Finding the High Road

Ave Maria!

I am off to England today and will not be back until March 2.  Our Marian apostolate A Day With Mary will be the subject of a workshop for friars, sisters and MIM members in London.

Before I go, I wanted to provide some more links to essays and blog posts concerning the ethical question of lying and deception “in the service” of the good, that has been occasioned by the work of Lila Rose and Action Films and which has recently been questioned by Dawn Eden and William Doino.  Be sure to check out there comments section there as well.

The philosopher Christopher Tollefsen has posted an essay, “Truth, Love and Live Action,” over at the Public Discourse website, which finds the organization’s tactics morally troubling, if not worse. Jody Bottum has replied firmly to Tollefsen—whom he otherwise finds much agreement with– with his own column, “The Unloving Lies of Lila Rose?” defending Lila, and Pia di Solenni offers more support for Rose with her post, “Lying for a Good Cause?”

Meanwhile, over at Mercatornet, Carolyn Moynihan, another pro-lifer, has written a sharp piece, “Stung! The Ethics of Entrapment,” in which she warns that, as much as we may like, or be inclined to support these operations, they could-and already have—been used against moral and religious traditionalists, and thus may come back to haunt us.

I have already linked to the New Theological Movement Website, where there are not one but two long posts critiquing Live Action, entitled, “It is a Sin to Lie, Even to Planned Parenthood,” and a follow-up, answering critics, “Lying to Planned Parenthood, or is it Mental Reservation?”

More recently, back at Public Discourse, Professor Christopher Kaczor has written, as a critique of Tollefsen, “In Defense of Live Action.” Pro-life activist Dr. Monica Migliorino Miller has firmly defended the group’s actions, whereas Dr. Germain Grisez and Dr. William May have just as strongly criticized them.

Finally, an interesting discussion has developed between Steve Kellmeyer and Dawn Eden under Steve’s post, “A Rose By Any Other Name.”

27 thoughts on “Finding the High Road

  1. I read the posts but do not understand why such a big deal is being made of Lila Rose’s tactics. By such rationale, it would be a mortal sin for undercover policemen to pretend to be drug dealers or teenagers on the internet or all the other things they have to pretend to be in order to catch criminals. And what about spies? Even the Vatican has employed a number of spies over the years. I think there is a bit too much hair-splitting going on…..

  2. Initial reaction…

    I’m not sure where to stand here. My gut tells me that this is war and some people (our enemies) don’t deserve to be TOLD the truth. That is not to say that they should be told lies to further “good”, but…we are at war and the innocent are dying at incredible rates. If Lila and the gang are wrong in their “deceitful” tactics then well, their wrong. At least they are doing something. And having an impact I might add.

    Would you misrepresent or leave out a portion of the truth to save your child or grandchild, niece or nephew, brother or sister?

  3. I am not an expert or a theologian, by any means. However, I recall Satan being referred to as “The Father of Lies.” If that is the case, we might want to stay as far away from him as we possibly can. Just a thought……..

  4. I’m always amazed at how many Catholics have no problem with police entrapment and stings and with espionage. Is it not a sin to intentionally provide an occasion of sin for others by offering drugs or sex or suborning treason? In my undergraduate years at a Catholic liberal arts college, I was taught that the reason Machiavelli’s work was on the Index (this was back in those ancient times when we had an Index) was his teaching that governmental authority exempted its holders from the moral law. Many Catholics seem now to have accepted this. Then, in a neat trick of ethical mental jiu-jitsu, they reason that if the government isn’t doing its job by using immoral means against the bad guys, they as individuals are entitled to use these means. In the Catholic blogosphere, this reasoning is now used to justify both lying and torture. What next?

  5. In The Old Testament, in the book of Proverbs Chapter 6 verses 16-19 it says the following: “There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haighty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to Evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among Brothers.”

    Yes, abortion is the shedding of Innocent Blood and the Lord hates it. However, He also hates lying and considers it to be an Abomination. While many of us may have been guilty of lying at one time or another -it is always a Sin and should be confessed as such.

  6. I am disappointed to see a big smiling photo of Lila Rose and then chastise her methods to follow. It is strange almost like a scarlet letter situation, with all due respect. True hat she did was public and you certainly have every right to fraternal correction but this photo adds an element of sarcasm or piling on. My 2 cents. Ave Maria.

  7. Was St. Edmund Campion supposed to walk up to the local magistrate and say: “I am a Jesuit priest and I am here to convert you.” NO. He pretended to be a jewel merchant. Why? Because St. Edmund, like Lila Rose, was dealing with unjust laws and criminal behavior, albeit the criminals had (and have) government approval. In a Catholic Church in southern Maryland there are several priests buried under the sacristy floor. They had come in disguise in the 16 and 1700’s to help the Maryland Catholics who under British law were not allowed to practice their faith. Some of the priests are buried under their aliases because no one knew their real names. They had come pretending to be merchants and traders.

