The Controversy: What did LiveAction do?
Two members of LiveAction, a pro-life group, masquerading as a pimp and an under-age prostitute, approached multiple Planned Parenthood locations, petitioning them on how to cover up their underage-prostitute business (requesting testing for diseases, abortions, and access to contraception). The “sting operation” revealed incidents of Planned Parenthood members all too willing to indulge the requests of the faux-“sex traffickers” without reporting them to the law. See: Caught on Tape: Planned Parenthood Aids Pimp’s Underage Sex Ring February 1st, 2011.
The Catholic Debate: Did LiveAction lie, and is lying always and everywhere immoral?
Planned Parenthood released a statement condemning the “dirty tricks” campaign against their organization, and has fired one of the clinic managers engaging in questionable activity. While agreeing on the laudable objective of bringing down an organization like Planned Parenthood, the orthodox Catholic community is conflicted on the justness of the “intentionally deceptive” measures taken in relation to the traditional Catholic moral prohibition on lying [see “Offenses Against Truth” #2475-2487; discussion of the eigth commandment, Catechism of the Catholic Church].
What follows is a roundup of the debate …
- 02/03/11 – It is a sin to lie, even to Planned Parenthood, by Reginaldus. The New Theological Movement
- 02/07/11 – “Cancel My Mental Reservations” John Zmirak. InsideCatholic.com.
- 02/09/11 – Lying to Planned Parenthood, or is it mental reservation?, by Reginaldus. The New Theological Movement:
In response to an earlier article, in which I contented that the “sting” operations carried out by Live Action against Planned Parenthood involved lies and are therefore morally unacceptable, I received many comments which involved the doctrine of “mental reservation” – that ambiguous speech can be used in order to deceive another for a just cause. Indeed, there are times when a certain type of mental reservation can be employed legitimately. Nevertheless, as I hope to show, the sting operations of Live Action are not cases of mental reservation, but involve direct lies.
- 02/09/11 – Truth, Love, and Live Action by Christopher O. Tollefson. Public Discourse:
Yet for all the good that may come of these videos, the way in which Live Action has made its mark is itself extremely troubling, for it is predicated on a form of falsity, which is exercised in an unloving way. Promising and welcome as the effects of these videos might be, 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.
- 02/11/11 – In Defense of Live Action, by Christopher Kaczor. [Response to Christopher Tollefson] Public Discourse:
The assessment of [Tollefson’s] conclusion depends upon how one understands the commitment to love and truth. Tollefsen’s critique of Live Action rests in part on an understanding of what constitutes a lie. However, there is not a single shared understanding of how to define lying.
- 02/11/11 – The Unloving Lies of Lila Rose?, by Joseph Bottum. (According to whom, lying is not wrong in time of war, and the pro-life movement is ‘at war’ with Planned Parenthood and other purveyors of abortion).
- 02/10/11 – Building a Culture of Lie
The exorcist and Lila Rose, by Dawn Eden and William Doino, Jr. BustedHalo.com.
- 02/11/11 – Father Frank Calls for Investigation of Planned Parenthood Blog of PriestsforLife.org — see comments:
In response to inquiries about the morality of Live Action’s approach (since it necessarily involves a degree of deception and dishonesty), Father stated that he is fully supportive of Live Action’s activities, since “every war needs spies.” Even though obviously the Catholic Church teaches that lying is a sin, Father Frank is basically of the opinion that exceptional measures are warranted when dealing with a matter as gravely evil as abortion (just as the use of spies is warranted in wartime – in both situations, the acquisition of information which would otherwise be impossible to obtain can result in the preservation of numerous lives).
- 02/12/11 – Pro-life group’s video stings spark ethical debate, by Benjamin Mann. Catholic News Agency:
Germain Grisez, who was a professor of Christian ethics from 1979 to 2009 at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Maryland, would hardly be among those seeking to criticize Live Action’s pro-life goals. His multi-volume series “The Way of the Lord Jesus” contains some of the twentieth century’s most articulate and thoughtful explanations and defenses of Catholic teaching on subjects such as abortion, contraception, and chastity.
What Grisez does not approve of, however, is Live Action’s methodology – the means it is using, to achieve an end he himself supports.
“Catholics should regard such activity as morally and legally unacceptable,” he told CNA in a written statement on Feb. 11.
“From a moral point of view, I would call it scandal in the strict sense – that is, leading another to commit a sin. From a legal point of view, I would call it suborning agreement to cooperate in criminal activities.”
Tempting someone with an opportunity to commit a crime, Grisez pointed out, also involves “deception and lying.”
The authoritative second edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – which Grisez was involved in revising, under the direction of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI – unequivocally says that lying is “the most direct offense against the truth.” It goes on to state that “by its very nature, lying is to be condemned.”
Although an earlier edition of the Catechism appeared to make allowances for lying in some circumstances, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – led by the future Pope – took a harder line when revising the original Latin text to its present form.
- 02/12/11 – Did Live Action lie? by Monica Migliorino Miller. CatholicVote.org.
