dcs | Feb 15, 2011 4:20:46 PM

Matt:

You say: "People, such as David, who openly admit that they arrogate to themselves the authority to determine that some human beings are not persons and may be killed including the preborn, cannot legitimately enter a discussion among faithful Catholic theologians and attack people who are attacking Planned Parenthood, his ideological ally."

Please don't use this as a forum to launch personal attacks on me. I am discussing the issues here, and have even vowed not to bring up Planned Parenthood again. This is about what the Catholic Church teaches about lying. I am not giving my own personal views, except insofar as they are personal views about what the Catholic Church teaches. I happen to think in this instance that Robert George is correctly interpreting Catholic teaching, and I am arguing in support of his position.

You say: "And the final distance between this discussion and David's view, is that even if Fr. Marie-Benoit had engaged in falsehoods, the very last person who would have standing to complain about that would be the Nazis advocating for the lack of humanity of the Jews he was saving."

Supposing lying is always wrong, and Fr. Marie-Benoit engaged in lying. If the Nazi's *complained*, they would certainly not have my sympathy. But if they said Fr. Marie-Benoit lied, and that lying was objectively wrong, they would be correct. Just because you have contempt for a person does not mean what he says is false.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 4:23:48 PM

That ach and every lie is wrong also follows from Kant's categorical imperative, but who wouldn't have lied to protect Anne Frank and her family when the Nazis knocked at the door? I certainly would have, and I'd have been in good company. Angelo Roncalli, later to be Pope John XXIII, and, in fact Blessed Pope John XXIII, participated in the creation of false baptismal certificates to save Jews being hunted by the Nazis. It's not situational ethics to believe that sometimes--very rarely sometimes--lying can be a moral good, or at least not a moral wrong.

Posted by: Bill Collier | Feb 15, 2011 4:36:19 PM

What a specious argument: Exodus 20:16 answers the question unequivocably. "Thou shalt not bear false witness"; and that comes from a real good authority!

The 5th and 14th Amendments deny governments (federal, State, and local) any authority to deny any person life, liberty or property without due process of law. The 14th: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;"

Since legal precidence supports that someone who kills a pregnant woman is liable for double murder there is no discussion but that the fetus is a person; and therefore is covered by both the 5th and 14th Amendments.

Isn't it interesting that when a fetus passes through the birth canal on American soil, even if the mother is here illegally, it is granted citizenship; but if it is dismembered and pulled through the birth canal in pieces it is trash unworthy of thought or mention. How can this be logical?

Posted by: FBanta | Feb 15, 2011 4:37:01 PM

Let us only discuss whether or not lying (i.e. what that awful deceptress Lila Rose did) is wrong--and ignore Planned Parenthood. C'mon, Matt, what's not to like?

Posted by: Mike | Feb 15, 2011 4:41:15 PM

Of course lying is justified in certain instances. How could it not be? If the Nazi SS were knocking at my door and I was hiding Jews, lying is the only right thing to do. I would lie any day to protect my wife and children from harm.

I have not formed an opinion on this specific instance, but we always have to be careful about ends justifying means.

Posted by: Mike D'Virgilio | Feb 15, 2011 4:52:30 PM

Matt,

You say: "David that's an interesting interpretation of the Catechism, but you avoided the question of the magisterial weight that the Catechism claims to assert. Apparently the answer to that is none, independently of another magiaterial source. So saying that the Catechism thinks x about lying doesn't get us anywhere."

I would say (based on what I have read Benedict say in regard to the Catechism), that the appearance of something in the Catechism does not give it any more magisterial weight than it already has. However, that does not mean it has *no* magisterial weight. John Paul II says in the introduction that the Catechism "is a statement of the Church's faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion."

Where the teaching about lying in the Catechism falls in the hierarchy of truths would probably be very difficult to answer. But by virtue of being included in the Catechism at all, I think it is clear that it *is* a teaching of the magisterium, and, as Robert George says, "I don't see how it is possible to avoid the conclusion that this teaching requires of Catholics the submission of intellect and will that is known as 'religious assent.'" As I understand it, *all* magisterial teaching requires "religious assent."

