The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

Can a Catholic Support Live Action’s Pro-Life Activism?


In my recent post showing how Live Action has exposed Planned Parenthood clinics abetting child prostitution, we observed people working for Live Action acting undercover. That is, they were acting as though they were people that they weren’t really. A man posed as a pimp when he wasn’t actually a pimp, and a woman posed as a prostitute when she wasn’t really a prostitute. They did this because had they announced up front that they represent Live Action and they wanted to know how staff members would respond if they were confronted with child prostitution, they would either have been told to leave, or they could rest assured that the answer given would reflect the desire to present Planned Parenthood in the best possible light, and therefore may not have been correct. Live Action therefore intentionally led Planned Parenthood staff members to believe things that were not true in order to get the truth that they would otherwise not have uncovered.

Working undercover in this way is of course nothing new. Police detectives work undercover posing as potential buyers of illegal drugs, spies work undercover in order to obtain sensitive information from enemies and so on. Less controversial still are examples like the “mystery shopper” who is paid to go into a store and pose as an everyday customer in order to assess the level of customer service, or football players who “fake” a pass, pretending that they are going to pass the ball one way when in reality they are not going to hold onto the ball and run for the other end of the field.

In spite of the relatively widely accepted practice of going undercover in all sorts of different ways, some have raised an objection to Live Actions’s conduct in doing what they have done. A spokesman for Planned Parenthood raised the objection first, attacking Live Action for “lying.” However, criticisms have also come from sources much closer to home for Live Action, the group spearheaded by pro-life spokesperson Lila Rose, who is a Catholic (this becomes relevant later when we look at her recent critics).

Immanuel Kant* famously claimed that deceiving people is wrong under all circumstances, even when lying would save the lives of millions. In his essay “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy,” Kant said:

Truthfulness in statements that one cannot avoid is a human being’s duty to everyone, however great the disadvantage to him or to another that may result from it… [I]f I falsify… I… do wrong in the most essential part of duty in general by such falsification… that is, I bring it about, as far as I can, that statements (declarations) in general are not believed, and so too that all rights which are based on contracts come to nothing and lose their force; and this is a wrong inflicted upon humanity generally… For [a lie] always harms another, even if not another individual, nevertheless humanity generally, inasmuch as it makes the source of right unusable.

The implications of this strong prohibition seem fairly implausible to most of us. From police stings to mystery shopping right through to the brave souls who hid Jews in their homes and lied to the Gestapo to save as many lives as possible, all such acts are branded as immoral from Kant’s point of view.

But Kant has modern friends too. Catholic philosopher Christopher Tollefsen has put his foot down on Kant’s side of the fence. Of Live Actions undercover operations, he says that they “represent a real and dangerous corruption of the pro-life movement itself by endangering the pro-life movement’s commitment to its ideals of love and truth.”

As Francis Beckwith notes, it is fairly difficult to maintain from a Christian point of view that intentionally misleading other people is always wrong. The prostitute Rahab of the city of Jericho deceived others by concealing Hebrew spies in her house, and yet Scripture has nothing but praise for her actions (Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25).

However, those Catholic voices that have spoken out against Live Action at very least have something on their side: The Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes a strict stance here. Dr Tollefsen, in replying to his Catholic critics, was able to point them directly to the source of teaching taken by Catholics to be authoritative, when it states:

2482 A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving. The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: “You are of your father the devil, … there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
2483 Lying is the most direct offence against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbour, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

Not all lies are of equal seriousness, according to the Catechism, but all lying is immoral:

2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.
2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbour into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.
2486 Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgement and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships.

There appears to be no wiggle room: Yes, some lies are less serious than others when a range of factors – most relevantly including the intentions of the liar – are taken into account, but even with the best of intentions a lie (that is, saying something false with the intention of deceiving another) is a sin.

Gerard Nadal attempts to widen the narrow way created by the Catechism. Although he assures us that “I have no desire to get into debates over what constitutes a lie or not [sic],” he is no doubt certain that “I would lie through my teeth in order to preserve the Jews whom I would definitely shelter.” So how does he get around the very strict stance taken by the Church? He notes that in paragraph 2488, the catechism states clearly that you do not always have the duty to tell the truth. Sometimes you may withhold it. Fair enough point, but obviously this is not at issue here. What is at issue here is making statements or deliberately conveying claims that are false. And here is where Nadal’s manoeuvre comes into play. In the comments section where somebody points out that Live Actions conduct was indeed designed to lead people into error (i.e. believing false claims), he responds by saying: “the Church is talking about ‘moral error’ or ‘error in faith’ when it uses the word error.”

In other words, the claim is that when the Catechism defines a lie as a false statement designed to get lead a person into error, it is only referring to statements designed to get people to commit sin (i.e. to fall into moral error) or to believe a false theological teaching (an error of faith). But this is manifestly not what the Catechism is saying at all. Consider the statement about the consequences of lying: “It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgement and decision.” This quite obviously applies, not just to deception in regard to theology or morality, but to deception per se. What is more, Nadal’s attempt to swing the gate wide open on the Catechism definition of a lie has consequences that are arguably even more implausible than those of Kant’s stance. It would mean, for example, that if my intention was to lead people to Christianity and not into an error of faith, I could tell them false stories about me being an eyewitness to breathtaking miracles: resurrections from the dead, instantly regrown limbs, the immediate disappearance of cancerous tumours, and none of this would count as a lie. I could deliberately mislead people with sob stories about a sick daughter who needed money for an operation, thus prompting great deeds of charity from them in giving me money that I could pocket, and I could defensibly say that I am not a liar. To say that this is a stretch is to understate things radically.

