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Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
February 10th, 2011

Building a Culture of Lie

The exorcist and Lila Rose

by and William Doino Jr.
 
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Lila Rose

Lila Rose

Last June, Catholic journalist Matt C. Abbott played “devil’s advocate” with an exorcist.

The exorcist was Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer, author of the newly released Exorcism and the Church Militant. As president of Human Life International, he had issued a press release damning 12th & Delaware, an HBO documentary that focused on a corner where a pregnancy resource center faced an abortion clinic. The filmmakers, Euteneuer said, had unfairly won the pregnancy resource center’s trust by claiming they wanted only to profile pro-life workers, when they were in fact filming the abortion center as well.

For Abbott, an avowed pro-lifer, Euteneuer’s protest raised an interesting dilemma. “To play devil’s advocate,” he asked the HLI president, “what about the pro-life investigative work of Lila Rose, who, technically speaking, uses a form of deception to expose the abortion industry’s lies?” Rose, a recent convert to Catholicism, creates undercover videos in which actors enter Planned Parenthood clinics under false pretenses, with the goal of exposing practices that would embarrass the abortion provider. “Can the tactics of [the HBO filmmakers] and Rose be placed in the same moral category?” Abbott asked.

“There is no comparison,” Euteneuer replied in an email. The HBO filmmakers were “liars and deceivers,” he wrote, their actions confirming “everything that we know about pro-aborts,” while Rose “is looking at one side only and exposing something categorically evil.”

In August, two months after making that statement, Euteneuer stepped down from the HLI presidency and out of the public eye, telling HLI supporters in a farewell letter that his bishop had recalled him to his home diocese of Palm Beach, Florida, to resume parish work. “My discernment about this decision tells me that this is the right thing for me to do and at the right time,” he wrote. “I have great peace about the road that lies ahead and about all that has been accomplished up to this point.”

But recently, both he and Rose were in the headlines again — this time, for starkly disparate reasons. On February 1, Rose’s Live Action organization debuted the first video of its biggest scoop yet — an undercover video “sting” allegedly revealing Planned Parenthood employees aiding a purported sex trafficker. That same day, Euteneuer, in response to online rumors, released a statement confessing that the real reason he left HLI was that he had admitted to “violating the boundaries of chastity” with an adult woman he was exorcising.

The end does not justify the means

Even if Live Action-style stings were the only means available to turn the American public against abortion, Catholic teaching would still come down firmly against them. The Catechism allows no loopholes: “A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny [slander], good or just. The end does not justify the means” (CCC 1753).

Judging by the reaction to these stories in the Catholic pro-life media, it seems many took these coinciding stories simply as an instance of “good news/bad news,” with Lila Rose a heroine and Fr. Euteneuer a tragic figure. Perhaps it would be wise for Catholics dedicated to defending life to pause and reflect upon the confluence of events, before the news cycle moves on. It may be that the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something about what happens when good people, with the best of intentions, attempt to justify deception.

If there is one thing the media’s handling of the abuse crisis has taught us, it is that secular society expects a far higher standard of behavior from those who claim to live by Christ’s example. When Catholics go by the Saul Alinsky playbook — holding that, when it comes to stopping abortion, the ends justify the means — people outside the Church can no longer measure their own actions by the witness of our faith.

In his Christmas message to the Curia last year, calling the Church to self-examination and renewal in light of the “sins of priests,” Pope Benedict proclaimed, “Only the truth saves.”

The Holy Father knows, as St. Paul wrote, that in the battle for personal holiness, truth is the foremost weapon in the Christian’s spiritual armory . Nowhere is this more evident than in the struggle to build a culture of life. Only the Catholic Church has spoken the truth consistently , for nearly two thousand years: that abortion is gravely sinful, a direct attack on human life. By the same token, truth is the pro-life movement’s greatest ally, while, in the words of Christopher Tollefsen , “the so-called pro-choice movement is premised on a lie” — the lie that the unborn child is not deserving of the respect due to every human being.

Even if Live Action-style stings were the only means available to turn the American public against abortion, Catholic teaching would still come down firmly against them. As the title of a recent post on the New Theological Movement blog put it, “It Is a Sin to Lie, Even to Planned Parenthood.” The Catechism allows no loopholes: “A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny [slander], good or just. The end does not justify the means” (CCC 1753).