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 4:53:21 PM

While we are watching any number of angels dancing on the head of a pin (clearly they aren't Baptists), the answer is that lying is wrong. Period. As my Daddy taught me "you'll go to Hell for lying quick as you will for killin'"

But for my acceptance by faith of the cleansing blood of Jesus and His death to attone for my sins; and His resurrection in Victory over death; my lies and other violations of God's Laws would earn me eternity in Hell.

Theologians can postulate until the cows come home (and willingly do so) but God isn't much of a debater: it's His Way or the hotway.

Posted by: FBanta | Feb 15, 2011 4:54:34 PM

Lila and the Live Actioln crew could actually be employees of PP. Secret shoppers, I'd say.

Posted by: Steve Collins | Feb 15, 2011 4:54:46 PM

David Nickol,

Still waiting for you to say that Fr. Marie-Benoit's creation of false baptismal certificates was objectively wrong and that he shouldn't have done what he did.

Posted by: Alexander | Feb 15, 2011 5:01:26 PM

David it may be a teaching of the magisterium, but someone who wants to put the weight of sophisticated theological debate on it has to cite the extra-Catechism source for their interpretation of it.

"Supposing lying is always wrong, and Fr. Marie-Benoit engaged in lying. If the Nazi's *complained*, they would certainly not have my sympathy. But if they said Fr. Marie-Benoit lied, and that lying was objectively wrong, they would be correct."

The proper response to the Hebrew midwives and Fr. Marie-Benoit is adulation, even if in separate context a discussion among faithful theologions rigorously explores the issue of lying. The proper Nazi's complaining about Fr. Marie-Benoit lying, or Pharoah complaining about the Hebrew midwives lying, or an anti-human-personhood polemicist such as yourself complaining that Live Action was lying, is NOT to treat the objection as one would treat faithful theologions rigorously explores the issue of lying, and certainly not to overshadow the proper response to the exposure of baby-killers in the first place, which overshadowing is precisely your goal.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 15, 2011 5:01:26 PM

David Nickol,

Still waiting for you to say that Fr. Marie-Benoit's creation of false baptismal certificates was objectively wrong and that he shouldn't have done what he did.

Posted by: Alexander | Feb 15, 2011 5:01:26 PM

Angelo Roncalli, later to be Pope John XXIII, and, in fact Blessed Pope John XXIII, participated in the creation of false baptismal certificates to save Jews being hunted by the Nazis.
This is actually a myth, as Dawn Eden and William Doino explain here:
http://www.bustedhalo.com/features/building-a-culture-of-lie

Posted by: dcs | Feb 15, 2011 5:01:32 PM

Alexander,

I would say to Fr. Marie-Benoit, "Bless you. I would have done exactly what you did, had I anywhere near your courage."

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 5:14:57 PM

David Nickol,

With all due respect, I don't believe that's a legitimate Catholic response. If one really believes that printing a false baptismal certificate is objectively wrong (as the view that any lie is wrong implies), we cannot, consistent with Catholic teaching, bless the person who does so or say that we would have done the same thing. Even a venial sin is still a sin and cannot be recommended by a faithful Catholic.

The advocates of the position that all intentional lies are sinful need to step up and accept the consquences.

Posted by: Alexander | Feb 15, 2011 5:24:17 PM

dcs--

I'm not convinced it's a myth that then-Mgsr. Roncalli participated in the saving of tens of thousands of Jews by the issuance of baptismal certificates. The Busted Halo link states that the future pope was involved in the issuance of immigration certificates only. According to the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, however, Mgsr. Roncalli was very much involved in saving as many Jews as possible, including the issuance of both baptismal and immigration certificates.

http://www.raoulwallenberg.net/roncalli/articles-11/john-xxiii-baptized-jews/

Besides, even if the baptismal certificate story is myth, I'd still lie in an effort to save Anne Frank and her family. Yet I also agree with Professor George's conclusion that "[w]e must not abandon faith in the power of truth to transform those who oppose us in the great struggle over the protection of human life in all stages and conditions. We must not forfeit our standing in the debate as the tellers of truth." I may be wrong, but I don't believe I'm being inconsistent.