    What about the brave souls who work in the underground in Communist countries? You can be sure a lot of role-playing and mental reservation goes on there. What the Live Action people do in order to entrap murderers and child abusers is brave and should be commended. I do not see how any pro-life Catholic person could think otherwise. I think there might be is a bit too much hair-splitting going on in some quarters. Scrupulosity is not a virtue. Even the devil can quote Scripture when it suits his purpose. Pharisaism is not holiness. It never ceases to amaze me what Catholics will find to pick on each other about….

    Dr. John Zmirak has a thoughtful post here: To quote:

    ” When we speak to each other, conveying accurate information back and forth is one legitimate goal, but it is neither exhaustive nor absolute. When a wife asks her husband, “Do you think I look fat?” she isn’t always even asking for a literal answer to her question. What she wants to know is often, “Do you still love me? Am I still attractive?” A puritanical, legalistic answer to such a question is often an act of cruelty, masked by self-righteous “honesty.”

    If we viewed information as a good, one that must be traded fairly like any other, we would see that a question asked by someone with no right to the truth — like a Nazi murderer, or a professional abortionist — is like a demand made at gunpoint by a robber. If someone holding a gun in your face insists you write him a check for your life savings, is it wrong for you to sign the check “Mick E. Mouse”? He has no right to your money, so you’ve no business signing it over to him. There is no legitimate expectation of honesty in that context, so telling the truth in fact is a violation of justice on your part. A sin. If silence isn’t an option, you have an active duty to confuse, mislead, or say something untrue. It doesn’t amount to lying, any more than killing a robber in self-defense amounts to murder. Such literalism is as much, and the same kind, of heresy as pacifism.

    So police officers interrogating criminals, spies infiltrating conspiracies to fly airplanes into skyscrapers, soldiers using deception (rather than torture — which Aquinas, alas, allowed) need not emulate the subtlety of the Serpent in the Garden in order to deny the truth to those who don’t deserve it. We don’t need to pervert our image of God such that we believe He is pleased at our Pharisaical observance of the law, even when it results in the death of the innocent. To picture God that way really is a lie, of the kind that kills the soul.”

  8. Interesting critique. I will have to study more to offer a complete opinion, but I wonder if we would say the same to an undercover police officer who must “lie” in order to maintain his cover and bring criminals to justice.

  9. It seems that many people consider it to be OK to “Lie” for a “Worthy Cause.” Take warning and be careful….for that can lead to a very slippery slope. Many who start out “Lying” for that “Good Cause,” soon find it very easy to “Lie” for any cause. Lying can soon turn into a habit that is as hard to break as any addiction to drugs or alcohol. Many people lie so much, that they eventually can’t tell the difference between them anymore.

  10. I have two scenarios that I would like someone to clarify:

    1. During WWII, John Paul II was involved in 2 deceptive careers: He founded an underground theater, which he later remarked about later saying: “it was essential to keep these theatrical get-togethers secret; otherwise we risked serious punishment from the occupying forces, even deportation to the concentration camps” (Gift and Mystery). Secondly, he was a seminarian in the “underground” seminary in Krakow.

    2. St. Maximillian Mary Kolbe, while at Auschwitz celebrated Mass covertly, with both smuggled bread and wine and bread that was given to him in his cell by the guards. He also secretly heard confessions.

    In these two scenarios, we have two holy men who clearly deceived the Nazis. John Paul II deceived them in two instances both for his underground theater as well as in the case of being a seminarian. St. Maximillian Kolbe deceived the Nazis by secretly celebrating Mass and hearing confessions (and condoning the smuggling of bread and wine, which means he both thought it was OK to steal and lie in order to celebrate Mass).

    Consequently, I am confused, what is true?

    1. Is all lying or deception evil? (in other words, is it sinful to morally withhold the truth from someone in all cases, even in the case of the Nazis?)
    2. Did John Paul II and St. Maximillian Kolbe lie in those instances?

    What happened when the Nazis questioned John Paul II and Maximillian Koble in those two instances? Did they lie to keep cover? Did John Paul II tell the Nazi night police that he was going to seminary? Did Maximillian Kolbe tell the Nazi guards that he was hearing someone’s confession or celebrating Mass?

    Can someone answer these questions for me?