For those who defend Live Action (as I do) and who also maintain adherence to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (as I do not), cognitive dissonance seems to me to be the only have, if it can be called as much. My solution is somewhat less taxing on the mind: The Catechism got it wrong.

Glenn Peoples

* Initially this read “fellow Catholic Immanuel Kant.” Whoops, I momentarily got his church affiliation muddled with that of Rene Descartes, who was Catholic.


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  1. good stuff Glenn!

  2. Minor quibble “Fellow Catholic Immanuel Kant famously…” wasn’t Kant a Lutheran?

  3. Glenn, two things brother…

    1. I’m pretty sure you’ll find that Kant wasn’t a Catholic, instead he was actually a Lutheran with a fondness for Pietism.

    2. There is another option for Catholics (like me) who hold that the actions of Live Action are NOT immoral, and that such a belief is NOT incompatible with Catholic moral teaching.

    Let me quote from Dr. Monica Migliorino Miller, a moral theology professor…

    “The first edition of the Catechism, Art. 2483 stated: “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….”. Art. 2488 states: “The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional… This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.”

    Art. 2489 states: “No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have a right to know it.”

    These quotes from the first edition of the CCC clearly show that truth may be kept secret from those who do not have a right to it. Indeed, Art. 2483 permits even speech as well as actions to be deceptive if the communication is made to someone who doesn’t have a right to the truth. Here is where the debate comes in.

    The newer version of the CCC altered Art. 2483. It now reads: “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error” period. It leaves off the original qualifying statement “someone who has the right to know the truth.”

    Supposedly the Vatican made this change in the later edition because certain moral theologians lobbied, then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, that the idea “The truth may be kept from those who are unjust” was tainted by Protestant opinion.

    However, even now both versions of the Catechism are accessible on the Vatican’s official website—the older one is in the archive. Furthermore the Church has never issued a statement as to why this change was made.

    In other words, the Vatican has never said that the CCC was edited because the original Art. 2483 was in error or that it would be misused or misunderstood. The Vatican has never formally repudiated the original Art. 2483.”

  4. Whoops, I momentarily got Kant’s church affiliation muddled with that of Descartes. I’ve fixed that now, thanks for noting that both of you.

    Brendan, I don’t think you can get away from the problem. I already addressed the part that you have quoted regarding article 2488. Article 2483’s alteration has no effect on whether or not and when the truth may be withheld (since this was and is specifically addressed in 2488, which does indicate that the truth may be withheld sometimes). But of course, that is not the same thing as making false statements, and that is the issue here. Therefore it is a distraction to say “These quotes from the first edition of the CCC clearly show that truth may be kept secret from those who do not have a right to it.”

    Yes, that is still clear now, as it is spelled out in article 2488, just as before. That has not changed. But the issue is not about holding back information. The issue here is about providing information that is false, which is what happened in the case of Live Action.

    It may be the case that both versions of article 2483 are at the Vatican’s website. But the new version does not contradict the old. It merely raises the bar, making the moral demand stricter. So if you adhere to both versions, then you will not make a false statement in order to mislead a person who has the right to the truth (as per the old version), and you will not make a false statement to mislead anyone (as per the current version). These duties are compatible, and surely you can’t just decide to only follow the old one, ignoring the new.

    So there’s no way out here. You can support Live Action, or you can accept the catechism, but it cannot be both.

  5. Tim

    There’s not a lot of room on the moral highground apparently. Perhaps an application form is order, so that potential supporters of Live Action can be properly vetted before they go public, or worse, sign a petition…

  6. “No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have a right to know it.”

    I think the more pertinent issue is that if I have a right to something, whether I can lie to get it.

  7. Nathan

    In addition to the Rahab example, there’s Exodus 1, the case where Pharaoh demands the Hebrew midwives kill of all new born Hebrew boys:

    15 Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah; 16 and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.” 20 So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. 21 Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them.

    God was happy with the midwives and blessed them with families of their own, even though they misled Pharaoh.

  8. Glenn,

    Your example of telling lies of great miracles to induce faith actually satisfies the CCC criterion of leading people into error (here on matters of faith), as it bears false witness against the actions of God and what the potential convert might expect.

    I find this explosion against Lila Rose to be rather odd, when her action, at worst, is a venial sin. But I’m sure that you are correct and that God’s Love and Majesty are equally offended by the sum totals of Lila’s venial sins and Planned Parenthood’s atrocities.

  9. Glenn,

    Matt is right on the money.

    By way of another analogy: if you were hiding Jews in your house, and a Nazi SS officer came to your door demanding to know if there were any Jews in your house it would be morally acceptable to state: ‘there are no Jews in this house’ because that Nazi does not have the right to the truth as he intendeds to use that truth to perpetrate a grave evil.

    It’s similar to the way in which the morality of killing another human being, which is also an intrinsically evil act, changes when the other human being is an unjust aggressor trying to kill another human being, and your intention is to save that other human being.

    If we follow Tollefsen’s (whom I really rate by the way) overly strict application of this moral principle then we would be forced to say that is IS morally acceptable to shoot a Nazi in order to save a Jew, but you couldn’t deceive him with words in order to do that.

    In fact, during WWII the Church had no problem whatsoever with Jews obtaining false passports and assuming false identities and even telling the border guards that they were Joe Smith, when in actual fact they were Jacob Lebowitz, etc.

    In fact the Church even aided in such practices on a huge scale itself.

