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Scott P. Richert

Justified Deception or Lying? The Case of Live Action v. Planned Parenthood

By February 21, 2011

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In early February, a pro-life group called Live Action released a video that, it is no exaggeration to say, seems to have changed the national political landscape. Featuring a Live Action member pretending to be a pimp, the video shows an employee at a Planned Parenthood center answering his requests for advice on how to obtain abortions and STD testing for his underaged prostitutes, some of whom, he implied, might also be illegal aliens.

The video, Time Healthland reported, was part of a Live Action sting operation that targeted 12 Planned Parenthood clinics in six states. (UPDATE: See the end of the post for a statement from Live Action media director David Schmidt, contradicting the Time Healthland report.) While the national headquarters of Planned Parenthood contacted the FBI to report the possibility of a prostitution ring trafficking in underaged girls, it didn't matter; that single video (one of seven that has been released) was enough. In the wake of the public uproar, Planned Parenthood fired the employee in the video, and the U.S. House of Representatives voted last week along party lines to remove funding for Planned Parenthood from the federal budget.

A great victory for the pro-life cause, right? Perhaps, though it will probably be a short-lived one, since the U.S. Senate is not likely to go along with the House, and thus the funding may be reinstated.

Still, there's the moral victory, right? Well, that depends, it seems, on what we mean by "moral."

Late last week, internecine battles broke out on the Catholic web between those Catholics who argue not only that Live Action's action has had a salutary effect (something few pro-life Catholics would deny) but that the tactics employed by the group's members are, at worst, "venial sins" and, at best, a model for others to emulate.

Those tactics, in a nutshell, involved pretending to be someone they were not, in the hope of catching Planned Parenthood employees on video giving aid and comfort to those engaged in illegal activities.

The substance of the debate boiled down to three questions:

  • Is lying ever justified?
  • Is all deception lying?
  • Do the actions of Live Action members fall into the category of lying or merely of deception, and, if the latter, was their deception justified?

Let me be frank: I did not report on Live Action's release of the video in early February because while I a) did not believe that the group members' tactics were morally justified, I b) wasn't overly concerned about their actions, either. Planned Parenthood has been, and continues to be, responsible for at least the plurality of the abortions that have taken place in the United States since 1973, and the sooner they go out of the abortion business, the better, as far as I'm concerned.

But over the weekend, when I saw the number of good Catholics—including people I know personally, and not just through their writing and reputation—who lauded the actions of Lila Rose (the head of Live Action), I decided that I needed to say something.

All of the attempts to claim that affirming an untruth—"I am a pimp, and I may want to obtain abortions for my underaged prostitutes, who may also be illegal immigrants"—is not lying but a justifiable act of deception fell flat. (You can see two of the best, offered by personal friends of mine, here and here.) They hinge, ultimately, on a principle of Catholic moral theology that can be found at the end of paragraph 2489 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

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

From that, those who defend the actions of Lila Rose conclude that it is justifiable deception to make a positive affirmation of an untruth to someone who does not have a right to know the truth. (Let me clear: Each of those who defends the actions of Lila Rose offers other arguments as well, but this is, I believe, the strongest one.)

There are two problems here. The first problem should be obvious: How can we get from "No one is bound to reveal the truth"—that is, you can conceal a truth from someone, if he has no right to know it—to the claim that you can openly deceive—that is, make knowingly false statements—to such a person?

The simple answer is: We can't. And thus the absolute prohibition on lying, stated elsewhere in the Catechism, comes into play:

"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" [paragraph 2482].
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 [paragraph 2483].
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 [paragraph 2485].

Now some of those who wish to say that propagating falsehoods to those who have no right to know the truth is justified deception and not lying claim that Lila Rose's actions cannot be considered lying because she did not lead anyone into error. The unstated (and sometimes even stated) assumption is that the Planned Parenthood employee supported illegal activities before she was given the opportunity to do so.

And that may be true. Or it may not. But in the end, it doesn't actually matter from the standpoint of Catholic moral theology.

The fact that an alcoholic voluntarily drinks does not remove my culpability if I decide to give him the opportunity to drink by offering him a drink. In other words, I can lead someone into error in a particular instance even if that person habitually engages in the same error without my prompting. Why? Because every moral decision is a new moral act. That's what it means to have free will.

The second problem with building an argument for justified deception on the principle that "No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it" is that the principle refers to a very specific situation—namely, the sin of detraction and the causing of scandal. Detraction, as paragraph 2477 of the Catechism notes, is when someone, "without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them."

Paragraphs 2488 and 2489, which culminate in the principle that "No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it," are very clearly a discussion of detraction. They use the traditional language found in such discussions, and they offer a single citation—to passages in Sirach and Proverbs that refer to revealing "secrets" to others—that are classic passages used in discussions of detraction.

Here are the two paragraphs in full:

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.
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.

Seen in context, rather than ripped out of it, "No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it" clearly cannot support the actions taken by Lila Rose and her comrades. What is under discussion in paragraphs 2488 and 2489 is whether I have a right to reveal another person's sins to a third person who does not have a right to that particular truth.

To take a concrete example, if I have a coworker who I know is an adulterer, and someone unaffected in any way by his adultery comes to me and asks, "Is it true that John is an adulterer?" I am not bound to reveal the truth to that person. Indeed, in order to avoid detraction—which, remember, is "disclos[ing] another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them"—I cannot reveal the truth to the third party.

But here's where things get even more interesting: According to Catholic moral theology on detraction, I have a number of options. I can remain silent when asked the question; I can change the topic; I can excuse myself from the conversation. What I cannot do, under any circumstances, however, is to lie and say, "John is certainly not an adulterer."

