Lying

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Scripture

Rom 3:7-8
But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

Catechism

#2488
The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.
#2489
Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.[1]

Revised edition of the Catechism

Eric Stoutz, Catholic Exchange, "Second Edition Revision of the Catechism"
Some differences of interest did concern content. The wording explaining the nature of a lie was changed. The first edition, number 2483 defines lying as "to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth." This last clause "who has the right to know the truth" was deleted from the revised Catechism because it was more confusing than helpful for a number of the faithful.
Properly understood there is no doubt that the older formula is valid. The notion of "lying" can never be considered apart from the issue of the kind of truth being sought, the party who is seeking the truth, and whether they are really entitled to it (the classic case of Nazi's demanding to know whether there are Jews in the house). Nonetheless, while the Catechism is normative, it [is meant?] for learning and teaching the faith. It was decided that the second formulation was more helpful.

Lila Rose and Planned Parenthood

I am concerned about the fact that Lila Rose lied about herself in her undercover work against Planned Parenthood. Was this a morally correct action? What about spies and undercover police officers? Is it the case that they are all doing something evil in the service of what is good? That seems to contradict the Catholic Church's teaching that "The end does not justify the means" (CC #1753).

Peter Kreeft, "Why Live Action did right and why we all should know that."
The controversy about Live Action probably is rooted in a controversy about method in ethics, specifically about which should have priority, (1) clear definitions of general moral principles and valid logical reasoning from them (“casuistry”) or (2) moral experience, instinctive moral judgments about concrete situations by our innate moral common sense. I think it is (2) and I think these critics think it is (1). I think they are so (rightly) afraid of moral relativism that they have (wrongly) fallen into moral legalism.
You promised the Jews to hide them from their murderers. To keep that promise, you have to deceive the Nazis. Physical hiding and verbal hiding are two sides of the same coin, whether you call it lying, or deception, or whatever you call it. What it is, is much more obvious than what it is to be called. It’s a good thing to do. If you don’t know that, you’re morally stupid, and moral stupidity comes in two opposite forms: relativism and legalism. Relativism sees no principles, only people; legalism sees no people, only principles.
The closest analogy I can think of to Live Action’s expose of Planned Parenthood is spying. If Live Action is wrong, then so is all spying, including spying out the Nazis’ atomic bomb projects and saving the world from a nuclear holocaust.
If you say that morality changes in wartime, I reply that police ‘sting’ operations are an example of legitimate peacetime spying. An undercover policeman saves children from becoming drug addicts by pretending to be a drug customer to expose the drug dealer. Is this pretending ‘lying’ or not? I don’t much care, except as a professional philosopher and logician. I do much care that the ‘sting’ works and my kids are protected. Do you care more about protecting your own moral correctness than protecting your kids’ lives?
If lying is always wrong, then it is wrong to lie to a nuclear terrorist (the “ticking time bomb” scenario) to elicit from him where he hid the nuclear bomb that in one hour will kill millions if it is not found and defused. The most reasonable response to the “no lying” legalist here is “You gotta be kidding”—or something less kind than that. Thomas Aquinas said that even torture is sometimes justified; in emergency situations like that; if torture, then a fortiori lying.
Hospes, "A Response to Peter Kreeft, on lying ."
Though the external actions of Live Action are not good, the virtuous dispositions which led them to lie are good. Their course of external actions is not the best way to act, nor the only way to act, but that course does not exclude them from temporal remunerations, nor even eternal rewards.
Anthony S. Lane, "Lies and Lila: Constructing a 'just lie doctrine.'"
Survey of blogs and positions.
"The question is not whether lying is intrinsically evil. It is. The question is whether it’s so evil and depraved that one must never lie regardless of the consequences of [telling] the truth."
It seems to me, then, that to construct a “just lie doctrine”, you’d have to fulfill several conditions:
  • The person is unable to evade the circumstances through other morally licit means;
  • The evil act to be prevented is real and immediate, not remote, theoretical or probable;
  • The person lying is morally certain the person to whom he intend to lie will commit a greater intrinsically evil act, whether as a result of the truth or regardless of the truth;
  • The lie has a reasonable chance of either preventing the evil act or delaying its execution sufficiently to allow other means of preventing it;
  • An evasion or silence would not be as effective or more effective in preventing or delaying the evil act.
While I can construct a doctrine to cover a “defensive lie” (that is, a lie meant to directly protect other people), I have a hard time believing Lila Rose’s lies to be defensive save in theory. Rather, they’re provocative, intended to elicit specific responses which may or may not be routine evils.
Mark Shea, "Dawn Eden Is Right, Darn It."
Founding a culture of life on a culture of lies is just bound to come to grief no matter what the short term gains may be.
Some of the more excitable voices in this debate have said, “If we are allowed to kill in warfare, why not lie too?” The problem with this sort of talk is that it mistakes metaphor for reality. Because, in fact, this is not a literal war and the obvious proof of that is that the Church is in the forefront of opposing those who take it upon themselves to commit murder to stop abortion. As Cardinal O’Connor famously said, “If anyone has an urge to kill someone at an abortion clinic, they should shoot me. ... It discredits the right-to-life movement. Murder is murder. It’s madness. You cannot prevent killing by killing.”
Nor can you prevent lying by lying. Much as I hate to say it, because of my delight at seeing Planned Parenthood take serious body blows to their credibility, I think this approach has to stop and something else be done to defeat them.

Casuistry

Storm Troopers at the Door

If evildoers ask where the innocent are in hiding, lie to them with all your strength and cunning.

Unjust aggressors have no right to deprive the innocent of freedom, property, or life. To tell such enemies the truth would be to cooperate in their evildoing.

Spies and Undercover Officers

Journalists

References

  1. Cf. Sir 27:16: "Whoever betrays a secret destroys confidence, and will never find a congenial friend"; [http://usccb.org/bible/prv/25:8 Prov 25:9-10: "Argue your own case with your neighbor, but the secrets of others do not disclose."

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