Neighbors don’t lie to each other. Or rape each others’ daughters. Neither did Live Action.

Lila RoseThe Live Action folks deceived, yes, but it was not immoral and did not violate the pertinent sections of the Catechism (because the Catechism has a lacuna on the matter at hand).

I think Dr. Kreeft’s final example—that of an incapacitated father lying to prevent his daughter being raped in front of him—deserves more consideration and fleshing out.

If the father were not tied down, what would he have done to prevent his daughter’s rape? LIkely anything he possibly could. He would fight for her, doing everything in his physical power to prevent the rapist from carrying out his diabolical intention.

Physical violence is justifiable in defense of another, up to the point of taking the assailant’s life if the situation warrants. But this is not murder, because the assailant had surrendered his right to his own life by posing a mortal threat to one who did not merit capital punishment. It also is not proportionalism, because we are not weighing possible outcomes “in the grand scheme of things” and opting for the one we deem “less bad;” rather we are observing a reality and the extraordinary moral considerations it poses, and acting appropriately.

But what gift is more precious than the gift of one’s life? We are, after all, discussing this within the “pro-life” movement and in defense of life.

So we agree, and it is established beyond the this small discussion, that violence against another’s person up to and including severing them from their very life can be morally permissible and even morally correct in some circumstances. (Indeed, civil policing and waging a just war rest upon this point.) And this is not proportionalism or nominalism, or any of the other heretical moral systems; this is Catholic morality. (Absolute pacifists, stand down: you renounce violence for yourselves, but yours is not the binding teaching of the Church.)

So what of the case of a father telling a lie to prevent his daughter’s rape? What is he violating? The Catechism definition of a “lie” seems to condemn a lie to prevent a rape, while allowing for physical violence to prevent the very same rape. The principle against lying cites Christ’s self-identification with the truth: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” This indicates, the thinking goes, that the truth is an inviolable and sacred unity as is Christ, and any intentional violation of truth is a violence to the body of Christ, which is Truth. But note the third self-identification in that quote: “I am…the life.” We have already noted that one can surrender one’s God-given right to this earthly life through one’s actions, so can one surrender one’s right to be told the truth in all cases also?

Read the pertinent paragraphs from the Catechism, thinking the entire time about the “victim” of the lie being a would-be rapist, and the one telling the lie as the father trying to protect his daughter’s virtue. I’ve bolded some parts for emphasis:

2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

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 neighbor 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 judgment 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.

Those paragraphs were written clearly and unequivocally condemning telling lies to one who is good and trusting and will act in good faith based on what you say. There is no doubt that you cannot lie to a neighbor who has every reason to trust you and who, to be sure, would never tell a lie to you.

But we know who a “neighbor” is from the parable of the Good Samaritan. A neighbor is not just the person who lives next door; a neighbor is someone who is in need of your good will and/or someone who is able and willing to help another in need.

In other words, a neighbor is not someone who would invade your home, subdue you, tie you to a chair, and make ready to rape your daughter in front of you. A would-be rapist is not your neighbor and has earned the violence (against his body or mind) that would be necessary to prevent him from raping your daughter. That the Catechism does not treat upon this does not mean it isn’t so, or that we should set aside what are legitimate lacunae in the official consideration of lying.

Now consider another case, and one that is more directly analogous to what Live Action did. A police officer poses as a 13 year-old girl on Facebook, as a ruse to find criminal perverts. Is it immoral for the officer to engage in discussion with others under that false pretense? The officer engages in discussion with others as a fictional girl, sharing status updates, talking about tests at school that didn’t happen, talking about fictitious friends and their relationships, fictional pets, a mom and dad who don’t exist, and even how much she loves the pink curtains in her non-existent bedroom. None of it is real, but is it wrong?

Again, by the strictest of strict interpretations of the definition of a “lie” provided in the Catechism, quoted above, it seems like it would be. But note: the “victim” of the lie (the pedophile) will only be “vitimized” by the lie if he chooses to act in a horribly immoral manner. As with the would-be rapist above, the “victim” of the lie is not a neighbor, and has no claim on truth in the circumstances into which he has placed himself.

As Dr. Kreeft said, men are neither angels nor computers and thus neither immediately grasp all moral considerations, nor operate according to strict programmatic principles in all cases without exception.

What Lila Rose and company did was indeed deceptive, but they did not put into the mind of the folks at Planned Parenthood to act in an immoral manner, thus the “victims” of the lie were only “victimized” because they pursued an un-neighborly course of action.

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39 thoughts on “Neighbors don’t lie to each other. Or rape each others’ daughters. Neither did Live Action.

  1. Kurt says:

    I’m not in principle opposed to sending people into PP facilities and finding out if they are complying with legal requirements and professional standards and, if not, exposing them to appropriate consequences.

    In fact, as an old-school liberal, I have to ask my conservative friends, do you remember when conservatives fought people like me tooth-and-nail over the permissibility of “testing” in housing and job discrimination? When conservatives demanded provisions be written into law prohibiting “testing”?

    For the kids, “testing” was where a government agency or a private non-profit would send in an African-American couple and later a white couple to rent an apartment. I would offer that this was done in ways that were controlled and fair and that the testing groups represented a broad assembly of civil rights leaders not some fringe group looking for media attention. It was bitterly opposed by the Right and attempts (some successful, some not) were made to prohibit people from “falsely” asserting they were actual prospective renters when they were really testers.