- 02/14/11 – , by Reginaldus. The New Theological Movement – Response to Joseph Bottum and Monica Migliorino Miller.
- 02/14/11 – Why Lying is Always Wrong, by Christopher O. Tollefson. Public Discourse. “Lying, even for laudable reasons, is wrong.” – A response to Christopher Kaczor and other critics.
- 02/15/11 – Life and Truth, by Robert P. George. Mirror of Justice:
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.
- 02-18/11 – Live Action and Telling Falsehoods, by Francis J. Beckwith. The Catholic Thing – On the basis of the biblical stories of Rahab the harlot and the Hebrew midwives, Beckwith argues: “the intentional telling of a falsehood is not in and of itself a reason to judge the entire enterprise as immoral.”
- 02/19/11 – When Speaking Falsely is Right, by Hadley Arkes. The Public Discourse. “All lying is immoral, but not all false utterances are lies.”
As many people have recognized, nothing wrong has taken place when children decline to tell their father of the surprise they are planning for his birthday. A “lie” is an unjustified act of speaking falsely, as a murder is an unjustified act of killing. The untruth becomes a lie when it is directed to a wrongful purpose, as in deceiving for the sake of fraud and for the hurting of the victim. Now, if we are in the presence of something we could finally call a “lie” in that sense, it would seem to me to follow that lying is indeed always and everywhere wrong. But that is not what is done by the Dutch householders protecting the Jews they are hiding and speaking falsely to the Gestapo.
In case it comes as news, this understanding was held also by Immanuel Kant, the one most often invoked to proclaim the unconditional wrongness of lying. …
- 02/21/11 – Response: Speaking Truth to Evil: “The Live Action case is very different from the Nazis-at-the-door problem, but lying is justified in neither situation”, by Christopher O. Tollefsen. Public Discourse:
In this essay, I address a criticism that can be formulated in two ways. Some of my critics hold that all false assertions are lies, but that some lies are not wrong. Others hold that all lies are wrong, but that only some false assertions—unjustified ones—are lies. Both types of critics hold that false assertion is not always wrong, a view that I reject. For reasons that will emerge, I think that all false assertions should be understood as lies, and that all lies, so understood, are wrong.
- 02/22/11 – Political Responsibility and Exceptionless Moral Norms, by Carson Holloway. Public Discourse What exceptionless moral norms are we willing to discard for the sake of a good cause?
- 02/18/11 – Last Comments on Lying for Jesus by Mark Shea. National Catholic Register
- 02/20/11 – Why Live Action did right and why we all should know that, by Dr. Peter Kreeft.
- 02/24/11 – Natural Law and Bearing False Witness, by J. Budziszewski. Excerpt from Chapter 2, “What It Is That We Can’t Not Know”, of J. Budziszewski’s book, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide. The chapter examines the Decalogue (Deut. 5) and looks at each of the Commandments in turn.
- 02/26/11 – Live Action, lying, and natural law, by Dr. Edward Feser:
In summary, then: First, to the extent that Live Action’s methods involve broad mental reservation, evasion, and the like, those methods may be morally defensible (though there are questions about whether Live Action usurped the prerogatives of lawful public authority, which I have not considered). Second, to the extent that these methods involve actual lying, they are wrong and should not be used. Third, it seems to me that Live Action’s resort to lies was probably only venially sinful rather than gravely so. Fourth, the remedy to the woolly thinking exhibited by some commentators on both sides of this intra-Catholic debate is to return to the clarity, rigor, and sober realism of the Scholastic tradition of natural law ethics and moral theology.
- 02/27/11 – Lying: a Metaphysical Issue before a Moral Issue, by Dr. Janet Smith.
* * *
- Christopher O. Tollefsen is Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and a senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute. His latest book, co-authored with Robert P. George, is Embryo: A Defense of Human Life (Doubleday, 2008).
- Christopher Kaczor is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University and the author of The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice.
- Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. He also serves as the director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. He has published a number of works on natural law moral reasoning is co-author (along with Christopher Tollefsen) of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life.
- Joseph P. Bottum is former editor of First Things and contributing editor to The Weekly Standard
- Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is the author of several books including, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice.
- Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions and Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law (Cambridge).
- Dawn Eden is an American author and journalist and former copy editor of the New York Post.
- William Doino Jr. is a contributor to Inside the Vatican and published an 80,000 word annotated bibliography on Pius XII in the anthology The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII edited by Joseph Bottum and David G. Dalin (Lexington Books, 2004).
- Dr. Monica Migliorino Miller teaches moral theology at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan. A pro-life activist for many years, Miller is director of prolifesociety.com.
- Mark Shea blogs at the National Catholic Register and his personal blog, Catholic and Enjoying It.
- Reginaldus is a Catholic priest with a STB in Sacred Theology and a STL in Dogmatic Theology. He is a contributor to the blog The New Theological Movement.
- Dr. Janet Smith is a professor of moral theology and the Fr. Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Issues at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. She also serves as consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family.
- Dr. Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. Called by National Review “one of the best contemporary writers on philosophy,” his most recent publications are The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism and Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide.