Are the tactics of Pro life Live Action Ethical?

To lie or not to lie that is the question.

There has been a rather intense debate within the Catholic blogging community concerning the pro life group Live Action. They have been employing actors who present themselves as pimps to Planned Parenthood employees in order to catch them in illegal activities.

Catholic bloggers have been weighing in on whether or not it is a grave sin to lie even to an evil empire such as Planned Parenthood.  Some like Mark Shea (here and here) think that is sinful because lying is an intrinsic evil.  Tom Peters, on the other hand takes the opposing side.

I have been undecided. Those of you who know me well are probably stunned. But the Catechism is not clear. My favorite deacon and I have gone round and round on it, but neither of us could come up with a definitive answer.

Well I have been leaning on the side of it is not prohibited by the moral law. Frankly I thought the it is immoral crowd were a bit rigid.

That is until the great, and faithful, moral theologian and philosopher Germain Grisez weighed in. In an interview with CAN:

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.”

Another formable moral theologian was also interviewed,William May;

Professor William May, another moral theologian who was involved in revising the Catechism along with Grizez, concurred with his condemnation of Live Action’s tactics in an interview with CNA.

“To employ lies in exposing evil, Professor May said, is the kind of activity that St. Paul condemned when he wrote that Christians must not “do evil that good may come of it.” More recently, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed in the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” that no unethical action can be justified on the basis of good intentions or results.

However, May explained that Catholics can, in good conscience, strategically withhold significant or sensitive information in certain settings. They may also legitimately have recourse to the technique known as “mental reservation,” which involves the use of a statement that can be taken in two different ways.”

CNA notes that Dr. Christopher Kaczor – a Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, has reservations with the reasoning of Grizez and May:

These arguments, Kaczor wrote in a Feb. 11 piece for the Public Discourse online journal, “would seem to prove too much.” He was responding to a Feb. 9 piece by Christopher Tollefsen, another philosopher who claimed that Live Action’s ends did not justify the means of lying.

Tollefsen’s criteria, Kaczor said, would exclude most undercover police operations, investigative journalism involving a pretense, infiltrations of terrorist networks, and espionage work on behalf of intelligence agencies.”

May and Grisez always reason with the mind of the Church, so I will yield to their conclusion. Read more here. What do you think?

About Susan Kehoe

I am the wife of a Catholic deacon living in Des Moines Iowa. My husband Larry was ordained in 2006. We have two children and five grandchildren.. Our daughter and her family live in Ireland, and our son and his family live in Franklin Massachusetts.
This entry was posted in Moral Theology, Pro life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Are the tactics of Pro life Live Action Ethical?

  1. LeAnn says:

    Wow this is tricky…how does one justify undercover work by police forces? It is incredibly important to our security but definitely involves lying and inducing another to commit a crime. I would like to know what Deacon Chuck would say, being he was in OSI.


  2. Susan Kehoe says:

    Well, we are still wrestling with this too. I wish that I could find direct references from the moral theologians themselves. It would probably be difficult for Deacon Chuck to be unbiased. Also moral theology wasn’t well covered in deacon formation.

    As for inducing others to commit a crime or lie, well I guess I had better stop asking my husband if my rear quarters look fat in…..


    • LeAnn says:

      LOL! Never ask your husband if you look “fat” because it is a trick question. We never want to hear the truth!


      • LeAnn says:

        I’m surprised the early church fathers did not answer this question, surely they knew of spies and subterfuge, seeing St. Valentine illegally married couples under Claudius. St. Jerome doesn’t talk about this type of thing? He was so prolific in his writing…


  3. Pingback: Planned Parenthood Not so Pretty in Pink | A Deacon's Wife

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