If, in order to avoid detraction by revealing the truth to someone who has no right to know it, we are not allowed to affirm an untruth, how can what Lila Rose and her colleagues did possibly be justified by that same principle?

There is much more that could be said, but most of it already has been said. If you would like to read a much more detailed attempt to respond to all of the arguments made by those who regard Lila Rose's actions as morally justified, I highly recommend Mark Shea's "Last Comments on Lying for Jesus" and his "Faustian Bargians," both of which can be found at the website of the National Catholic Register (one of the finalists for Best Catholic Newspaper in the 2011 About.com Catholicism Readers' Choice Awards.)

UPDATE: After I first published this post, I was contacted by Live Action media director David Schmidt, who said that the statement that Live Action "targeted 12 Planned Parenthood clinics in six states" was incorrect. When I asked Mr. Schmidt for details, he replied:

Time magazine reported incorrect information. Planned Parenthood alleged that Live Action visited 12 clinics in 6 states. It has never been established as fact by any independent reporting yet various media outlets reported it as fact.
Planned Parenthood for example in their letter to the DOJ (which media accounts are based on) included locations that Live Action has not been to and did not include locations that Live Action had been to. In short, Planned Parenthood’s report had errors and media outlets did not work to independently confirm the truth of these claims. I can give you one example, Live Action released a video from the Bronx, NY (http://liveaction.org/blog/bronx-planned-parenthood/) that was not included in Planned Parenthood’s count. I have now given a factual reason to not rely on Planned Parenthood’s count. I can tell you that 12 clinics in 6 states is incorrect and we will be releasing full information about our investigation as we are able to organize and process it.
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February 21, 2011 at 6:39 pm
(1) Kirt Higdon says:

I’m very much in agreement with your moral reasoning on this, especially with respect to leading another into sin. On a couple of side notes, I doubt if the lopsided vote in the House to defund PP was prompted by this scam; indeed, I doubt if a single vote was changed because of it. And the Senate cannot overrule the House and appropriate money for something which the House has refused to appropriate money for. The only danger on this one is that the House may change its vote.

February 21, 2011 at 6:58 pm
(2) Scott P. Richert says:

I’m glad we find ourselves on the same side, Kirt.

On this: “And the Senate cannot overrule the House and appropriate money for something which the House has refused to appropriate money for. The only danger on this one is that the House may change its vote.”

I should have been more clear. When I wrote “the U.S. Senate is not likely to go along with the House, and thus the funding may be reinstated,” that was simply shorthand for the entire legislative reconciliation process, which is where I suspect that the House will cave and agree to reinstate funding.

February 22, 2011 at 8:50 am
(3) Darrel says:

As a long time prolifer who operates in front of clinics,I too have followed the activities of Lila Rose and LIve Action. A short time ago I had the same questions as you did. I feel that for a mistatement to be a lie it must be done to deceive. It seems to me Live Action is engaging in undercover acting by reenacting possible real life scenarios with no intent to deceive. They seek to capture the clinic response as undercover investigative reporters do. In the deformed climate of abortion sometimes people don’t tell the truth. And clinic people know this. Broad mental reservation comes into play in which circumstances modify literal words spoken. Lying is always intrinscically evil and to justify it goes into situation ethics. This question has been posed to some theologians who say she is acting and not lying

February 22, 2011 at 9:03 am
(4) Scott P. Richert says:

“Broad mental reservation comes into play in which circumstances modify literal words spoken.”

Mental reservation involves leaving out a pertinent piece of information when asked a question. The absence of that piece of information may lead the person asking the question to the wrong conclusion.

Creating a situation in which you intend to go in and affirm untruth—”I am a pimp, and this is my underaged prostitute, who may also be an illegal immigrant”—cannot fall under mental reservation, no matter how broadly defined.

Thanks for the comment, Darrel.

February 23, 2011 at 8:19 pm
(5) Kyle says:

“It seems to me Live Action is engaging in undercover acting by reenacting possible real life scenarios with no intent to deceive.

You’re opening up a very ugly can of worms, I think.

Saying “I’m a pimp with underaged illegal immigrant prostitutes who need abortions” to someone in an attempt to make them say morally questionable things when you’re no such thing is not an attempt to deceive? Then what would be?

Would a handsome young man who lets on to certain priests said to have certain “wants” that he is “available” when he in fact has a microphone wired into his clothes be deceiving? Or would that be a legit sting too?

I find what these people are doing to be morally reprehensible. I wonder what would have happened if the evidence provided was convincing enough that the cops who were contacted had arrested the “pimps”?


February 22, 2011 at 9:34 am
(6) lockdeltz says:

It’s lying and deceitful. Only bimbos like the employees in Live Action would dress up as pimps and prostitutes to smear planned parenthood. You don’t even need to be religious to see this as immoral. When people defend Lila’s actions, there is something wrong with them.

And you said it best Scott:

“Those tactics, in a nutshell, involved pretending to be someone they were not, in the hope of catching Planned Parenthood employees on video giving aid and comfort to those engaged in illegal activities.”

I find that despicable, immoral, and wrong.

February 22, 2011 at 11:24 am
(7) Scott P. Richert says:

“lockdeltz,” this is a very divisive issue, but our response needs to be one of charity toward those on the other side. Using divisive language against those who may be mistaken but still have good intentions is not helpful at all. Consider this a warning; future comments will be edited or removed if they are of a similar tone.