    We also have plenty of examples where Catholic clergy (particularly during the various Reformation persecutions) would disguise themselves and pretend to be something they were not in order to carry out their ministry, or to escape death.

    We also have a current Blessed (on the way to Canonization) who used to dress up in disguise and tell the wardens at jails that he was coming to interrogate prisoners, all so that he could take them the Sacraments and minister to them.

    And lastly, Canonized Catholic Saints, who are regarded highly in the area of moral theology, have supported the use of lying when it is employed to save a human life (Saint John Chrysostom being one example).

  10. Not all lying is wrong, neither is all killing. Doug Wilson does a good sermon here, it does take some time to get going.

    Deception and War.

  11. David A.

    Glenn, I suggest you take a good dose of P.T. Geach (especially his book on ‘The Virtues’ and also ‘Truth and Hope’). You’ll feel better in the morning!

  12. Tim

    I think the real issue is what did their lying achieve? It seems to me that it only shows an unwillingness on the part of the clinic to turn anyone away in whom they might percieve a need.

    (I personally would have been far more shocked if they had said “yes no problem” to a woman admitting to being healthy, happily married, financially secure and intending to have children in two years time, but wanting an abortion because she had already bought tickets for a holiday in the Bahamas around her current due date)

    The outcome of this undercover operation brings the seediness of the whole situation to light for sure.

    But it has obviously opened the door for division between people otherwise united in their opposition to abortion – not necessarily pimps or lost teens – over technicalities in their statements of moral position

  13. Brendan, you say that Matt is right on the money, and yet he does not validate your interpretation of the catechism.

    I must protest this ungainly squirming, to be frank. The Catechism is not vague here. Lying is the intentional telling of a falsehood to deceive somebody, and lying is always wrong. That’s what the current catechism states in plain terms.

    I fully accept your Nazi example. But then, I can afford to accept it, because I do not accept the current catechism of the Catholic church. Whether the church practiced such rescues is beside the point, since as you know it is not the deeds of clergy that are meant to be infallible, it is the teaching of the magisterium, which currently (assuming it agrees with its own catechism) defines a lie irrespective of what another person has a right to, and also asserts that all lying is sin, even if that sin is lessened by the intentions of the liar.

  14. Gerard, I disagree about the example of lying about miracles – but OK I’ll concede that for argument’s sake. I gave other examples too, which plainly are cases of lying, but by your definition they would not be.

    To be clear, I am not exploding against Lila Rose. I love what she does and I hope that Live Action have much more success in future using these tactics.

    Live Action is right. The Catechism is wrong, and it’s remarkable to see people bending over backwards to ensure that it emerges unscathed.

  15. David A.

    “it’s remarkable to see people bending over backwards to ensure that it emerges unscathed.”

    That’s because it’s built on hundreds of years of theological and philosophical reflection. Unlike my thoughts and yours.

    Take my advice and let Peter Geach set you right about this topic. ‘The Virtues’ is a classic book that, as a Christian philosopher, you can’t afford to neglect.

  16. David, I don’t think that’s the reason for this bending over backwards. I suspect, rather, that to concede an error in the Catechism is psychologically too high a price to pay. But that’s just a suspicion, and I’m a suspicious guy!

    As for you apparent view that since my view isn’t the same as yours, it needs to be set right, I’ll take it with a grain of salt.

  17. David A.

    Suspicion is not logic, and often based on illogic.

    And, no, I didn’t state that because your view isn’t the same as mine, that yours must be wrong. I stated that the Catechism is built on hundreds of years of theological and philosophical reflection, unlike my thoughts and your thoughts on this topic, and that this is one reason why its adherents consider it well worth defending.

  18. Maybe you base your suspicions on little, but I try not to follow suit! I have good inductive reasons for this suspicion. Men are partisan creatures, and the unwillingness to allow our party to appear wrong is a very strong temptation.

    The reality is that I agree with many Catholics (perhaps including Geach) that lying is sometimes permitted. The Catechism, however, does not – whether it is based on centuries of reflection or not. I am pleased that most Catholics do not agree with what the Catechism states here. I just wish they could bring themselves to acknowledge it.

    Moreover, the truth is that many considered ethical judgements are informed by centuries of reflection, mine included.

  19. The view that lying is not always wrong and is sometimes licit is also built on centuries of theological reflection.

  20. Precisely. On most ethical issues, views that are fundamentally at odds with each other are all based on centuries of reflection.

  21. Tim

    It does take a very long time to try to twist a technicality out of something as simply worded as a commandment

  22. Which commandment do you have in mind, Tim?

  23. Tim

    Are you deliberately pretending to not know what I am referring to? I don’t know much about the Catholic Catechism, but on get the impression that the statements it makes about truthfulness probably have their source in the commandment about not bearing false witness (or whatever the accepted translation)

    So if: “The view that lying is not always wrong and is sometimes licit is also built on centuries of theological reflection.”

    just gave me a mental image of a long succession of theologians thinking as hard as they could about wiggling out of following it.

    It seems to me that bringing the Catholic catechism into it is just an excuse for sniping at a particular creed you love to hate, when the same instruction is put much more simply in a book common to all churches.

    I also see a distinct difference between lying “on the spot” to a soldier at the door, and premeditated misrepresentation of the type described in the post. The same distinction we make between a crime of passion and a premeditated murder or assault.