Posted by: Bill Collier | Feb 15, 2011 5:29:53 PM

Did not Christ Himself employ subterfuge? Do we not have record of Our Lord asking questions to which He very most certainly already knew the answer? Thereby, He implied that He did not know, when indeed He did. After the resurrection He asked the disciples if they had caught any fish, though He knew perfectly well that they had not.

His apparent purpose was to cause those engaged in fruitless and vain godless toil to see the error of their way and come back to Him. Was the stunt pulled against the Planned Parenthood people so different?

Posted by: Eric | Feb 15, 2011 5:32:57 PM

Alexander,

You say: "The advocates of the position that all intentional lies are sinful need to step up and accept the consequences."

Indeed, they do. I am not advocating the position that all intentional lies are sinful. I am saying that I believe Robert George is correct in asserting that the Catholic Church *teaches* that all intentional lies are sinful.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 5:47:48 PM

After the resurrection He asked the disciples if they had caught any fish, though He knew perfectly well that they had not.

Christ asked that question in order to get the Apostles to think and consider their answer. The point was not to give the Apostles the belief that Jesus didn't know if they caught any fish. I ask my daughters questions I know the answer to all the time in order to help them think through something with me -- "And did yelling at your sister make her stop yelling?" etc. Jesus's instruction was not dependent on the Apostles believing Jesus was ignorant of whether they caught fish.

In the LiveAction case, the deception is the whole point, and the entire operation depended on the PP staffer believing the actor's story.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Feb 15, 2011 5:54:18 PM

St. Augustine answered the "Hebrew midwives" objection as well as the "Jews hiding in the basement" objection centuries ago in his tract De mendacio (On Lying). It's a good read:
http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1312.htm

Posted by: dcs | Feb 15, 2011 6:18:42 PM

The team that went into planned parenthood lied in order to leave no doubt as to the character and conscience of the people that represent that organization. The lies were not told in order to mislead or deceive the hearer for any purpose other than to test the person's reaction to a particular scenario.

From the result, it is evident the lies they uttered made no difference in the behavior or response of the representative from Planned Parenthood, who would have responded in much the same manner if the statements from the team were more "circumspect" - given how they did respond to the very specific details they were provided testifies to that conclusion.

But those lies did serve to give the rest of us a clear, unambiguous picture of what constitutes this organization. I would call this a "testing" of the spirit and character of the people involved. And God instructs us to test the spirits as an appropriate measure to safeguard our community and ourselves from false prophets. I would certainly challenge anyone here who would respond this is not an appropriate reading of Scripture (1 John 4), as this organization is rampant with influence on our young people and should be answerable to us as a society.


Posted by: kj | Feb 15, 2011 6:53:16 PM

Ist here anyone who thinks lying to a Nazi about whether you are hiding a jew is not permissible and mandatory?

Posted by: Gary | Feb 15, 2011 7:08:06 PM

Has anyone made the distinction based on the "right to know" of the asker of a question?
E.g., "Is your sister at home?" Having been previously told that my sister doesn't wish to talk to the person asking the question, I reply, "My sister isn't home (to you). With the (to you) implied.
Regarding the Nazi asking the question of someone hiding Jews or others being persecuted, could I take the position that regardless of the uniform the interrogator is wearing, that my belief is that HE HAS NO RIGHT TO KNOW the answer to that question?
Anyway, what the O.T says is "Thou shalt not bear false witness." Bearing false witness is stating, e.g., that I saw someone doing something wrong, when in fact I did not see him, or even that I saw someone else committing that deed. I realize that this interpretation is much narrower than the matter of simply stating something that I have reason to know is not in fact the truth, if I have no reason to think that anyone is objectively harmed by my statement. Is the person calling at my house harmed by my telling him that "my sister doesn't want to see him", (the objective truth) rather than that "she isn't home?" (a white lie)? Is a lie of this type objectively a venial sin?
What about the woman asking her husband, "Does this dress make me look fat?" I can express an opinion on the dress, without answering the question. Many statements of people during a 24 hour period that objectively may be considered untruthful, are made to avoid hurting people's feelings. Are these, ipso facto, sinful, therefore deserving of being mentioned in Reconciliation?
TeaPot562