  11. Father,

    With the deepest respect, I am confused by the criticism. Without this operation, no one would have learned the truth. Dr. Peter Kreeft writes a great article defending her. Also, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate interviewed Lila on their Air Maria channel and called her a “pro-life activist extraordinaire”. The interview also hailed her undercover activities.See below. Warning: This Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate interview includes a graphic clip which shows aborted babies (4:29 to 5:11). Its a good interview though.

    To me, Dawn Eden (even though I like her work and respect her) is becoming increasingly “preachy”. She seems to be making her name by nitpicking the good work of solid Catholics (i.e. West and Rose), and ignoring the major issues facing the Church and the world.

    Here is a link to the Peter Kreeft article and also the Air Maria interview. Pax!

  12. I suppose that everyone who is casting stones at Lila, has never told a small untruth about a present, suprise party, the tooth fairy or Santa Claus?

    Glad to know that we have some perfectly truthful Catholics around, who can cast stones from their computers against another Catholic who is actually DOING something.

  13. @Andrew: You had me right up until you defended Christopher West. West is a hack that is doing nothing to further morality on even a minimal level. At least Rose is trying to put an atrocity. West is simply trying to limit the number of births and find some way to justify immodest dress and impurity….but I digress. Good points otherwise.

  14. The more I think on this I am truely edified by the honesty of the bloggers who want truthfulness at all times. Think of it, they must itemize their charitable donations to the penny, because we wouldn’t want to lie to the government now and underpay our taxes. All the time they must spend collecting receipts for business travel in order to itemize to the penny…Oh and of course, they could never have acted in a play or a movie because acting in and of itself is practicing the art of deceit…

  15. The reason I posted the above comments is that personally I find it far more offensive to hide and lie about how much you should pay in taxes or overestimate business travel expenses (thereby stealing from your corporation); than to attempt to expose the criminal behaviour of PP. Their is no justification for the lying in the former other than greed and yet almost all of us have done it to some degree or another. For the latter the intent was not to get the innocent in trouble but to protect the innocent from danger.

  16. This is why ethics is so difficult. Both sides make VERY valid points. This is why, imho, it becomes so dangerous when we try to look at things in black and white. Only God, the Blessed Mother (and perhaps angels and heavenly saints?) can see with such clarity on all of these issues. We mere mortals, I fear, simply cannot. Yet, this doesn’t mean that I agree with moral relativism. I do not. And, clearly there are church teachings that leave no ambiguity. But there is much in life that just isn’t so clear.

    Yes, we are to never lie. We are told that. And yet, what is a lie? Is it just an overt statement? Or is it a deception of any type? If so, then as Holly mentions, not being anal on our taxes could be a form of deception … even if it’s true laziness. If so, then our Late Pope JPII, St. Maximillian Kolbe, and many saints are guilty of deception … excuse me, mental reservation. eh-hem. The fact is that these truths are NOT self-evident, I don’t think. They are murky. Therefore, we must not judge one another for coming to different conclusions. Satan will SURELY gloat if we fall into that trap.

    I feel much hope (something with which I’ve struggled lately) in just reading through these dialogues. Why? Because I see people who are truly seeking Christ and His truths. Perhaps much of what Christ asks of us is that seeking, not in always finding the perfect answer. Just getting up each day humbly hungry for His truth is I think the sign that Christ’s doing His work within. Praise God.

  17. There is a big difference between withholding information from a tyrannical government and setting up a sting which is designed to lead someone else into sin and law-breaking. As for the comment “Without this (i.e. Lila Rose’s) operation, no one would have learned the truth”, what “truth” are we talking about? A prolife activist tricked a PP staffer into apparent law-breaking and PP immediately fired the staffer. There is no evidence of any other law-breaking other than that arranged by the prolife sting. PP ends up looking law-abiding and good, the staffer ends up looking stupid, and the prolife movement ends up looking deceitful. On top of that, you now have prolife Catholics openly saying that it is justified to lie for the cause, which puts PP in the position of being able to ask in public debate – “How can you believe anything these people say?” Consequentialism is not only immoral and contrary to Church teaching, it fails even on its own terms.

  18. Satan is the author of lies and deception.

    Right now hundreds of Christians and Catholics are hung up about whether or not a certain thing is deceptive or lying.

    Many of these same people are spending a lot of time discussing this.

    Satan is doing his job by deceiving us and lying to us. He wants us to have this lengthy discussion, for it distracts us from doing something good and it brings out the worst in us (many uncharitable sentiments directed towards commentators and Lila Rose).

    I suggest three things:



    Don’t Worry.

    The moment we let down our guard, Satan comes in and distracts us.

    Why don’t we pray for Lila Rose?

    Why don’t we ask the Holy Spirit for guidance?

    And above all, why don’t we pray for the unborn?