February 22, 2011 at 10:49 am
(8) Kirt Higdon says:

You’re right that Scott said it best and he did not call the Live Action people bimbos which is a gratuitous insult. I’ll admit that a few years ago, I was where the LA people are now and would have applauded their stunt. My younger brother schooled me on this and I am grateful to him. A little fraternal counselling is called for, not insults.

February 22, 2011 at 11:21 am
(9) Scott P. Richert says:

Thanks, Kirt, for jumping in there. I was finishing up today’s newsletter and hadn’t had a chance to reply to “lockdeltz,” but you’re absolutely right. The most painful part of this debate for me has been to see so many good people coming down on the opposite side of an issue that, it seems to me, is fairly clear-cut.

But that gives us no excuse to dismiss the other side as “bimbos” and “despicable.”

February 22, 2011 at 12:25 pm
(10) diane bialecki says:

Planned parenthood has been lying to their clients since they started doing abortions. They lie and deceive and withold so they can contiue to slaughter innocent babies. The method used by Lila Rose to catch them in their deadly deception is used in real life for example FBI agents can act as decoys to capture criminals. rapists and burglars are sometimes caught by setting them up. And why do you say that the funding decision will just be overturned anyway-is that any reason not to act to stop abortion? While babies are being murdered in Planned parenthood killing centers every day someone found a way to help save young women from having an abortion that they will regret the rest of their life. Was it a sin to lie to obtain a good result? It is a greater sin to stand by and do nothing while evil occurs. I applaud this major turning point in stopping abortion that we have been praying for since 1973.

February 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm
(11) Scott P. Richert says:

“Planned parenthood has been lying to their clients since they started doing abortions. They lie and deceive and withold so they can contiue to slaughter innocent babies.”

Yes. Does the fact that they lie give you or me license to lie? If my neighbor drinks too much and beats his wife, may I do the same?

February 22, 2011 at 1:51 pm
(12) Scott P. Richert says:

“The method used by Lila Rose to catch them in their deadly deception is used in real life for example FBI agents can act as decoys to capture criminals. rapists and burglars are sometimes caught by setting them up.”

Not quite. Over the course of two years, I interviewed on six different occasions the FBI informant whose undercover work resulted in the prosecution of Derrick Shareef and Hassan Abujihaad. (Google my name and either of those names to get a little background on their stories.)

One thing that the informant stressed over and over again was the need to walk a very fine line between allowing those under suspicion to take actions that would lead to their indictment and inciting them to do so. If, at any time, his FBI handlers had thought that he stepped over the line from allowing to incitement, he would have been pulled from the case immediately.

Incitement included representing himself to those under suspicion as something he was not. The informant is a Muslim convert; he represented himself as such. Through questions about the suspects’ beliefs, he left them with the impression that he was a radical, but he never suggested that he actually was.

Nothing he did came close to what Lila Rose and her partner, James O’Keefe, did.

Still, in the end, his testimony was accepted in the Derrick Shareef case but thrown out in the Hassan Abujihaad case, because the judge believed that he had crossed the line into incitement and thus had engaged in entrapment. (Thankfully, Abujihaad was convicted on other testimony.)

So many of the claims that O’Keefe and Rose “only did what undercover officers do” seemed based on television dramas about undercover work, and not on actual cases.

In real life, undercover work is much more mundane. And it adheres to very strict limits, precisely because the state will not obtain a conviction—and perhaps may not even get a case to trial—if its agents act in the way that O’Keefe and Rose did.

February 22, 2011 at 6:25 pm
(13) Kevin Aldrich says:

Scott, I think it is possible you have evaded an issue here.

Law enforcement uses deception. Is it relevant to point out that Live Action’s deception can’t stand up to FBI standards?

The aim of Live Action was not to prove to a federal court that Planned Parenthood was engaging in reprehensible behavior, but to convince the court of public opinion. That standard is much looser.

The question I haven’t noticed anyone addressing is why can the FBI deceive but Live Action can’t?

February 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm
(14) Scott P. Richert says:

“And why do you say that the funding decision will just be overturned anyway-is that any reason not to act to stop abortion?”

I did not say “the funding decision will just be overturned anyway”; I said that “the U.S. Senate is not likely to go along with the House, and thus the funding may be reinstated.” And I stand by that analysis.

Does that mean that I want that to be the outcome? Of course not. I hope that Planned Parenthood never receives another penny of taxpayer funds. But there is a difference between what I hope, and what is likely to happen. And I was writing about the latter, because my hopes and dreams are not the measure of political reality.

As for the second part—”is that any reason not to act to stop abortion?”—the answer, of course, is no. But where have I suggested that we should not act to stop abortion?

February 22, 2011 at 2:03 pm
(15) Scott P. Richert says:

“Was it a sin to lie to obtain a good result? It is a greater sin to stand by and do nothing while evil occurs.”

First, who is standing by and doing nothing while evil occurs? Are you saying that anyone who did not do as Lila Rose did is guilty of that “greater sin”?

Second, you’ll search long and hard in Catholic moral theology for any justification for claiming that you can commit a lesser sin in order to avoid a greater one. It doesn’t work that way. We are called to avoid sin, period.

What you are suggesting is precisely what those who dissent from the Church’s teaching on artificial birth control suggest. What is worse—avoiding conception or aborting a child? Since most people would answer the latter, they argue, you’re justified in using the Pill.

But, again, there is no warrant for that in the entire history of Catholic moral theology. Some sins are worse than others, but all sins are sins.