Posted by: TeaPot562 | Feb 15, 2011 7:10:08 PM

Professor George argues that the "right to know" argument was rejected in the final verions of the Catechism, and I agree that the Catechism’s final language doesn’t appear to make any exceptions in its defintion of lying. But it also does not say that there are no exceptions. To quote Jeffrey Mirus at Catholic Answers, "the Catechism is intended as a basic compendium of Catholic doctrine, assembled with due ecclesiastical care, and not as a collection of definitive infallible pronouncements permanently settling every question on every topic it covers. In other words, the change in definition does not mean the original formulation was wrong. But it does mean that the editors of the Catechism were not prepared to endorse it in an official Catholic reference work."

When I hear Pope Benedict say, in his teaching capacity as the Successor of Peter, that Fr. Marie-Benoit was objectively wrong to print false baptismal certificates, I will accept that teaching. Until then, I will stand by my position that it was better for Fr. Marie-Benoit to do so and will hope that I would have done the same thing under the same circumstances.

Posted by: Alexander | Feb 15, 2011 7:15:04 PM

So, when the police, especially a Catholic cop, deliberatley lie to suspects to get them to admit guilt, is that immoral or not?

Posted by: MMcM | Feb 15, 2011 7:17:40 PM

Gary asks: "Ist here anyone who thinks lying to a Nazi about whether you are hiding a jew is not permissible and mandatory?"

St. Augustine, assuming he hasn't changed his mind.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 15, 2011 8:45:33 PM

Ends don't justify means. They might reduce the subjective culpability of a moral actor (which is why I hesitate to say that Lila Rose et. al. are guilty of anything especially horrible). But they don't make a wrong into a right.

The end of reducing child poverty is good. But that doesn't mean that the evil means of aborting a baby is acceptible to prevent the child growing up in poverty. The end of attaining educational and career success is good. But that doesn't mean that the evil means of aborting a baby is acceptible to prevent one's educational and career plans from getting derailed.

And the end of eliminating abortion is a good. But that doesn't mean that the evil means of lying is acceptible to help eliminate abortion.

The Catholic Church does not teach that abortion is wrong in the former examples because its a "greater evil" than the evil of child poverty or disrupted life plans. It teaches that abortion is wrong because its wrong in and of itself.

Just as the Church teaches that lying is wrong in and of itself.

Now, that doesn't mean that these scenarios are morally equivalent. Abortion is objectively a mortal sin. Lying is not objectively a mortal sin, and I doubt very much that its subjectively a mortal sin in these cases. Nobody is saying that Live Action is "just as bad" as PP. But Catholic moral teaching isn't about being less bad then the other guy. Its about not being bad at all. A goal that neither you nor I will attain in this lifetime, but a goal nonetheless. And taking the goal seriously starts with not fooling yourself about what is right and wrong.

If you disagree, ask yourself this: is it morally acceptible to firebomb 100 abortion clinics? Let's say that doing so would kill 500 people but would scare every abortion provider in the country so much that they stopped performing abortions (which currently number 1-1.5 million a year in the US). If you said no, then why (apart from non-Catholic "lesser evil" logic) is it OK to lie to stop abortion? And if you said yes then, well, you might be "pro life" in a certain political sense. But you ain't on the inside of the Catholic moral teaching tent - not by a mile.

Posted by: sd | Feb 15, 2011 8:50:40 PM

This comment section is most interesting, and most of you are going though some strange rationalizations to say that lying was not used to trap these people.
Of course they lied! In this case, definitely for the greater good. The Bible is full of examples of Prophets and others accomplishing the Lord's work by lying and deception. Lying for a righteous purpose is not a sin, but aborting babies is.

Posted by: T. Dabbs | Feb 15, 2011 10:25:47 PM

One of the biggest issues we're experiencing in this ongoing discussion is that lack of ability to make distinctions. One such distinction is between deception and lying. Wide Mental Reservation appears to be an accepted approach to deception (in certain situations), where Strict Mental Reservation is condemned as lying. We really have to focus on maintaining this distinction in trying to examine these so-called "tough cases." A lie does not stop being a lie simply because its told to save a life. That would be consequentialist thinking. However, the fact that it is to told to save a life would like qualify as a mitigating circumstance, reducing culpability, particularly if a person attempted to avoid telling a lie and simply couldn't come up with a solution.