    As a side note (I really think THIS is the issue at hand):

    Which is more evil what the Nazis did or what Planned Parenthood does every day?

  19. @Philip, it is not that all deception is evil. Lying is saying something that one believes is false with the intention of deceiving. Attending an underground seminary or surreptitiously celebrating Mass is not lying in and of itself (although one can certainly lie about it).

    I am sorely disappointed in Dr. Kreeft’s article; he does not even attempt to engage the Church’s teaching on the topic of lying but rather appeals to the moral sensibilities of the masses. Can we depend upon the moral judgment of the masses? What do they think, for example, of abortion when the mother’s life is in danger?

  20. @Holly Opalenik,

    Think of it, they must itemize their charitable donations to the penny, because we wouldn’t want to lie to the government now and underpay our taxes. All the time they must spend collecting receipts for business travel in order to itemize to the penny

    I don’t think that assuming the worst of one’s opponents in debate is particularly charitable. Of course we should all itemize our charitable donations and business expenses the best we can. Are you suggesting that those who upholding the traditional Catholic teaching on lying are lying on their tax returns?

    Oh and of course, they could never have acted in a play or a movie because acting in and of itself is practicing the art of deceit

    Acting is not deceit because the audience understands that it is being entertained — it does not believe that the “actors” are telling the truth.

  21. Father Angelo, who is away right now, is so good at reminding us all that ‘in all things, charity’. We have to remember that on a blog such as this, ALL of us are seeking Christ, holiness and truth.

    This includes Christoper West and Lila Rose and I don’t think Father Angelo, author of the blog, has ever questioned their good intentions. So, we cannot be so quick to hang them. I don’t assume that anyone who is questioning their tactics is questioning their intent.

    There is much gray area in all of this. But, I don’t think that the gray (at least for me) comes from questioning all actions that are ‘quasi’. For instance, acting as dcs points out, is assumed from the get-go to be a portrayal of people whom they are not! We all KNOW that the people doing the acting are NOT the people they are portraying … and we know if the movie/play is a piece of fiction or not. To me that is totally different. The gray also doesn’t come in when we’re performing morally acceptable acts in ‘hiding’. This would include priests who offer Mass and other Sacraments ‘underground’. We have a higher moral duty and the offering of the Mass isn’t a sin! The gray comes when we’re forced to make questionable choices, usually in hopes to protect other people, or in trying to catch other people in illegal acts. This gets gray to me. An undercover cop is being deceitful … he is lying to catch the drug lord, or whatever. The person hiding a Jew and is confronted by a Nazi soldier is trying to come up with some sort of ‘lie’ in order to protect the people. Lila Rose is lying to the PP workers to prove to the public that these people would clearly perform illegal acts in order to perform abortions!

    This is where the question comes in. When you’re dealing with people who clearly have no conscience, how do you reason with them? I’m reminded that it would be like giving pearls to swine. They lack the moral code to accept an honorable discussion on such issues. A cop, for instance, cannot have a heart-to-heart conversation with the drug lord about how they are hurting innocent people, causing addictions that lead to prostitution and other illegal activities, etc. The drug lord would look at the cop like he had 4 heads, laugh and then blow his brains out, no doubt. The same would have been true during the Nazi Holocaust, with the Jihad, and the same is true with the PP employees. This is the gray matter to me! yes, lying is black and white … but dealing with people who are not thinking rationally anymore (from a moral base) becomes impossible. What does one do to keep order and to protect innocent lives???

  22. I have a problem condemning Lila Rose and LiveAction. These people are out there doing what most of us don’t have the guts to do: uncovering the heinous acts of PP – and not just the abortions, but the mistreatment of women. And they are using a tactic used by police and undercover agents – deception on those performing evil deeds.

    Jesus was accused of breaking the commandment by ‘working on the sabbath’ many times – healings, picking grains of wheat, etc. Was he a sinner? – no, he was sinless. In Luke chapters 13 and 14 Jesus cures a crippled woman and a man with dropsy on the sabbath. He rebukes them: “Hypocrites!…” and “…Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?”

    I have to wonder who is really causing the scandal.

  23. @Mary,

    I think one also has to remember that Jesus said that “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:8). So the fact that something is permitted for Him does not mean that it is permitted for all; moreover, since as God He made the Sabbath, He has full authority to dispense from it. Live Action has no such authority … and I don’t think the comparison of Live Action to Our Lord is appropriate anyway. It is true that Live Action is doing things that others are not doing, and that is laudable. However, it would be better if they did not use lies in pursuit of their goals. The fact that the same tactics might be employed by police and other agents of the State is quite beside the point. First of all, they are forbidden to lie just as we are; second, they have an authority that private citizens do not.

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