  24. Tim,the problem is one does not interpret all the other 9 commandments that way, for example that Catholic church sensibly allows that “thou shall not kill” does not mean one cannot kill in self defence. Nor does it hold that, “thou shall not steal” does not mean a person who is starving to death and can only survive if he steals food from a nearby neighbour is acting wrongly. Nor does it contend that “honour your mother and father” means the parental rights of parents engaging in physical or sexual abuse should always be respected, and so forth.

  25. Tim

    Matt, all the examples we are given as to when these things might be acceptable are what I loosely termed “on the spot” in my previous post. They look to be actions that might be understandably taken by an individual in response to a situation of threat that they find themselves part of through little fault of their own.

    I don’t think witnesses would adjudge my actions right if I goaded a person into attacking me before killing them in self defence, or if I quit my job and burnt all my food before stealing from my neighbour.

  26. Tim, I don’t have to pretend anything. I wouldn’t have drawn the connection between this part of the catechism and the commandment not to bear false witness because if you actually read this part of the catechism (have you?), you’ll see that the connection is not made here.

    It’s not – if you’ll pardon my saying so – in the least bit important what mental image comes to mind for you. Unless I’m not mistaken, you don’t have a particularly strong background in historical theology or moral theology, so the first image that comes to your mind when somebody utters a phrase about Christian ethics is unlikely to be a reliable guide to anything except what goes on in Tim’s mind.

    The fact is, the same body of literature that contains the command against bearing false witness (literally being a lying witness in a court case) also provides examples of people who did what the catechism condemns – deliberately mislead people about the truth. So those two things are not intentionally connected by the writers of the Old Testament.

    There’s no issue here of me “bringing the catechism into it.” The catechism is the issue at hand, because many who support Live Action are Catholics who subscribe tot he teachings of the catechism. There’s no need to try to uncover some sort of simmering desire to attack. The issue presents itself naturally in these circumstances.

    It’s also quite plainly untrue to imply that biblical commandments were all presented as things that we should never maintain exceptions too. Some of them, perhaps, but we can’t settle the question on an a priori basis. The Old Testament itself permits war, self defence, capital punishment as a few examples (plus premeditated acts of deception).

    The catechism, by contrast, stresses plainly that even when a person’s intentions are good and they will achieve good, lying is still not permissible. I intentionally quoted that part so that people would see how the catechism’s approach differs from both Scripture and common sense – but most importantly how it prohibits what Live Action are doing.

  27. Tim

    So let me get this straight.

    You are telling me that the portions of the catechism you quote above, which give extended explanation on the on the improtance of truthfulness, and why the Catholic Church condemns says we should not lie bears no relationship to the commandment in the bible prohibiting us from “bearing false witness”

    …and you also are saying that that commandment refers exclusively to perjury.

    Just so we’re clear.

  28. Tim

    Thanks David. I always find it preferable to be offered an illustration if I’m being ignorant than to be told (however politely) to crawl back under my rock.

    Ok, point taken. The eighth commandment is not (per se) about lying. But the fellow budzisewski you gave the link to, who is apparently exploring the commandments, spends one paragraph on saying that and then proceeds to go into a much lengthier exploration from about what our approach to lying should be. Is that because as Glenn suggests there really isn’t that much more to say about the commandment itself?

    What about the portion in quotes in article 2482 of the chatechism quoted above: “You are of your father the devil, … there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”? Is that a direct biblical quotation illustrating the despicableness of lies? In what context does it appear?

  29. Tim

    What I’ve been getting at is that I’ve always understood truthfulness to be a Christian ideal, and not just a Catholic one. If it’s not actually…

    …then more power to Glenn I guess for clearing up just one more of those misconceptions we heathens hold.

  30. Even if that commandment doesn’t refer exclusively to perjury in court, it is certainly about telling falsehoods that damage other people’s reputation. The catechism doesn’t connect this teaching on lying to that commandment.

    Not bearing false witness is a species of truth telling, but truth telling isn’t required by that commandment. It’s the other away around.

    Yes truthfulness is a Christian ideal under normal circumstances. A lot of moral norms have this type of qualifier.

  31. Tim

    So what has this woman actually achieved? Is there any proof that the scenarios she play-acts to elicit “the truth” from clinic staff ever happen in real life?

  32. Tim, it cannot be possible that you think she has achieved nothing unless these same scenarios have happened in real life. You must be pulling my leg.

    If a person tries to sell crack to an undercover police officer, it would be a trifling objection to say “but I’ve never sold to a genuine buyer before!”

  33. Tim

    Can we assume that if one works in one of these clinics one would need to believe that performing abortions is a helpful thing to do? So believing that, when presented with an underage girl with no support or a pimp enquiring about potential services for girls he is already exploiting, does it seem particularly shocking if the staff member was prepared to compromise other principles (like the law) in order to help the weakest person in the scenario in the way they knew how?

    There are examples given above where this type of decision choosing faith over law is deemed admirable. It is likely that supporters of abortion will also deem it admirable.

    The staff member may get fired. The Clinic may be investigated and shut down. Stricter adherance to the law as it stands might be enforced. Lila will get to be on t.v. again. As to a law change…?

    Miss Rose compromises a Christian ideal (or an article of her faith) over a long-shot. This can’t be condoned any more than the actions of a man who compromises an article of his faith in assassinating an abortionist.

    Better the Bieber I say. Better the medical interns who refuse to participate in the practice because it would compromise their faith.

  34. Tim – so in effect you support the actions taken by PP staff. Remember, the issue is not merely that they were willing to provide an abortion for them (you did watch the clip, right?). The issue was that they were assisting them in covering up the fact that underage girls are being exploited as sex workers. That you support this is actually rather sick.