The other is a distinction between praiseworthy people and praiseworthy actions. Taking the example of Fr. Marie-Benoit (though frankly, I'm not sure how the issue of documents fits into the whole distinction between deception and lying mentioned above), even if what he did in fact was sinful, given the previously mentioned discussion regarding culpability, it might certainly make sense to still find him praiseworthy. Now, it would just be in spite of his lie, rather than because of it. This same reasoning could also be applied to the midwives, or the harlot.

Posted by: Everett | Feb 15, 2011 10:29:14 PM

SD -- no one is advocating doing evil that good may come of it. The issue is whether all intentional falsehoods are necessarily evil.

I'm strongly pro-life and take all of the Church's teachings very seriously. I try hard never to utter any falsehood. But I have the sense that people are so worried about any hint of consequentialism or proportionalism or relativism (all of which are properly condemned) that they swing too far in the other direction -- taking overly literal readings of the Catechism and using it as a proof text to condemn as intrinsically evil acts that are not necessarily so, without every stopping to consider if the Catechism was really meant to be read that way in defining the moral object of various acts. Do we really think, for example, that the Church condemns all undercover journalism, plain-clothes police officers, military disinformation in a just war, secret shoppers, and the government testing security procedures by, for example, sending people with fake IDs to see if they get through airport security? It seems like we would have heard something about from Rome or the bishops over the years. Nor have I heard the Church condemn the actions of Father Marie-Benoit during World War II; in fact, he's frequently cited favorably by people who are defending the Church against allegations that it did not do enough to save Jews from the Nazis. In all of these situations, the recipient of the falsehoods does not have the right to the truth. Yes, defining lying in this manner eliminates a bright-line rule and could lead to abuse, but that is no different than many of the moral norms that Jesus calls us to follow each day.

I would also recommend reading Professor Monica Miller's analysis here: http://www.catholicvote.org/discuss/index.php?p=14015

Posted by: Alexander | Feb 15, 2011 10:40:12 PM

I admire the pro-life 'sting' that has been carried out, and I think the issue is whether all deception can be regarded or defined as "lying"
I have been reading recently of an English born nun, who, while Prioress of a convent, Casa di Sancta Brigida, in Rome in 1943, saved the lives of many Jews, as Pope Pius X11 had secretly requested religious houses in Rome to assist with protection of Jews, after the Gestapo had picked up over 1000 Jews in a sweep of the city.
What does one tell the SS if they knock on your door and ask you directly, whether you have Jews lodging within?
Realise not just the Jews' lives, but almost certainly the lives of your co-religious, or family, hang in the balance!
I'm grateful Tollefsen is not leading the pro life movement.
In the middle of a 'Warsaw uprising', the last thing you need is an intellectual musing about the ethics of violent resistance.

Posted by: Dr John James | Feb 15, 2011 11:33:29 PM

I myself would like to see the entire moral argument for the notion that lying is intrinsically evil under all circumstances.

The prime evil of lying is not in that we "sacrifice the moral high ground": That is a P.R. consideration: Important, but not fundamental.

I guess the prime evil of deceiving another person is that it denies them the (God-given!) freedom to choose their deeds. If they knew the truth, they might choose otherwise, but because they are deceived, they will choose in a fashion they might not otherwise have done. Lies cancel some of their capacity as a moral agent. Lies, like threats of force, are a way of pushing another person around, against their will, treating them as a machine instead of a person.

One could also say this about killing: Killing another person (they would have died in any event, but not so soon) denies them the time which otherwise would have remained in their lives to choose either evil or good deeds.

Yet apparently Just Wars exist, and the individual defense of innocent persons by force can be just. Consistent moral reasoning may also require such a thing as a Just Deception, including the just defense of innocent persons by deception.

Now when one uses force to prevent attacks against innocent persons (as in self-defense, or, writ large, a Just War) one's motive is not to kill the persons -- the end in mind isn't to rob them of freedom to love and to have children and to feed their dog -- but to stop their participation in a wrongful attack. Their deaths are easily foreseeable, but the motive is halting the violence.