Finally, you write, “I applaud this major turning point in stopping abortion that we have been praying for since 1973.” Is it really a major turning point? What do you base that on? And if, as you suggested earlier, everyone has been “stand[ing] by and do[ing] nothing” until Lila Rose came along, what do you call your prayers, or, to take a broader view, the very laudable activities of 40 Days for Life, which engages in prayer, fasting, and vigils outside of abortion clinics every Lent?

February 22, 2011 at 1:37 pm
(16) Sheila says:

It is simply making transparant what P/P is doing to young girls. Just as we are obliged to infiltrate (CIA)(FBI)(Undercover Police) illegal activity such as terrorists, we are also obliged to help the public become aware of the grave harm to the young girls.
Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro had to become an undercover priest and even martyrdom in service of God and His children. Was he lying?

February 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm
(17) Scott P. Richert says:

Sheila, see my response (above) to Diane regarding undercover work. The only thing I would add to it is that a) there’s nothing in Catholic moral theology that says that the state is “obliged to infiltrate” criminal organizations (and, indeed, Catholics who take part in such state-sponsored activities are not automatically absolved of any sins, including lying, that they may commit while doing so); and b) Lila Rose and Live Action do not represent the state, an important point that has been largely lost in this discussion.

As for Padre Pro, please direct me to a recounting of a single incident in his life in which he represented himself as something which he was not in the hopes of getting someone else to make statements in favor of breaking the law. That would be the parallel to this situation.

February 23, 2011 at 4:12 pm
(18) Sheila says:

I am still trying to understand this moral question. On the one hand, I see it as a legal (LiveAction) undercover operation that is set up to expose and unltimately to protect. On the other, I could see it as an opportunity for the employers of P/P to sin. However, continually I come back to the point that P/P members are grossly harming young people and those employees let their guard down and exposed themselves. They are sinning against humanity and LiveAction is exposing them. It doesn’t seem that LiveAction is causing sin, they are exposing it.
I am happy for this discussion.

February 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm
(19) Darrel says:

Scott-I certainly accept your definition of broad mental reservation. Perhaps my noting it here was inappropriate. I too have studied moral thrology and know that broad mental reservation can only be used when the hearer has no right to the truth. There is strict mental reservation which is a downright lie. However I still feel Live Action did not intend to deceive at least in the sense of trying to falsely obtain services. They wanted merely to record a response on film of a possible situation. An interesting note about broad mental reservation. A man who is guilty (and knows it) may licitly plead not guility in a court of law,according to theology I have read. Those of us who have been pro-lifers for a long time have seen various tactics over the years which offer promise-such as sitins. Maybe we sometimes embrace them too readily. I feel we must be loving and prudent in social action. I do admire you for your courage in bringing up this issue.

February 22, 2011 at 2:13 pm
(20) Scott P. Richert says:

“However I still feel Live Action did not intend to deceive at least in the sense of trying to falsely obtain services.”

If you mean that they did not intend to have abortions, that is correct. But that isn’t the deception under question.

Thanks for your kind words. This piece and these comments have not been easy to write, because I know that everyone involved in this debate wants the same thing—the ending of abortion—and that no one wants to achieve that by immoral means. But that’s why it’s necessary for good people on both sides to continue this debate until we reach clarity.

February 22, 2011 at 2:03 pm
(21) irishbutterfly says:

I think that though Diane worded her comment more strongly than I would have, she does ask a valid question: Are all “sting operations” then immoral, given that they involve a level of deception?
Are undercover cops/FBI/CIA who bust prostitution, drug, child-trafficking, and mafia rings using some level of deception acting immorally?
In order to catch someone “in the act” of a crime, law enforcement officials and investigative reporters frequently resort to sting operations. If not for these tactics, many hidden crimes would continue.
But by the same token, how do you know that the person you are trying to catch “in the act” would have committed that crime if you hadn’t provided the opportunity?
Is there a line, or are all “sting” operations immoral?

February 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm
(22) Scott P. Richert says:

“irishbutterfly,” I’ve attempted to address most of your questions in a response to Diane, which you may not have seen before writing your comment. If it doesn’t address all of your points, let me know, and I’ll try to answer the remaining ones.

I would note two things: 1) not all deception is lying, which my original post makes clear; and 2) sting operations can be carried out by legitimate law enforcement personnel in ways that manage to stay on the right side of the moral issue (which is what the example that I offered Diane was meant to illustrate). Indeed, if they don’t, they are likely to run into legal problems—evidence being thrown out of court.

Finally, your penultimate question is very important: “how do you know that the person you are trying to catch ‘in the act’ would have committed that crime if you hadn’t provided the opportunity?”

From the standpoint of Catholic moral theology, the answer is clear: You cannot know that. And that cannot be stressed enough. Even the most diehard criminal, let alone a receptionist at Planned Parenthood, has free will, which means that every moral situation he finds himself in is a new opportunity to choose right or to choose wrong.

If we place him in a situation in which he can choose wrong, even if it’s a wrong he has chosen many times in the past, we create an occasion of sin for him. And to do so is contrary to love of neighbor.

February 22, 2011 at 4:50 pm
(23) lockdeltz says:

Scott I was really angry when I saw this on Foxnews, so excuse for my choice of words, I was just venting frustration. I can’t believe Foxnews would promote this type of stuff. As for name-calling that happens all the time on the internet, whether be directly or indirectly.

February 22, 2011 at 10:13 pm
(24) Scott P. Richert says:

Understood, “lockdeltz.” As for the name-calling, however, we try to stay above that here, no matter what happens elsewhere on the Internet.

February 22, 2011 at 8:24 pm
(25) USMC18 says:

Dear Scott: Thank you for conducting this blog. I have learned a lot from your comments, and especially your references to the Catechism. God bless you.

