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

Building a Culture of Lie

The exorcist and Lila Rose

by and William Doino Jr.

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.

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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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Patricia

    In Perth Amboy, N.J. Planned Parenthood clinic, there was no requirement by law to notify or obtain permission from a father, mother or guardian, to distribute contraception, refer for abortion, or perform an abortion on the underage girl. What was illegal in N.J. was covering up sexual trafficking of a minor or statuatory rape. In New Jersey, the young girl could have obtained everything PP had to offer and maybe at most, lie about the age of of the father, and everyting would have been legal and fine. It happens everyday in N.J., with minor girl coming from other states to avail the “services” of P.P. Shame!!! NJ Right to Life, Marie Tasy, has worked for years now to get this changed and has always been blocked by one pro-abort legislator or another. We need help!

  • tom in ohio

    Firstly: Does Lila really say anything that is not true? Aren’t most of the questions she poses in the hypothetical, like– IF we brought girls in who are underage . . . ? IF they needed an abortion . . . . ?

    Secondly: Does an actor in a play sin when he is not himself on the stage? Likewise isn’t Lila playacting, pretending to be someone else? Someone really exists who does exactly what she portrays to the PP workers. Isn’t she working more as a dramatist than anything else? She dresses and talks like someone who really does exist, portraying situations that really do happen. I think she is fulfilling the “wise as as serpents, innocent a doves.”

  • Dawn Eden

    Great to see a lively discussion going on. Regarding the idea of “mental reservation” as “speaking with forked tongues”–that applies only to what is known as strict mental reservation, which has been condemned. It is important to know the difference between strict and broad mental reservation. I recommend that those who are interested in this discussion read Reginaldus’s blog entry on the topic on The New Theological Movement in its entirety. He says in part: “The real difference between strict and broad mental reservation is that, in the case of broad mental reservation, the words themselves are open to a true interpretation; but, in the case of strict mental reservation, the words are false without the added qualification of the [speaker’s] mind.”

    Reginaldus notes that even the type of mental reservation that is permitted is acceptable only in certain situations:

    “The primary reason why even broad mental reservations are to be used only in special cases is that the ambiguity of speech (though not a lie) can be destructive of the good order of society ‚Äì in general, we ought not to allow others to be deceived by our speech; we ought to speak clearly so that our meaning can be easily known.”

    Again, I highly recommend reading his whole entry on the topic, as well as his related posts, which include replies to other theologians who have commented publicly on Live Action.

  • Tom

    Another article on this that would be good for everyone to read is Solzhenitsyn’s article live not by lies in which he elaborates on this very point. Whether to lie or be silent in the truth.

  • Mark

    Back to the general concept of lies: Don’t you think that most people construe “Mental Reservation” and “Equivocation” to be nothing more than “speaking with forked tongues”, this last term being construed by the non-theologian common man as lying since deception via equivocation or fact omission to be nothing more than lying by another name? I mean, nobody likes being manipulated, do they? And equivocation to us Catholics is a tool we use to fool ourselves that we are not lying, even though our intent remains to decieve and manipulate someone so that, under this fiction, we assuage our conscious that we haven’t lied. This would then allow us say to ourselves, OK, the listener can draw his own conclusions based on my deliberately expressed ambiguous statement, so, via this manipulation tactic I’m not culpable of manipulating the listener’s perception, so I then don’t have a sin to confess.

  • Alexander

    Mr. Doino,

    Thank you again for your kind and thoughtful reflections. I respect your intellect and your charity, and I think we do agree on many truths. I hope we (and the Catholic community more generally) can continue to work through this issue with charity and always toward the Truth.

  • jcd

    Who is the woman in the Old Testament who lied to save the lives of those in her home?
    Lila Rose did nothing wrong.

  • William Doino

    Dear Alexander:

    Thank you for your replies.

    I think we agree on many truths, despite our disagreement in certain areas; and you raise many important questions that need to be addresed. In the near future, I hope to publish a seperate article on the Church’s rescue activity during the Holocaust, and the moral lessons that record should have for our own times.

  • papaalex

    alexander, you are correct. Theyare inerrupting the cathecism as fundamentalists do the bible. The catechisms statements are for in individual personal relationships which don’t apply here. Just as people use Do not kill to mean war is always unjust. The Macabeeans had it right.

  • Mary parks

    we have lost so much Catholic moral teaching. we can dissemble, and we can say word literally true that the Minds of another will misinterpret (mental reservation) provided we are protecting the truth from someone who has no right to it, or seeking the truth in an act of self defense or defense of another. Lila Rose could comply on all counts, if clever in her use of words.

  • Alexander

    dcs —

    Thanks for your kind and thoughtful response.

    Equivocation or mental reservation may work for a secret shopper, but it just will never work, as a general matter, for the other situations. Indeed, any equivocation in those cases will likely just tip off the bad guys and get the person killed. So let’s not pretend that we can have our cake and eat it too. If you’re right, then the Pope, bishops, and all lay Catholics should be lobbying our government right now to stop our covert spy operations, undercover police stings, and any misinformation during wartime, and to bar all undercover journalism that employs any intentional falsehoods.