Likewise, using deception to prevent an attack against innocent persons (as in the Lila Rose incident) one doesn't intend to rob the Planned Parenthood dupe of her freedom to love or have children (!) or feed her dog. Such expressions of free will remain entirely intact after the deception, which is more than can be said for the free will of those killed in prosecuting a just war!

The Planned Parenthood employee's ability to choose has been circumscribed in exactly one way: She does not have the freedom to act as she would have done did she know the truth about this particular matter.

As acting "as she would have done" means precisely "aiding and abetting the murder of defenseless children and the sex slavery of young girls, with a smile on her lips and a spring in her steps," I don't quite see the harm in circumscribing her freedom to act in that fashion.

Indeed, one the reason why actual warfare is not contemplated by the Catholic church over this matter is because the horror of abortion is sufficient justification for prison but not for killing, which removes the free-will-time of abortionists not only to do violence against the unborn but to do a hundred other worthier things, including repentance and conversion.

It seems to me that Lila Rose's tactic, while problematic P.R., has no such difficulty. If killing under some circumstances (tho' not, I hasten to add, with respect to criminal attacks against abortionists) can plausibly be just, isn't deceiving them into telling the truth about their own wicked enterprises MORE plausibly justifiable?

If I am wrong about this, please, someone help me understand why.

Posted by: R.C. | Feb 15, 2011 11:35:28 PM

A young Pol in the mid 20st century once wrote poetry which was subversive to communists who held power in post World War II Poland, poems intended to stir up feelings of intellectual and cultural rebellion and human and religious freedom, which of course was strictly forbidden by the state. These poems were published under a false name, a pseudonym, truly an obviously deceptive practice! That young Pol’s name was Karol Wojtyla who the world knows now as Pope John Paul II!

Posted by: Brian F Hudon | Feb 15, 2011 11:54:30 PM

Professor George, I'm not sure that the Catechism is quite so absolutist on lying as you would make it out.

Paragraph 2483 defines lying: "To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth."

By defining lying as speaking untruths to "someone who has the right to know the truth," it seems to me that the Catechism leaves room for the Cassian/Chrysostom position, i.e. that communicating an untruth may be permissible if the listener lacks a "right to know the truth." Otherwise, why include that last clause in the definition?

Posted by: PJF | Feb 16, 2011 12:05:28 AM

None of these rhetorical games about this or that admirable Catholic who used deception at one point or another gets around the fact that not only did the Live Action folks lie, they tempted others into sin.

If we all agree that it is wrong to aid in prostitution and trafficing in underage girls then the PP staffers in these cases did something wrong - likely committing a mortal sin. And if we agree that their intent to do so means that they are guilty of mortal sin, even though in fact they were dealing with actors and not actual pimps/prostitutes, then clearly the scenarios set up by Live Action had the effect (anticipated - otherwise Live Action would not have gone into the clinics in the first place) of tempting human beings into mortal sin under conditions in which it was likely that they would follow through and commit such sins.

The fact that these clinic workers are likely just as guilty of many other mortal sins is of no matter - its not given to human beings to tempt other human beings into grave evil for any purpose - even indeed a "higher" purpose.

A person who hides Jews in WWII and lies about it to Nazi agents, isn't tempting those Nazi agents into an act of evil. Future popes writing poetry under pseudonymns aren't tempting anyone into acts of evil. So even if we grant (which its not all clear that Catholic teaching allows) that in some cases in can be morally acceptable to lie, surely it is not in any circumstances whatsoever acceptable to tempt another person into sin of their own.

Live Action wanted to show PP workers doing evil things. So they lied to them to get them to do evil things on camera. And that doesn;t set off your moral spidey sense? Really? The souls of those PP workers are still loved by God, and were further separated from God by the scenario that Live Action set in motion.

Secular law of course doesn't have the moral clarity that Catholic moral teaching does on these matters, but even still the law recognizes a boundry line in undercover police work between legal deception and illeagal entrapment, which is to say, inducing someone to commit a crime that they would not commit in the absence of the entrapping decpetion.