February 22, 2011 at 10:12 pm
(26) Scott P. Richert says:

Thank you for your kind words, “USMC18.”

February 23, 2011 at 6:53 am
(27) Kirt Higdon says:

Not answering for Scott, but the ambiguity here is in the term “employ deception”. It’s one thing by silence or questioning to appear to be a sympathetic listener and thus get a none too bright terrorist to open up to you and divulge his plans. It’s quite another to claim that you represent Al Qaeda and promise to provide some loud mouth with weapons and a plan and even provide the (hopefully unusuable) weapons.

It’s one thing to make an appointment with an abortion clinic and use your time there to counsel by questioning the staffers and perhaps discreetly pass out some pro-life literature to other clients. It’s quite another to claim to be a pimp arranging abortions for underage prostitutes and soliciting the cooperation of the clinic staff. It’s all the difference between urging good and later reporting evil observed or urging evil (providing an occasion of sin) and then reporting it.

February 23, 2011 at 7:11 am
(28) Shane says:

As a law enforcement officer who has been involved in undercover drug operations, as well as an interviewer attempting to obtain confessions from child molesters and murderers, I find it absurd to say you can not lie to protect the innocent, and make the world a better place. So basically when those involved in the underground railroad to free slaves lied to do so, or even much earlier in Nazi Germany to save Jewish people- they were immoral?? The truth of the matter is that without these videos (and there were more than one) the truth would never have been exposed, and we would be no closer to exposing the nefarious intentions of these “clinics”. I guess we should just hope the bad guys have a change of heart at some point, and confess all their crimes instead of catching them in ways legally approved of by multiple judicial bodies including the United States Supreme Court.

February 23, 2011 at 10:05 am
(29) Darrel says:

I realize we have been discussing morality rather than legaiity. However a legal case regarding a sting operation has been cited. Live Action is represented by St. Thomas More Society of Chicago-a pro life society. One of their attorneys recemtly gave an interivew to the National Review in which he was quoted as saying Live Action videos were carefully planned and researched and found to be in strict accordance with applicable laws. Legality does not always equal morality e.g. legalized abortion. But in a democratic society like ours in which our courts protect rights of the accused and forbid torture I think there is some presumption of right here.

February 23, 2011 at 11:24 am
(30) Kirt Higdon says:

Presume something is morally right because the US court system says it’s legal? Not me. These are the people that gave us Roe v. Wade and are now giving us so-called gay marriage. They explicitly admit lying to deceive the accused and yes permit torture if done in the name of national security. They wink at perjured testimony by police (“testilying as the LAPD merrily calls it) and conspicuously fail to protect the rights of the accused. I’ll take my moral guidance from the magesterium of the Church, thank you, not from the Supremes.

February 23, 2011 at 11:46 am
(31) Michele says:

On the day I read this very cogent and well- argued opinion piece, I also read about the Saint of the Day on an AP I have for my iPad. There I was reminded of the numerous Jesuits, among other priests, who travelled to, or returned to, England, in various disguises, engaging in extensive use of lies and subterfuge, so that they could minister to the faithful underground in the England of Elizabeth I. These individuals were nearly all eventually discovered, tortured and executed. They are now honored as martyrs and, in many cases, saints. How do they differ from Lila Rose and cohorts? Must they be martyred to be forgiven for their deceptions? While I find the logic of the argument presented here flawless, and the presentation of Catholic moral theology faultless, I have to wonder if there isn’t something more needed–heart, perhaps?

February 23, 2011 at 11:58 am
(32) Scott P. Richert says:

“To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error.” Michele, please provide a single story of any of the martyred Jesuits who used their disguise to attempt to lead someone into error. James O’Keefe and Lila Rose used their disguise to attempt to get Planned Parenthood employees to make statements that supported the violation of the law. These are different situations. The Jesuits led the charge in developing the idea and practice of “mental reservation” precisely because they understood the immorality of lying.

February 23, 2011 at 12:01 pm
(33) Scott P. Richert says:

As for this: “I have to wonder if there isn’t something more needed–heart, perhaps?” That’s both a low blow, and an inaccurate understanding of Catholic moral theology. And if you’re saying that the martyred Jesuits embraced the dictates of their heart and violated the Catholic teaching on lying, it also does them an injustice.

February 23, 2011 at 2:57 pm
(34) Darrel says:

Kirt-I need to clarify a bit here. As a man of faith I do accept the authority of the magisterium and strive to follow it. However if you study moral theology you learn about “reflex” principles. One of which is “in doubt the possessor is to be favored”-in this case lawful authority.This only relates to cases of doubt. I was speaking only of presumption of right.We know there are unjust laws such as segregation,law permitting abortion and gay marriage. Ans sometimes law enforcement abuses discretion. Supreme Court does not replace magisterium.

February 23, 2011 at 7:33 pm
(35) Kirt Higdon says:

Darrel, in the moral theology courses I’ve taken (long ago I minored in theology in college) I was never told of “reflex” principles, including the one you mention. Even so, I think you are misapplying it. If I see a man in a car starting the engine, yes I favor the possessor; I assume he has a right to the car, not that he is stealing it. I don’t assume he is a good driver. If I hear of a man convicted in court and sentenced to prison, absent further information, I assume the court had the authority. Knowing the US judicial system, I don’t assume that the conviction and sentence were morally just. If you would so assume, you have way more faith in our rulers and indeed in our society with its culture of death than I do.

February 23, 2011 at 11:44 pm
(36) Tom Qualey says:

I am perplexed. As I see it, we are never allowed to commit sin – even to ‘save the world’. Yet, here we have two people who are trying to put an end to abortion by obtaining damning informaiton through deceit.

