“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.
The absolute prohibition in the Catechism follows the teaching of both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, which was originally codified in the Catechism of the Council of Trent. Proponents would argue that this teaching also follows the words of Jesus, who states in the Gospel of Matthew: “Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one.”
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.
By these criteria, Live Action's actors could have employed statements that were technically true: for instance, by saying they were involved in “sex work” and meaning chastity education; or by saying they “knew some young girls” – who were in fact merely their younger siblings – and asking about what could be done “if they got pregnant” by an older person.
Through the careful use of ambiguous statements, Live Action might have invited Planned Parenthood employees to disclose sensitive information about hypothetical scenarios, without actually lying. Moral theologians and Church authorities have consistently distinguished these types of mental reservation from outright lies.
Like Professors Grisez and May, Dr. Christopher Kaczor – a Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University – has written extensively about ethics and the natural law from a Catholic standpoint. Like Prof. May, he believes Live Action would have been in a more readily defensible position if it had employed a careful strategy of mental reservation – rather than outright lying – in approaching Planned Parenthood.
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But Kaczor expressed strong reservations about lines of argumentation that would forbid Live Action's work because of its use of lies.
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.
“It could be that morality demands an end to all such activities,” Kaczor acknowledged. “But it seems more likely that such activities are ethically permissible for serious reasons.” By the same standards, he said, Live Action's strategies might also be justified.
Speaking to CNA on Feb. 10, Live Action's President Lila Rose acknowledged the seriousness of the ethical concerns raised by her fellow Catholics. But she urged them to consider Planned Parenthood's role in the deaths of millions of children, and how this extraordinary reality might inform or change activists' moral obligations.
While Rose and her group are strongly opposed to violence against abortionists, she did compare the current situation to a “just war,” in which things may be done that could not be in a time of peace.