    Do my conservative friends now regret conservativism’s stance on this or do they have something they would like to say about how testing for race discrimination was different and less defensible than the PP videos?

    1. Tom Crowe says:

      Wow, that’s an interesting tangent to go down… For the record, I never opposed that practice and wouldn’t have had it ever been a discussion in any political election or battle I was ever involved in. And I’m fairly conservative, so I guess your point is moot, at least with regard to this conservative.

      1. Katherine says:

        It is interesting that today’s cosnervatives usually do flee from any indentification with yesterday’s conservatives.

        Cardinal George may have had it right, while liberalism is “an exhausted project”, conservativism never did have anything to offer.

        1. Tom Crowe says:

          Katherine– Thanks for the morning laugh! That was a great piece of self-delusion based in an ignorant identification of what it means to be conservative! Go read a book, like The Conservative Mind, or Let Us Talk of Many Things, two foundational works of modern conservatism, and then come back and comment. ——— But since I’m in a generous mood, I’ll give a hint. Racism is not, and never has been, a component of conservatism. People who were otherwise conservative may also have been racist, but treating people differently based on the color of their skin never was. Conservatism has always been about protection of individual rights and property so that individuals, of their own industry, may flourish, and in flourishing, raise others with them commensurate with the efforts of the others to assist in the flourishing. Conservatism is also about protecting those who are inhibited by circumstances beyond their ability to overcome from being crushed by the unscrupulous or by mechanistic, utilitarian regimes. Conservatism doesn’t seek to “offer” anything but the freedom and liberty to pursue your own greater good, with the expectation that you will be of sufficient character to help your fellows, but protecting your fellows should you prove hostile toward his greater good. ———– Note, if you will, which side of the aisle is perpetually screaming “racism” and inserting race or gender into contests. One side sys, “He’s black? Oh, didn’t notice. I like his position on the capital gains tax and defense of life.” The other side says, “We should elect this man because it’s high time we had a black president! You only oppose his policies because he’s black!” It’s tiresome, really, but in your case you managed to make it funny too! Thanks again!

  2. richardson says:

    I share everybody’s concerns, which puts me in a quandry.
    I have a question, though, about the idea that Live Action led the PP staffers into sin or error. I presume that Live Action had serious reason to presume that this was what PP was doing anyways. So apart from any justification of lying, they were acting to bring an ongoing activity to light. They did not provoke PP staffers into a sin which they were not regularly committing anyways.
    If I have reason to believe that my 5 year old son is stealing money from my desk, I might put a marked bill on my desk, and then look for it in his room. I have created a near occasion of sin, but have not provoked him to sin. If I counterfeited a bill to catch my son, not intending to use it for currency, that might be closer to lying.
    At least, that’s my take on it for now.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Tom, I totally agree with you. What’s more, is even though I couldn’t articulate it, something about their argument seems so absolute, almost more legalistic, and not taking into consideration the CCC as a whole. There’s just something too black and white about their argument to convince me. I look forward to Lila exposing more evil to the light of day by standing up to it as she does. That really is what was meant by turning the other cheek.

  4. Mary Ann says:

    I’m sure there will be good fruit from these discussions. And thanks, Tom, for this piece. I agree about absolute pacifists needing to stand down, for one thing.
    My question in all of this is- why now? These sting operations have been going on for several years. So why are astute Catholics examining this only now? If they were so concerned about truth telling, they should have called this to attention before now. Frankly, I wonder at the motives of people who take notice years after the fact.
    It is not enough to proclaim, “we must keep truth on our side”. Consider Bl. Miguel Pro, Pius XII, Margaret Clitherow, etc. They all could have said that as well, fighting evil in their times using deceptive means to serve the faithful and save lives.

    1. Tom Crowe says:

      Great point. I was shocked when I heard this was becoming a serious conversation, not imagining that people seriously thought undercover sting operations were not morally licit.

      1. Brian English says:

        Even worse is the idea that the reason these types of undercover sting operations cannot be condoned is because Catholics are apparently so incapable of rational thinking that if we allow the sting operation we would surely soon start lying to everyone about everything.

      2. mmb says:

        Didn’t all this start in earnest after Lila became a Catholic in the spring of 2009? There are now several generations of Catholics learning their faith after all these years of confusion and poor catechesis…scruples?

  5. Cathy says:

    I wonder how supportive Pro-Lifers would be of these scenarios if Planned Parenthood behaved according to civil law when confronted by Live Action’s undercover actors. What then? Is this really the “only” way to catch Planned Parenthood in illegal acts? My biggest concern is that use of deceptive tactics is a form of “stooping down” to the level of Planned Parenthood — PP lies to women all of the time, they withhold information, they say things to cause women to make abortion seem like the optimal choice or only choice they have in a crisis pregnancy. It’s dangerous for Live Action to think they can beat Planned Parenthood at their own game — fighting fire with fire leaves everybody burned. How soon will Pro-Life activists begin utilizing deception in more ways to try and convince women not to have abortions? We should use every possible moral means to put an end to abortion, and not become disillusioned by all of the sin around us that we begin to use the same immoral tools for our own pursuits, however good in themselves they may be.

    1. Tom Crowe says:

      If PP acted according to civil law, this discussion would not be happening because there would be no manifestly immoral behavior to expose (apart from being party to legal abortions and passing out legal contraceptives, that is). And it’s not “stooping down,” because they didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not fighting fire with fire—that would be shooting up or bombing the PP clinics, which we would roundly condemn. I reject your assertion that their tactics were immoral.

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