So, you tell me, Scott – what should these two people have done? Now, what I want is a moral AND satisfying answer. This would be an answer that places the spotlight squarely on the butchers of the innocent. Any light falling on these deceitful crusaders needs to also fall on the millions who have been butchered. I just can not find it in my heart to condemn these two.

Thanks for keeping us all honest.

February 24, 2011 at 12:12 am
(37) Scott P. Richert says:

“what should these two people have done?” Surely you’re not suggesting, Tom, that no one has done anything to try to end the horror of abortion before James O’Keefe and Lila Rose came along? Or is it that, now that we have the example of the “effectiveness” of deception, all of those efforts to end abortion appear as just so much straw, and should be discarded?

February 24, 2011 at 12:54 am
(38) Andrew says:

It seems to me that this is a case where it is easy to let one’s emotions run high and cloud judgement.
The evidence produced by Live Action is indeed disturbing and gives rise to justifiable and indeed righteous anger on behalf of the ones Planned Parenthood harms. However, the fact remains that lying is a sin. If we are to truly set an example we must start by following our own rules, however our anger may tempt us to forget our principles.
Also, it should not be forgotten that blind side attacks, regardless of morality, serve to unite and motivate the staff of Planned Parenthood, and solidify the organisation’s status in the public eye as an underdog patiently bearing the wrongs done to it by the pro-life movement.

February 24, 2011 at 1:22 pm
(39) Darrel Voegler says:

Lying as such is intrinsically evil. However in the case of the Live Action videos I think a case can be made that the PP staff deceived themselves in spite of what was said to them. Sometimes circumstances modify literal words spoken. This is broad mental reservation. For esample, We go to a dinner party and compliment the hostess on the cake we just ate although we actually feel it is terrible,. The hearer deceives herself here if she takes it literally. It can be said that people sometimes lie about sex encounters. Cinic staff know this. And PP knows that pro-lifers watch them. Abby Johnson,a former PP Director, said that alarming incidents captured by Live Action are not isolated. Live Action people are ACTORS who seek to docuemnt abuse and not procure services. Even if the actors were real they would get the same likely response.A Jesuit Priest who wrote an ethics book said spying is moral,although many of its methods are exceedingly questionable, I don”t support entrapment. However an employer may leave coins lying around to test employee honesty,accoring to theolgy I have read. What influence Live Action will hsve remains to be seen. It has been around for a while but only recently gotten the publicity it now has.Thats all for now.

February 24, 2011 at 6:06 pm
(40) Andrew says:

In any instruction I have received about mental reservation in the hypothetical situation cited above we may compliment the hostess in vague terms about other things at the dinner party and leave her thinking that we enjoyed the cake but we may not explicitly say we thought the cake was delicious. For instance we could say “It was excellent” or something similiar, mentally reserving the fact that we mean her hospitality or the dinner party in general was excellent, but we may not say “The cake was delicious”. Also see the hypothetical scenario of John the adulterer in the original article.

As to the leaving money lying around to test honesty, Live Action did not leave a fake pimp lying around for Planned Parenthood to find. They brought one to a receptionist at the organisation. This would be more akin to giving an employee money and telling them you would keep it quiet if he took it to test his honesty.

February 25, 2011 at 2:12 am
(41) Justin says:

Greetings all, when I first heard of Live Action, it seemed to me as if they were attempting to present a very difficult situation to an employee; it felt to me, as something that would be very challenging to handle professionally. As a Firefighter/EMT, I have been through numerous instruction on handling suspected abuse situations and in a brief summary, we are not allowed to do anything as far as intervention. We will report to the police and hospital and suggest reasons to suspected abusers that would allow us to remove the patient to the hospital for evaluation; however this is a delicate situation that requires tact. The idea that an organization with claimed high ethical and religious standards would use the plight of underage sex workers for a political agenda is saddening. Not to mention; it seems to me, that if planned parenthood is shut down, it will most likely create an increase in abortions due to the loss of affordable family planning services for numerous low income women.

February 25, 2011 at 2:30 am
(42) Justin says:

Out of all this, I wish more people would respectfully listen to each other. I do not believe de-funding planned parenthood is the answer. This will not help prevent abortions, as those who want them will find someplace else. Where are we going to fill the gap left by the other social services planned parenthood provides (the majority of their work). It seems as if I see people become so engrossed with criminalizing abortions , as if they forgot that it would be far easier to prevent the need for them (thus effectively stopping them). Instead of lies, violence and threat of murder, why has that energy not been directed to things like promoting NFP; not just within a religious setting. I agree that something should be done, but I don’t think it should come at the price of cutting access to health services such as cervical cancer screenings and breast cancer exams to women.
Respect, Justin

February 25, 2011 at 12:35 pm
(43) Michele Morgan says:

Although the discussion is on the morality of lying, I feel the need to correct some commonly held assumptions about PP. As Abby Johnson explained last night on Raymond Arroy’s show, The World Over, the majority of PP business IS abortion. When a woman comes in for a well woman visit, she will receive a range of services including testing for STD’s, contraception script, pap smear, etc. Usually about 20 services in one visit. Each of these is reported as a separate service for record-keeping and reporting purposes. When a woman comes in for an abortion, she receives only this service, and it is reported as such. Thus, ONE visit by one woman for well woman services is reported as up to twenty services received. One abortion is reported as one service. By this technique, PP is able to appear to be providing well woman services to twenty women for every one woman who receives an abortion when, in fact, they are providing twenty services to ONE woman, not twenty. Further, it is important to know that PP provides absolutely no mammograms anywhere in the country. PP is a level one breast care provider, which means they only provide manual breast exams, something which is available at thousands of free and reduced cost clinics across the country. The funds which currently go to PP could be going to these clinics instead. PP selectively targets poor, inner city minority neighborhoods with high density populations. They DO NOT move into poor, rural communities where health care services are desperately needed and few alternatives are available. Instead, they locate where they can expect to get the most bang for their investment–among the poor, desperate minorities of this country. Follow the money, as the saying goes, and you will soon understand PP true agenda, which is NOT to provide health care services to poor women.