Posted by: sd | Feb 16, 2011 12:15:58 AM

PJF - Looks like you're going off of an early draft version of the CCC (1994), not the official version released in 1997, which ommits the part about "who has the right to know the truth."

Posted by: sd | Feb 16, 2011 12:18:41 AM

PJF - Looks like you're going off of an early draft version of the CCC (1994), not the official version released in 1997, which ommits the part about "who has the right to know the truth."

Posted by: sd | Feb 16, 2011 12:18:41 AM

Thank you for raising this important issue. I also have a strong inclination to side with Tollefsen. It is true that the strongest weapon the pro-life side has in this fight is truth.

However, I have a hard time accepting that lying can never be moral. Imagine a hypothetical situation in which a brutal mass-murderer is seeking for a young girl whom you have just seen hiding in an abandoned house. Now you know that the murder wants to kill the girl and once he gets hold of her will surely do so. You have no other means to avoid the realisation of that scenario but not informing the murder about the location of the girl.

Now what do you do standing in front of the house and being asked by the murderer whether the girl entered the house or not (provided that you cannot avoid giving an answer)? If you tell the truth, the girl will die. If you lie, the murderer will run on seeking for the girl from other places and the girl will have escaped.

Would it not be a failure of prudence to tell the truth in a situation like that? Does the teaching of the Church really oblige me to sacrifice this innocent girl in the name of truth?

Posted by: Varro Vooglaid | Feb 16, 2011 5:06:28 AM

How sick-whilst youall ponder the ethics & morality of LiveActions noble work-their blood still flows, their mangled remains still gets tossed in the dumpster (I've seen that))-nothing will change until each person acts as if these babies were their very own, and act like "our own" are being killed ruthlessly each & every day. It has to become personal to you, for you to become effective. Until & unless you have risked something, put yourself in harms way or made a serious sacrifice for the sake of these children-you ought not point a finger of judgement.

Posted by: pauline | Feb 16, 2011 9:13:09 AM

one more thing-All of the nuanced discussions taking place kinda remind me of Flannery O'Connors remark that they "had gotten hold of the wrong horror." Peaceout.

Posted by: pauline | Feb 16, 2011 9:36:25 AM

The bottom line is that Live Action adopted tactics in order to reveal the truth to the public, which Planned Parenthood would certainly have hidden in a most dishonest way. They would hide it quite simply because the actions taken by their employees are class 1 felonies. So the question of lying by Live Action does not arise, except in reverse: they adopted tactics that had the intended effect of revealing the truth about crimes. To reveal the truth is to tell the truth.

This flap is a good example of a very time worn tactic used by persons and institutions that have been caught in crime: find some real or imagined wrong committed by the accusers, which can be used to divert attention from the criminals. Of all the slimy tools that evil people use to manipulate the truth, this has to be one of the most despicable.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Feb 16, 2011 9:51:28 AM

Joel and Pauline,

If you'll notice, just about all of us who are suggesting that some portion of the actions of LiveAction's agents are fully in favor of defunding PP and believe that PP is an evil organization. This is not a tactic of ours to distract, but to seek to clarify Catholic moral teaching in this area. Rather than making broad-sweeping claims about the "bottom-line" and suggesting that those of us who are having this discussion are judgmental or tools of PP, perhaps you could actually attempt to engage the rational argumentation we are attempting.

Posted by: Everett | Feb 16, 2011 10:35:57 AM

Joel Clarke Gibbons,

Are you making an accusation against Robert George for taking the position he takes in his post? Do you know who Robert George is?

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 16, 2011 10:41:04 AM

I can sympathize with those who think this is a distraction from the real problem. There is a temptation to see it as similar to the spouse who gets caught in adultery, and then tries to make the entire issue about the other spouse's "snooping."

At the same time, we all need to strive for holiness. And that includes seriously examining our consciences, and making sure we're doing the right thing.

I don't think anyone is proposing that we storm LiveAction with pitchforks and torches to shut them down. Or that their hearts aren't in the right place, or that if their means are immoral, that this places them in the same moral ballpark as PP.