    The issue in this case is not a law change, and never has been. You’re introducing a red herring.

    As for your comparison to killing an abortionist, you’re off the planet.

  35. Tim

    you said:

    “Tim – so in effect you support the actions taken by PP staff. Remember, the issue is not merely that they were willing to provide an abortion for them (you did watch the clip, right?). The issue was that they were assisting them in covering up the fact that underage girls are being exploited as sex workers. That you support this is actually rather sick.”

    I didn’t actually say that, and I was quite careful about my wording.(I didn’t watch the clip, my computer is too old to cope so I read the wikipedia article on Lila Rose which quoted parts of it)

    Also, remember the pimp was an actor, and because the scenario was never fully played out we have no way of knowing the clinician’s next move. They may have been acting too. Would the police have been there waiting if the pimp had actually brough a patient in?

    You also said:
    “The issue in this case is not a law change, and never has been. You’re introducing a red herring.”

    If Lila is a pro-life campaigner then the issue is a law-change, as you made clear in our last argument. It is the issues in this case that are all red herrings to that. Why should it be any surprise to be shown, if abortion is immoral (I was going to say criminal but not sure of the best word) that its practitioners should not be prepared to commit other crimes/immoralities?

    The question your post centres on is whether the compromising of an aspect of ones belief, or an ideal, or an article of faith, is condonable if one can score points on another issue one holds dear by doing so.

    On that question no. I don’t think I’m off the planet with the comparison I made at all.

    My view is that when we publicly tout an exception to a rule or an ideal we encourage people to seek the exception rather than the ideal. we move the lines of acceptability. We degenerate. And not only has Miss Rose got you condoning lying, she has also publicly advertised the fact that if you want a not-quite-legal abortion then you’ll be able to find somebody to give you one.

    Maybe we all already knew that. But something unspoken has less power than something publicly declared.

    So its a loss on two fronts as far as I’m concerned.

  36. Tim, you asked the rhetorical question of whether or not the PP staffer’s actions were shocking. The implied answer is that they were not.

    “we have no way of knowing the clinician’s next move.”

    Tim, that is not relevant at all. She supplied information about where to take these underage girls (who she thought really existed) so that they could get services without anyone probing the sexual exploitation going on. If you didn’t even watch the clip then I fail to see why you even commented on this.

    “The question your post centres on is whether the compromising of an aspect of ones belief, or an ideal, or an article of faith, is condonable if one can score points on another issue one holds dear by doing so.”

    I didn’t even raise that question, let alone centre on it. My post was centred on the fact that Live Action’s conduct violates the Catholic Catechism, and therefore Catholics cannot support them in good conscience. That was my point from start to finish.

    What is more, I made my position clear: I don’t think that lying is necessarily to compromise a biblical stance, since the Bible does indeed condone lying sometimes.

    Your apparent stance that all moral rules are to be taken as absolute with no exceptions or sensitivity to context seems to me to require a fairly robust defence, and yet you just treat it as obvious. So we can’t use force against others – even in self defence? Even detectives can never go undercover because that’s lying? The courts cannot punish people who have committed crimes, because that’s an exception (since it doesn’t punish everyone else)? Tim, you cannot sincerely believe what you’ve said. Seriously, reflect on the absurd consequences of this for a few moments.

    As for the comparison to murdering abortionists, sorry, that’s simply nutty. The fact that lying is sometimes acceptable has nothing to say about whether such lies are equivalent to vigilante killings.

    Oh, and I chuckled out loud at your suggestion that it was Lila Rose who “got” me to take this stance on lying, as though I have never even thought about the issue before. I saw what you did there. Perhaps I should imply that I have now gotten you to use the internet. 😉

  37. Tim

    Yes I’m aware that your original post refers specifically to Catholics and their relationship with their catechism. You made it quite clear that if they held to the articles you quoted they couldn’t support Live action.

    You also said that Lila was a Catholic and later quite unequivocally that

    “Live Action is right. The Catechism is wrong.”

    How do we address that contradiction without asking my question?

    If the answer to that question is that there are exceptions to every rule, surely claiming that this must be one of those exceptions and leaving it there is not sufficient. We would have to compare the action with other exceptions we know have been condoned and see if satisfies the same criteria they seem to meet.

    That’s why I’m curious to explore what is actually achieved by these “stings”. With no obvious over-ridingly positive outcomes, that you have stated, they appear to be pointless and dificult to compare with our accepted exceptions.

    If in order to unmask the devil you decided to lie to make him show his his face, would that be a good action? especially if there might have been other ways to fight him?

  38. Tim

    Ok propped the old girl (my laptop) up on books to let the heat escape (she overheats – poor thing) and watched your pimp video link. I feel no need to change anything I’ve said above.

  39. “Live Action is right. The Catechism is wrong.” Yes I said that. But there’s no contradiction to address. These two statements do not form a contradiction.

    You haven’t given any reasons to think that my stance on lying is incorrect, you’ve merely insisted that it’s an unjustified compromise. I have no reason to adopt your stance, but there’s a clear biblical reason to support mine (along with real life examples that conform to this common sense intuition), and as a professing Christian I consider that this actually matters. I’m happy to leave it there, Tim.

  40. Tim

    I pretty much am too.