Reluctant to give up an effective tactic

If the Church allowed Alinskyite reasoning to prevail among Catholics, anything would be permissible — including torture, as the late Father Richard John Neuhaus once observed: “The uncompromisable principle is that it is always wrong to do evil in order that good may result. This principle is taught in numerous foundational texts of our civilization and is magisterially elaborated in the 1993 encyclical of John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor.”

Indeed, if the Church allowed Alinskyite reasoning to prevail among Catholics, anything would be permissible — including torture, as the late Father Richard John Neuhaus once observed : “The uncompromisable principle is that it is always wrong to do evil in order that good may result. This principle is taught in numerous foundational texts of our civilization and is magisterially elaborated in the 1993 encyclical of John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor. We cannot ask God’s blessing upon a course of action that entails the deliberate doing of evil.”

The Catechism is crystal clear about where lies originate: “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’” (2482). Catholics and others have a right to remain silent, and protect privileged information (2488-2492), but never to directly speak “a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” (2482)

Yet, despite the clarity of Catholic teaching against lying under any circumstances (without even an exception for undercover lawmen to deny their true identities), many pro-lifers are reluctant to give up what they see as a highly effective tactic. They believe that Live Action’s deceptions are justified because we are “at war” with Planned Parenthood. But, as the New Theological Movement‘s blogger “Reginaldus” notes, that is an unacceptable excuse on two counts: “First, even in war, it is sinful to lie; second, we are not at war with Planned Parenthood… [I]f we were at war, it would be justifiable for individuals to kill abortion doctors; but it is not.” Moreover, as the great Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe argued in her essay protesting Oxford University’s awarding an honorary degree to Harry S. Truman, even in war, the ends do not justify the means.

Others have argued that the Church would sanction, or did sanction, lying to Nazis who sought to find and kill Jews. But this claim too has no foundation in the Catechism’s teachings, neither is it true of the actions of the Church during World War II — which did save hundreds of thousands of Jews , but not through faking baptismal certificates, as has been claimed.

Despite the clarity of Catholic teaching against lying under any circumstances (without even an exception for undercover lawmen to deny their true identities), many pro-lifers are reluctant to give up what they see as a highly effective tactic.

Lila Rose’s public statements show her to be a highly gifted young woman of sincere Catholic faith. In interviews and speeches , she often cites Martin Luther King’s promotion of “creative extremists” in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail ” as an inspiration for her undercover work. We laud her desire to use her gifts to defend the unborn — but would invite her and her supporters to delve deeper into the quotation’s context.

Before using the term “creative extremists,” King specifies that he is not referring to extreme sin, but, rather, extreme goodness: “So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

The extension of justice, for the Church as well as for King, is an extension of Christ’s kingdom — a kingdom founded not on lies, but on the highest truth. Pope Benedict has written that “missionary work” — like that of building a culture of life — “requires, first and foremost, being prepared for martyrdom, a willingness to lose oneself for the sake of the truth and for the sake of others.” If workers for life are truly to extend the kingdom of Christ, such willingness to suffer temporary defeat or even death, rather than sin, is — or, rather, should be — the true live action.

William Doino Jr., a contributor to Inside the Vatican and other publications, writes often about history, religion and politics.

 
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The Author : Dawn Eden
Dawn Eden is author of The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On (Thomas Nelson, 2006) and holds an M.A. in Theology from the Dominican House of Studies. She lives in Washington, D.C.
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  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Hi, Christine
    I agree, lawbreaking is not okay, no matter who does it. That was the point I was trying to make in a previous post in which I mentioned an organization that did cover up misdeeds as a matter of policy. There really needs to be better overseeing of organizations in general so as to protect people.

  • Christine

    Julie wrote:

    “If it were to be proven that Planned Parenthood as an organization were deliberately covering up the misdeeds of its employees as a matter of policy, then i would agree that the organization is corrupt and needs some serious overhaul.”

    PP would never be stupid enough to make it explicit written policy that lawbreaking is ok. I don’t know any business that would do that.

    The undercover videos show that PP regularly looks the other way in the face of underage abuse. How many more undercover videos need to be aired before people are convinced? Are 16 separate incidents from clinics around the country not enough? Would people be satisfied with 20? 50? 100? Or do you really need to see in writing, “We, PP, institute as policy our desire to break the law”?

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    If it were to be proven that Planned Parenthood as an organization were deliberately covering up the misdeeds of its employees as a matter of policy, then i would agree that the organization is corrupt and needs some serious overhaul. In other words, if the organization lied as a matter of policy, if it needed to misrepresent the truth in order to function, then there needs to be some serious reorganization and thought given to what, exactly, it stands for.