But it does offer an opportunity for us to consider what is the best way to go about establishing a Culture of Life. And if it's built on lies, then it's a house built on sand rather than rock.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Feb 16, 2011 11:12:33 AM

David Nickol,

I think a persistent intentional venial sin (as living an entirely false identity would be under the strict definition of lying) would require confession and a resolve not to do those acts again.

Also, I agree that the Phoenix abortion case is an interesting comparison. Particularly since fairly conservative orthodox Catholic thinkers such as Germain Grisez and Martin Rhonheimer would allow certain medical procedures otherwise not permitted in order to save the life of the mother if both mother and child are sure to die. Indeed, the analysis of Therese Lysaught for the Phoenix hospital relies primarily on their specific writings. Here, however, Grisez takes the strict view on the definition of lying and condemns LiveAction's tactics.

I'm pro-life, and I love the Catechism -- it is our surest summary of Catholic morality at a general level. Out of every 10,000 times we speak, the Catechism is right 9,999 times in telling us that an intentional falsehood is wrong. But it's not meant to be a textbook of moral theology, and I don’t think it’s addressed to every situation. I actually would bet serious money that if the question were squarely put to the Pope whether it would be wrongful to lie to protect a hiding Jew, he would say no. He may not have thought it was right to qualify the general moral lesson taught by the Catechism regarding lying, but I don’t think he would take the strict position advocated by Professor George et al. here.

I have the feeling that many in this debate are treating the Catechsim like Protestant fundamentalists treat the Bible. We’ve become so scared that if any sentence or clause isn’t read as the definitive, infallible, complete truth for all time and in all circumstances, then we have opened the door to consequentialism and our entire faith and moral system will collapse. I have more confidence that our faith, Church, and moral positions are built on a surer foundation.

Posted by: Alexander | Feb 16, 2011 12:01:22 PM

As the quote from Cardinal Ratzinger above shows, the Catechism isn't even intended to be that kind of authority. It is a summary of other authorities that do have that strength. But in this centuries-old debate about what a lie is, the Church has never issued a definitive statement resolving the question. At least, not one that I have seen anybody quote.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 16, 2011 12:16:37 PM

Is pretending to be something you are not always a lie? Are Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny lies? I'm being serious here. We encourage our children to role play and imagine. They play Mass and we go along and attned and even receive the "Body of Christ" Necco wafer. Is that lying to our children? Is role playing with them immmoral?

Can role playing not be used to gain information? Is it wrong to disguise your identity to seek information? The Live Action team were not "bearing false witness" about anyone. They were role playing in a discovery mission. Is that not an honest distinction?

Posted by: Mary Ann Kreitzer | Feb 16, 2011 12:18:17 PM

The Abuse of Casuistry, by Jonsen and Toulmin, has a useful review of earlier Catholic discussions of lying, equivocation, and mental reservation on pages 195 -215

Available here, with some pages omitted:

http://books.google.com/books?id=N1TiJgiWcqQC&pg=PA384&lpg=PA384&dq=johnson+toulmin+the+abuse+of+casuistry&source=bl&ots=R9jz5g9heJ&sig=w3Js_JL9apu4j6_mshKk7CDls9Y&hl=en&ei=kRJcTffgGsT48AaL1_29DQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CCUQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=equivocation&f=false

Posted by: Patrick Molloy | Feb 16, 2011 1:17:11 PM

Last night PBS reran a story on sex slaves. It involved undercover investigatory evidence. It illustrates the central problem here: when Catholics as a community look at investigations like this, what should be their overwhelming reaction? LIE LIE LIE? How ridiculous. Even if there is a moral question in that regard, that should not be our reaction. Our reaction should be compassion and justice for the victims. If, as a footnote, someone wants to comment on the undercover implications, fine, and if outside that context people want to discuss it, fine. But for the lie issue to even approximate, MUCH LESS overshadow, the exploitation issue, is itself a disorder in how Catholics are responding. It’s an injustice itself–-not rendering to the truth of the situation the proportion that it deserves. And to let people who polemicize in favor of selling sex slaves interject themselves in the controversy to foment it, that is an even worse injustice.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 16, 2011 1:30:51 PM