    I just want it noted that I am not denying the existence of exceptions to ideals. We are, after all, told “there’s an exception to every rule” . I’m trying to point out the danger of seeking the exception over the rule, especially when the befenit arising from this particular example of an exception isn’t really clear to me and the benefits from the other examples cited are.

    anyway thanks

  41. Cedric

    The Catechism is right, lying is intrinsically wrong.
    Aiding abortions are also prohibited by the same document. The Catechism is not supposed to be a document to follow without personal judgement involved, but can only do its work of teaching in unison with a mature conscience and critical mind, like an accurate chart and a ship captain work together to navigate the reefs. I can support Live Action’s work and also the catechism, just as a captain adjusts his course based on the current weather conditions, which are currently looking nightmarish when it comes to the plight of the unborn. The wrongness of the lying is mitigated by the specific circumstances. The Vatican issuing false passports to save jews was a tiny wrong they were forced into by the circumstances of life and death at the time. I suppose you could draw upon the principle of Double effect here as well.
    Regards, Cedric.

  42. Cedric, the principle of double effect is that one may do a good deed knowing that an unintended evil may follow, which is different from this scenario.

    I do accept, actually that we should read the catechism with what you call personal judgement – namely common sense. It’s just that the catechism says that all lying is wrong even when the motive is good.

    But it’s interesting – you’re the first defender of the catechism who has agreed with it in saying that all lying is always wrong, and that what Live Action did was a tiny wrong but still wrong.

  43. Cedric

    Hi Glenn,

    Your’e right, double effect is the wrong principle here.

    You say
    “cognitive dissonance seems to me to be the only have, if it can be called as much. My solution is somewhat less taxing on the mind: The Catechism got it wrong.”

    So are you saying that some lying is not intrinsically sinful, even at some small level?
    If you define sin as anything that contradicts the Truth, and therefore contradicts God, then all lying is sinful , at some small level. This is what the Catechism is saying.
    Can you give me an example of a lie so devoid of wrongness that it could exist quite happily in heaven?

    I think the cognitive dissonance you refer to is the fallen human condition: everyday, we are faced with a myriad of less than perfect choices. But we cannot deny the ideal set out by Our Lord and reflected in the Catechism simply because we can not often reach it by ourselves, He does not leave us that option,
    “Be Ye Perfect”.

  44. Cedric:

    “So are you saying that some lying is not intrinsically sinful, even at some small level?”

    That’s right. For example the biblical examples in this blog post.

    “If you define sin as anything that contradicts the Truth, and therefore contradicts God, then all lying is sinful , at some small level. This is what the Catechism is saying.”

    Sure, if you define sin that way then all lying is sinful. But I don’t define sin that way. Sin is a violation of the will of God, that’s how I define it.

    As for the example of a lie that can exist in heaven, I can imagine games of deception in heaven, yes (e.g. games that involve tricking people, which involves intentionally deceiving them). As for many other lies, such as deceiving people who wish to kill others, no I cannot imagine those in heaven. But that’s not because they are wrong. Instead it’s because there will be no need to stop people from murdering others in heaven.

  45. Cedric

    Will of God: “I will send the Paraclete, who will lead you into all truth”

    Your heavenly “lie” is part of a consensual game, not a genuine lie, as the participant would expect to be mislead and would have consented, and willingly shut off their omniscience for siting on the cloud playing “Cheat” 🙂

    Rahab lying was not the will of God in the wider sense, as His Will was that people would not kill each other in the first place.

    It is not my will as a dad for my kids to play in the middle of the street, but I still want my older boy to pull my younger boy out of the way of traffic, even if it wrenches his arm.

    This also, as the Catechism states,
    ” constitutes a failure in justice and charity”, even though, in the circumstances, I wouldn’t have it the other way.

    Any genuine lie is against the will of God in the wider sense, but the moral culpability for individual lies, is, as you and the Catechism agree, dependant on the circumstance.

  46. Cedric, but it was the will of God for Rahab to lie under those circumstances. That those circumstances were not God’s will doesn’t change this. The rule laid down by the catechism appears to not allow for the existence of the world we live in.

    You can say that my heavenly lie is not a lie, but the trouble is that the catechism says it is. But setting that example aside, as I said, the circumstances that make lying morally good will not exist in heaven.

    EDIT: As you might be aware, Cedric, the previous version of the Catechism DID allow for deception under some circumstances. It defined a lie as deceiving somebody who deserves the truth. The newer version changed this. But with an instruction book ten times more complex than the demands of Scripture, every now and then it’s going to make mistakes.

  47. While I disagree with his stance (as he says that what Live action did was wrong), I do admire the forthrightness of Edward Feser, a conservative Catholic philosopher who is absolutely consistent with his catechism.

  48. Cedric

    Hi Glenn,
    The Catechism 10 times more complex than the Bible? Comparing the two on age, number of languages, number of literary genres, number of theological nuances, number of different cultures implicitly addressed, number of layers of meaning, number of books, I have to disagree!

    P1: LiveAction lying was absolutely fine.
    P2: The catechism “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned.”
    C: The Catechism is wrong.

    Same reasoning:
    P1: LiveAction lying was absolutely fine.
    P2: God says lying is wrong (Exodus, Sinai, “Thou shalt not bear false witness)
    C: God is wrong.

    God did not qualify his command, yet you reject the (more brief version of )the Catechism on the same grounds!

    The fact is, the Catechism is necessary to apply Biblical revelation in a n authoritative and clear way.

    If you want to attack the authority of Tradition, simply point out the date on which the Holy Spirit left the Catholic Church, taking it’s authority to teach with it!


  49. Cedric, bearing false witness is not coextensive with lying, so the second argument fails.

    As for the last comment about the Holy Spirit, with all respect, don’t be silly.