February 25, 2011 at 1:07 pm
(44) Michele says:

To all those who are arguing moral theology here, I need to say I was converted to The Faith through logical argument, and the reason permeating Catholicism is still the primary form my religious practice takes. But I have to stand by what I said earlier about heart being needed here to enlighten our understanding. I see logical arguments based on sound moral theology presented here to help us understand why what Live Action does may be questionable. But as our Lord said in another context, the law is made for man, not man for the law. Lila rose has made more of a difference with this one act of deception than decades of protests and vigils and side walk counseling have made– or at least she has made a difference on a larger scale than those others made. They, of course, laid the ground work for what she has done and for whatever will follow. Without those decades of faithful prayer and quiet, daily actions, she might have been raised in a culture where the subject of abortion and PP role therein was no longer even discussed. We all owe a continuing debt to those who took, and continue to take, other actions of a less problematic nature. But this does not mean other tactics should not be tried. Certainly, it is important to have these discussions. We have to critique our own moral behavior as a people. But I can’t find it in my heart to criticize Live Action and Lila Rose. In fact, I can only find admiration for her and her group in my heart, even though I understand, and on some level, accept, all the reasonable arguments presented here. I have too often seen the devastating effects The Prince of Liars has had on women to find it in my heart to criticize those who would feed his servants a little of their own medicine.

February 25, 2011 at 2:12 pm
(45) Scott P. Richert says:

“I see logical arguments based on sound moral theology presented here to help us understand why what Live Action does may be questionable. But as our Lord said in another context, the law is made for man, not man for the law.”

Though many people often make this mistake, moral theology is not the same as the Law.

“Lila rose has made more of a difference with this one act of deception than decades of protests and vigils and side walk counseling have made– or at least she has made a difference on a larger scale than those others made.”

Even if this is true (and it’s not clear to me on what you’re basing it—the funding decision that will likely be reversed? The sheer amount of press?), it’s a consequentialist argument. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, some rules apply in every case, the first of which is that “One may never do evil so that good may result from it.” That’s why most of those on the other side of this discussion have tried very carefully to argue that what Lila Rose did was not wrong, in itself.

One thing that bothers me quite a bit about those who argue that Lila Rose has made some sort of breakthrough here is that they are saying, in effect, that this is the future, and protests and vigils and sidewalk counseling, not to mention prayer and fasting, are the past. Besides the possible moral problems with Lila Rose’s methods, it’s not at all clear to me that what’s she’s done will save a single unborn child, though it already has done quite a bit to increase fundraising for Planned Parenthood.

“I have too often seen the devastating effects The Prince of Liars has had on women to find it in my heart to criticize those who would feed his servants a little of their own medicine.”

All of us involved in the pro-life cause, including those of us who disagree with Live Action’s methods, have seen those devastating effects. But remember—you cannot “feed his servants a little of their own medicine” without ingesting it yourself. Lies don’t simply harm those who are lied to; they harm those who tell them. Indeed, spiritually, they harm them more deeply than they harm the person deceived.

April 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm
(46) peter henderson says:

I’m rather late to the party here but I’m sticking in a comment anyway. The idea that lying is always wrong runs into the familiar challenge: can you lie to the Nazis when they come around looking for the Jews? I believe Immanuel Kant’s answer to a similar question was that you shouldn’t lie but you can refuse to answer or maybe even say something misleading. Most people find that work-around inadequate. There are cases where evasion would fail but an outright lie would save a life. So what would your answer be to that line of questioning? Suppose they came for your own mother?

February 26, 2011 at 10:11 am
(47) Darrel says:

The only way to justify Live Action”s videos is to invoke broad mental reservation doctrine. We all use broad mental reservation. It is truth but not whole truth. Sometimes the hearer has no right to truth, Broad mental reservation uses words which can be understood in two ways and can be known to correspond to our interior thoughts by a reasonable perison connectted with the circumstances. Part of truth is reserved in speakers mind. Outward clue to meaning must be objectively present. Clue may be nothing but circimstances-e.g.deformed climate in abortion clinic here. Live Action videos document this. A doctor may answer”no” meaning”no, insofar as i can tell you”.The words I am pimp/prostitute can be understood as meaning I am an acting pimp/prostitute under the deformed circimstances of clinic. Broad mental reseveration may only be used for serious reasons. Is not saving lives serious? Live Action attorneys say technique is legal. We don’t abandon techniques like sidewald counseling,prayer,etc. but we need to take advantage of opportunity when it comes, Dr. Monica Miller a theologian and prolifer has an excellent article at catholicvote.org. Her last part is very relevant whether you agree with Live Action or not. I will continue to follow the controversy.

February 26, 2011 at 12:31 pm
(48) Scott P. Richert says:

Darrel, you and I already discussed broad mental reservation above. What I wrote then still applies; nothing in Catholic moral doctrine has changed in the past four days. Mental reservation involves leaving out pertinent information; it can never involve affirming untruth. That means that you cannot say “I am a pimp,” because you are not leaving something out but making an affirmation.