  • Christine

    Julie wrote:

    “if the group mentioned in the article thought that lying was necessary to make their point, then the point was weak to begin with.”

    This makes no sense. Planned Parenthood regularly breaks the law, and the government was doing nothing to curb this. Live Action took matters into their own hands (since no one else would), went undercover, documented PP’s corruption, and exposed it to the public. They have at least 16 videos from over the past two years showing PP employees from clinics all over the country breaking the law, covering up rape and sex trafficking of underage girls. I am amazed that you continue to defend an organization willing to do this. Ideology should be set aside in favor of protecting girls and women.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Okay, Phil Fox Rose, point taken. Thanks for bringing us back to the focus of the discussion.
    I reiterate that if the group mentioned in the article thought that lying was necessary to make their point, then the point was weak to begin with. I’m curious about the stricture as seen by the church: I thought the commandment was “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” If that’s the caae, then it’s fine to lie for any reason as long as doesn’t hurt someone else, i.e., the “neighbor”. It’s okay to lie to protect someone else’s life, to spare their feelings, to spare oneself embarrassment, and so forth. When did it, if it did, become “don’t lie under any circumstances”?

    P.S. Steve, spelling again. Please do check. ;-) For everything else, I’ve already responded to those very points you raised: re-read my posts.

  • Phil Fox Rose

    Steve and Julie Hagan Bloch — Thanks for your energetic and thoughtful input. As I said once before in this thread to two others, points made and heard. Let’s get away from the back and forth to a broader discussion with more voices. Also, let’s not reargue the whole question of pro-life any further. This article is not about that. One can be pro-choice and think these tactics are OK, or pro-life and thing they’re not. Thanks.

  • Steve

    Regarding fertility clinics and sperm, a sperm cell or an egg are not distinct from their parents. They have the same DNA and genetic structure as the person who created it. However, when an egg is fertilized by sperm, aka conception, a new life form is produced that is distinct from both the mother and the father. When fertility clinics discard unwanted embryos, this is also an abhorrent practice.

    Regarding the care for children, I would give up every one of my possessions if it meant an end to abortion. I will gladly pay high taxes to help with the adoption of unwanted children and believe that health care should be attainable for all. However, if I could turn the question, if my belief that a fetus is a child is “sticking my nose in other people’s business,” please consider the prospective of someone who believes as such. If my assertion is correct, that a fetus can only be a child, would the termination of a fetus’s life be similarly intrusive? Just consider it.

    I never denied problems caused by human population, or even that the earth is overpopulated, so I will not address your points there, as I agree with most of what you say about it. The point of my original statement was just to point out that a solution to any such environmental problems must not be the culling of innocents.

    On the final amended point, I agree that everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs. However, it is an error to suggest that morality is relative. Some things are naturally wrong. It is wrong to steal. It is wrong to rape. It is wrong to take the life of an innocent. The disagreement is not whether or not a fetus is a human child, and therefore entitled to the protections other children receive. Concerning the lies, by the way, I am actually uncomfortable with the methods of Live Action.

  • Steve

    Ms. Hagan Block,

    My anti-abortion stance is completely independent of my religious beliefs. It is rooted in logic and the science that clearly dictates that a fetus can be nothing other than a human being. In fact, the belief is very similar to noted atheist Christopher Hitchens, who also believes that a fetus is an unborn child (though he does not want Roe overturned) and pro-life atheists.

    To respond to your points: You never responded to my original question: If a fetus is not a child, what is it? Logic dictates that it either is or is not a child. At what point does it become a child? If you say after birth, what has changed in the fetus/child to warrant such a change in nomenclature? What about premature babies, are they children? It seems to me that the only difference between a fetus and a child is whether it is wanted. That seems pretty arbitrary to me. There is no point along the spectrum of fetal and human development, from conception to death, at which it makes logical sense to separate a fertilized embryo/fetus/child/adult into human and nonhuman categories. Once again, please answer: if a fetus is not a child, what is it? At what point does it become a child and what produces that change?

    Secondly, if abortion is the termination of a human life, why should it matter if pregnancies are planned? Why even bother with the pill? Just avoid disease with condoms and get them aborted! Of course, that would make a lot of abortion-rights supports uncomfortable because, at least when I was pro-choice, I was always uneasy with the actual act of abortion. Deep down, I knew it was wrong.

  • Steve

    Ms. Hagen Bloch, I apologize for misspelling your name in my previous post. God bless and be well!

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