  50. Cedric

    According to this quote, I contend that Calvin disagrees with your separation of false witness and lying and agrees with the Catechism:

    By malignant or vicious detraction, we sin against our neighbor’s good name: by lying, sometimes even by casting a slur upon him, we injure him in his estate. It makes no difference whether you suppose that formal and judicial testimony is here intended, or the ordinary testimony which is given in private conversation. For we must always recur to the consideration, that for each kind of transgression one species is set forth by way of example, that to it the others may be referred, and that the species chiefly selected, is that in which the turpitude of the transgression is most apparent.

    – John Calvin

    I’m just requesting that you give the Catechism the benefit of the theological doubt, splitting hairs like this is injurious to Christian unity.
    I’m not saying we shouldn’t have a rigorous debate, but lets tackle the big issues dividing us, not inconsequential things!

    Though I presented the Holy Spirit and teaching authority issue with ugly sarcasm, (sorry), it really is at the heart of any assessment of the Catechism’s use in teaching the faith.


  51. Cedric, the problem is that I don’t regard Calvin as definitive of truth. I appeal to reason here: Does every case of lying amount to bearing false witness against your neighbour? I don’t even need to persuade you that the answer is no, because you already know it.

    It is not I who is splitting hairs. For you have move sideways, away from the issue in question, namely the issue of whether or not you can approve of Live Action’s actions. Let’s pretend that I had a sudden change of heart and I decided that somehow I could stretch the idea of “bearing false witness” into an infinitely flexible category that covered all cases of lying. I’m pretending. Now what? Now you would have to say that Live Action is violating one of the Ten Commandments, and hence you should change your stance and oppose what they do.

    But again, even if I bent over backwards, used language like putty in my hands and decided that every single case of lying somehow counted as a case of bearing false witness, the issue still remains: Are we saying that the injunction was intended to hold in all circumstances, regardless of context? This is the issue at hand. Recall again the biblical examples where lying is praised as good.

    I think that really you already grant this principle, since you accept that there are cases when things that would otherwise be bad can in fact be morally good. If you don’t think that you grant this, have a close look at some of your beliefs: You agree that kidnapping is wrong, but it it wrong to take someone and put them in prison? You agree that theft is wrong, but is it wrong to compel someone to pay a fine – and so on.

  52. Tim

    “Are we saying that the injunction was intended to hold in all circumstances, regardless of context?”

    Who has the authority to judge the context?

  53. Tim, the question of “who has the authority” seems misplaced, in my view.

    Even in our modern legislation we have plenty of occasions where subjectivity is used. The use of the word “reasonable” or phrases like “could be reasonably thought” and so on are common. Now, we don’t find fault with this because it gives “authority” to every Tom Dick and Harry. Instead we recognise that legislation is supposed to be interpreted and applied by ordinary people in a subjective way in everyday life.

    Now of course if a dispute arises, lawyers and judges step in, but this doesn’t change the fact that all of us have a responsibility to interpret and apply law in our own lives in a sensible and wise way.

  54. Tim

    That was a knee-jerk response on my part.

    Your argument throughout the discussion seems to be that:

    Live Action lied as part of their hidden camera operations.
    There are a number of examples in the bible where lying is permissable.
    Therefore Live Action’s lying is permissable.

    That’s about as much detail as you go into. Yes, a few examples of secular and scriptural incidences have been cited where we or God have judged a lie to be acceptable, but none of them at face value seem to match this case. Neither have you gone to very much trouble to try to explain why you see this situation matching any of the examples cited.

    If you don’t think it necessary to examine Live Action’s behaviour in relation to the examples that exist and try to show that they stack up against these examples, then surely your argument can be extended to include all actions involving lying?

    Many human actions involve lying.
    There are a number of examples in the bible where lying is permissable.
    Therefore all human actions involving lying are permissable.

    This is what you’re saying isn’t it?

    I can only belive it is because you haven’t really put any effort into highlighting any similarities between Live Action and your many biblical examples. Perhaps you think they could be reasonably thought to be obvious. But if I were to proclaim myself Tom, Dick, AND Harry in this case I would say I see no similarities.

  55. Your argument throughout the discussion seems to be that:

    Live Action lied as part of their hidden camera operations.
    There are a number of examples in the bible where lying is permissable.
    Therefore Live Action’s lying is permissable.

    No, certainly not! I have not argued that Live Action’s conduct is permissible, although I have said that this is in fact what I think.

    My argument has been for a different conclusion, like this:

    1) Live Action’s actions included lying
    2) The Catholic Catechism defines lying in a way that includes Live Action’s conduct and condemns all lying as sin irrespective of context and motive.
    3) Catholics accept the teaching of the catechism
    5) People cannot consistently embrace contradictory standards
    6) Therefore Catholics cannot consistently endorse Live Action’s conduct

    The biblical examples of lying and also the everyday life examples that I gave were not given to prove that Live Action’s conduct is defensible (although I think they give us grounds for thinking that they are). What those examples were meant to do is to dislodge the idea that lying is always wrong in every circumstance, which allows us to consider the possibility that each case must be weighed on its own merits.

  56. Cedric

    Catholic Theology has a hierachy of types of law, which lies behind the Catechism reasoning, and gives it nuances. We have established that the Catechism is a summary text of 2000 years of built up Tradition, and any summary text can only deal with the rule better than the exception.
    The highest law is eternal law, then divine law, (the 10 commandments) then natural law,(conscience) then human law.

    Your premise two is where the problem lies.
    The catechism doesnt condemn all actions as sin, conscience has a huge role to play.