February 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm
(49) Scott P. Richert says:

The other thing, Darrel, that I pointed out in my post, and that you and others keep ignoring, is that the principle that “No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it” arose in, and still refers to, a specific situation—namely, revealing the “faults or failings” of someone other than yourself to a third party. To advance from that specific situation to a general principle is wrong; and to claim even in the specific situation that it justifies affirming untruth, rather than refraining from revealing the truth, is wrong.

February 27, 2011 at 4:36 pm
(50) Darrel says:

Scott-I can see we are at a crosroads here. Lying is intrinsically wrong even if the hearer has no right to truth. I agree some of my previous moral theology examples may be inapplicable. Regarding the statement that positively affirming an untruth is always wrong, I stil feel that certain freely given statements can be considered broad mental reservation. For escample,whin visiting we may employ all kinds of convewntional phases such as “i am happy to be invited” or “I accept with pleasure” even though our feelings may be just the reverse. In some cirucumstances,these phrases are meant to not necessarily reflect our feelings. I got this from a 1974 moral theology book published with church approval. I believe every word in the book in orthodox and I treasure this book. As said previously, the videos speak for themselves about the clinic atmosphere. Abby Johnson referred to above said it is SOP. But PP is retraining staff.I think it is safe to say the videos document what is already known.Is my intrpretation subjectivism or a “strained”intrepretation? Perhaps. But is cases of doubt I think the benefit of doubt goes to those trying to defend live-Live Action here. This is probably my last post. I will continue to follow the issue.

March 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm
(51) Mary Grace says:

Scott, Don’t you think intent should come into play? Lila Rose did not intend to “lead anyone into sin” There was no underage girls, or prostitutes, or illegal immigrants, so there was no sin to be committed in that particular instance, on the part of PP…only sin exposed ; sin that was already committed and will most likely be committed again. There was an evil that needed to be exposed, through any means, except sin or course , but I do not see what Lila did a sin at all! I do not see Lila and crew as Lying…I see them as going ” under cover”. To bring out the enemy. She wasn’t intending to deceive; she was intending to expose a crime. To stop murders from occurring.
This a war is it not? A war against a Satanic force. If a Catholic knows of a crime or injustice being done, a crime that is hidden and will be kept that way if it isn’t brought out into the light. If there is something that could be done to expose it so that it can be stopped…it would be a sin of omission, not to do what you can to stop it! it would be failure to love Ann d protect what is right and good! In this case…. LIFE!
The intent???? bringing a hidden evil out into the light
the means? Covert action…not deception. This isn’t against an innocent weakling. It isn’t luring an innocent into sin……it is against an evil giant who is destroying goodness and purity. Think Goliath….and little David! was it a sin that David threw a stone at his enemy??? He had to be stopped and the stone was the way to do it. I believe that sometimes we must think the big picture before making judgements on the actions of others. I do not believe it is so cut and dry. The commandments were written to teach how to love, and God’s Word is Living, not a dead word! This is not about lying! Come on! think about it some more.

March 2, 2011 at 7:35 pm
(52) Mary Grace says:

Also, if you believe that disguising oneself and deceiving a criminal, in order to “expose a crime”‘, is a sin, then are police officers committing a sin when they go undercover to catch a criminal?

Example: let’s say that you were made aware of the fact that a group of terrorists were plotting to build a massive bomb, which was going to kill thousands of people, and you knew that telling the cops wasn’t going to stop it, because you needed “proof”, before they would do anything about it. But you had an inspiration to disguise yourself and deceive the bombers in order to get access to the bomb, to take pictures of it. Let’s say you did and were successful and stopped the bomb from being set. Now… What if you didn’t do that because you were afraid that it’s a sin to tell a lie….? …and thousands of people were killed….? Hmmmmm?

Ok I’m done and besides this subject is old news now…but a very interesting one!

Peace, MG

March 26, 2011 at 2:28 pm
(53) Darrel says:

The debate over Live Action tactics has largely ended. But the issue still resonates. A lie has been defined as an assertion,in a context in which genuine communication is reasonably expected,of something which one considers to be false. This comes from a Catholic catechism for adults. As such, it includes the doctrine of broad mental reservation in its scope. Austin Fagothey,S>J. in his book states that circumstances can be such that,though words are used,there is no formal speech because no communication is intended nor should it be expected. The example he gives relates to tall stories. He further states that feints,disguises,impersonations,fictitious names,and other such pretenses are deceptions but not lies. Some even classify the presentation of forged documents to elude an unjust government as decptiions but not lies because circumstances show that they are not communication but formal compliance with unjust officials who have no right to truth. Fr. Fagothey considers giving false intelligence to encourage troops to be a lie. Also he says it is possible to lie to one who has no right to truth. In a limited sense we are at spiritual war with PP. Is there a reasonable expectation of truth to those who do evil? I offer these reflections to try to provide some insight for understanding some pf the arguments put forth on this issue.

March 12, 2014 at 1:13 pm
(54) Tobias Nathe says:

I know I’m a few years late in coming to this discussion, but I just wanted to commend you Scott on your fine reasoning here. I’ve considered this issue in-depth, as moral theologian myself, and have come to the same conclusions as you. It was especially nice to see your point about tempting others to sin, which is not often brought up in this debate.

God bless you and your work!

April 1, 2014 at 2:34 pm
(55) Papist says:

Your argument re: Live Action is very persuasive. But please address analogous situations such as deception in war, or the time-honored question as to what you would do if you were hiding Jews and Nazis came to your door asking if there were any Jews there.

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