    The Catechism also states
    1782 Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”53

    My conscience says that the Golden Rule, which summarises the 10 commandments may apply in the LiveAction case. I can recognise the wrongness of the lie, but give way to the greater need to love neighbour though this action.
    At the same time I recognise the possibility that, unlike the Nazi at the door case, this issue is not as clear-cut.

    You are interpreting the Catechism “irrespective of the context and motive”, and when you pull out one section out of the bible or any text, you risk doing that.

    Tim was right to question your authority to judge the nuanced meaning of the text. You and I and other non-experts must consult higher authority if we are dealing with a subject outside of our expertise.

    And if we don’t have the opportunity then … Catholics are told to follow their conscience!


  57. Cedric, the catechism asserts that lying is sin irrespective of context and motive. it is therefore not fair to accuse me of interpreting it irrespective of context and motive.

    Go back to the catechism yourself and have another read of the section on lying. I specifically and explicitly deals with the issue of motive. It states that while motive may mitigate, it never removes the sinfulness from lying.

    This is not my handiwork, trying to sneakily imply that the catechism speaks irrespective of motive. It directly states that motive doesn’t take the sinfulness away.

    It’s all very well to look at another part of the catechism which says that people must be permitted to act in accordance with conscience. But this simply tells us that some people aren’t fully acquainted with the moral facts, and we bear with them. But this does not mean that all moral facts are relative to what the person believes. The issue here is whether or not the catechism declares that all lying is sinful, and it rather simply does.

  58. Cedric

    “the catechism asserts that lying is sin irrespective of context and motive.”


    It also says about sin that :
    1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart133 do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

    1862 One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.

    Rahab was forced into lying, therefore sin was not present.
    The Vatican was forced into lying to save Jews, therefore sin was not present.

    There may have been other options open to Live Action that we do not know about, so in my judgement, it is not clear whether there was sin present.

    If someone held a gun to your head and told you to admit that the Auckland Blues were the absolute best team in the country, (sad to say, a grievous lie), and you said it, you would not be sinning.

    I believe Live Action committed a Venial sin to avoid a worse sin of ommision, that of standing by doing nothing while the unborn are destroyed. I’m not sure whether they were justified to do so or not.

    I stand by my contention that you are interpreting the Catechism irrespective of context, as you have not mentioned the central issue of consent at all in this discussion. (Motive is not the same).
    I don’t believe you are being sneaky at all, I simply think that you are not using the Catechism with goodwill, specifically by missing out key parts of it to make your point. Consent is central to judging the existence of sin, (being ever mindful that Our Lord commands us to “Judge not, lest we be judged”.)


  59. Cedric

    “the catechism asserts that lying is sin irrespective of context and motive.”

    NOT correct.
    IT never says that lying always sinful, only that
    “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned.”

    By the same token, by its very nature, cancer is to be condemned (ie, it is evil and should be rejected), but you can have cancer present without sin, and you can have the cancer of lying present without sin as well.


  60. Cedric, I never said that the catechism claims that lying is always a MORTAL sin, so your comment 59 responds to a straw man.

    Re comment 60, yes what I said is correct, actually. Read the whole section on lying. it does in fact say that lying is always a sin. Seriously, you’ve not read the whole thing. it is not merely to be condemened like a non-moral bad thing such as cancer. here, I will quote the part you’re missing:

    By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbour into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.

    So lying is something that a person is “culpable” for, not like cancer at all.

    Cedric, it seems to me that the only safe harbour for you as a Catholic is to accept that all lying is always wrong, that what Live Action did was wrong, but it was only a very minor wrong. But you can’t push the catechism aside like this. It says what it says, and clearly so.

  61. Cedric

    There are two straw men here, lets get them to be friends somewhere else, because we are trying not to talk past each other!

    When did I accuse you of saying the catechism claims lying is always a mortal sin? that would be a ridiculous assertion!(And a straw man.)

    I will stick doggedly to the point I actually made, in the hope you will eventually respond to it:

    P1: You state that the catechism states that lying is always sinful.
    P2: I point out that the Catechism also says that consent must be present for any kind of sin to be present.
    P3:: The holistic reading of the Catechism shows that it states that lying is by its nature to be condemned, but that for sin to be present, an additional condition must be met: consent.
    C: P1 is wrong.

    As for the part you contend I missed, refer back to the part you didnt highlight :
    “The deliberate intention” ie, consent, is a failure of charity, and therefore a sin.

    Your final point gives me hope that we can get somewhere, because that is what I have been saying all along, with the qualifier that “lying is wrong” (“by its nature to be condemned”) doesnt always consequentially mean that sin is committed.- refer back to Auckalnd blues example, Rahab, etc.


    PS: How do you do bold text?

  62. Cedric, you contend that I have not addressed this, but I have. Please check the original blog post. I noted there that we are talking about deliberate acts here. That has always been the issue, so you are not adding anything by now drawing attention to “The deliberate intention.”

    Remember: It is no good trying to convince me that lying is not always wrong (i.e. not always a sin) by pointing to examples like Rahab. That has always been my position: Lying is not always wrong. It is the catechism that says lying is always wrong, not me.

    I contend that we have reached the end. If you want to say that lying is the wrong thing to do but it is not sinful, then I contend that you are uttering a contradiction. I will not try to talk you out of it anymore.

    Whatever the Catholic church lacks, it clearly has your undying devotion.

  63. Cedric


    I appreciate your time, I can always count on you to force me to sort my fuzzy headed reasoning out!

    Things we agree on with this issue: 95%++

    Keep up the good work,

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