    Also, I just looked at the section on the Eighth Commandment in the Catechism of the Council of Trent on Google Books. The language is somewhat archaic, but I didn’t see a statement that all intentional falsehoods — regardless of whether the other person had a right to the correct information and regardless of whether the falsehood was made for unselfish reasons — are objectively wrongful. In fact, the whole discussion seems very focused on condemning the selfishness of lying and the injury it causes to the innocent.

    I love the Catechism, and it is our surest summary of Catholic morality at a general level. Out of every 10,000 times we speak, the Catechism is right 9,999 times in telling us that an intentional falsehood is wrong. But I don’t think it’s addressed to every situation, and I actually would bet serious money that if the question were squarely put to the Pope whether it would be wrongful to lie to protect a hiding Jew, he would say no. He may not have thought it was right to qualify the general moral lesson taught by the Catechism regarding lying, but I don’t think he would take the absolutist position advocated by Mr. Doino and Ms. Eden here.

    I still have the feeling that many in this debate are treating the Catechsim like Protestant fundamentalists treat the Bible. We’ve become so scared that if any sentence or clause isn’t read as the definitive, infallible, complete truth for all time and in all circumstances, then our entire faith and moral system will collapse. I have more confidence that our Church and faith is built on a surer foundation.

  • dcs

    @Alexander, it is true that the Catechism is not a moral theology text. However, the Church’s moral theologians have traditionally taught that lies are intrinsically evil. In that respect the Catechism is only teaching what the Church has taught all along. And the modern Catechism is not the first universal Catechism to teach this — it is also taught in the Roman Catechism (the Catechism of the Council of Trent).

    I think in your last paragraph you might not be distinguishing between lies and deceptions that are not lies. One can use certain deceptions (equivocating, remaining silent, telling the truth but not all of it) in certain circumstances. What one can’t do is lie. In what way would you say a “secret shopper,” for example, is lying? It seems to me that he does not lie unless someone asks him directly if he is a secret shopper, and he responds “No.” He might be able to employ mental reservation: “I am a shopper, nothing secret about that” (meaning that there is nothing secret about the fact that he is a shopper). But he could not give a simple denial.

    Hope this helps.

  • Alexander

    Mr. Doino,

    One last point: Your arguments about Father Marie-Benoit seem entirely about effectiveness, not morality, and based on what I’ve read, although the Germans did not necessarily accept that a Jew was no longer being a Jew based on his or her baptism, such a certificate could be effective in convincing the Nazis that a person wasn’t Jewish to begin with.

    Mr. Doino — you are a kind and intelligent person. I have every confidence that if you were really in the situation of having to say Yes or No to whether there were Jews hiding in your basement, you would falsely say No — and not because of moral weakness or sinfulness, but because it would be the right thing to do. The Catechism’s general statements on lying would not prevent you from doing the right thing.

  • Alexander

    Thank you, Mr. Doino, for your thoughtful response.

    I’m strongly pro-life and take all of the Church’s teachings very seriously. I try hard never to utter any falsehood. But I have the sense that people are so worried about any hint of consequentialism or proportionalism or relativism (all of which are properly condemned) that they swing too far in the other direction — taking overly literal readings of the Catechism and using it as a proof text to condemn as intrinsically evil acts that are not necessarily so, without every stopping to consider if the Catechism was really meant to be read that way in defining the moral object of various acts. I have a hard time, for example, believing that something that made it into the last draft of the Catechism and which then was omitted — the idea that lying requires that the recipient have the right to know — is necessarily and definitively condemned. To quote Jeffrey Mirus at Catholic Answers, “the Catechism is intended as a basic compendium of Catholic doctrine, assembled with due ecclesiastical care, and not as a collection of definitive infallible pronouncements permanently settling every question on every topic it covers. In other words, the change in definition does not mean the original formulation was wrong. But it does mean that the editors of the Catechism were not prepared to endorse it in an official Catholic reference work.”

    Do we really think, for example, that the Church condemns all undercover journalism, plain-clothes police officers working to infiltrate the mafia or Al Qaeda, military disinformation in a just war, secret shoppers, and the government’s testing of its security procedures by, for example, sending people with fake IDs to see if they get through airport security? It seems like we would have heard something about that from Rome or the bishops over the years.

  • dcs

    St. Augustine actually answered the “Jews in the basement” objection centuries ago in paragraphs 22-24 of De mendacio. Note particularly the first half of paragraph 23:

    “This did a former Bishop of the Church of Thagasta, Firmus by name, and even more firm in will. For, when he was asked by command of the emperor, through officers sent by him, for a man who was taking refuge with him, and whom he kept in hiding with all possible care, he made answer to their questions, that he could neither tell a lie, nor betray a man; and when he had suffered so many torments of body, (for as yet emperors were not Christian,) he stood firm in his purpose. Thereupon being brought before the emperor, his conduct appeared so admirable, that he without any difficulty obtained a pardon for the man whom he was trying to save.”

  • William Doino

    Thanks to everyone for their thoughtful comments, and to Alexander for raising important concerns. In response:

    1. Dawn Eden and I do indeed stand by our convictions (that is why we wrote our article in the first place) and believe the Catechism does not allow for any exceptions to direct lying. We do, however, believe there are many moral ways to effectively resist evil, though this was beyond the scope of our piece. (Some good commentary on the subject, faithful to the Catechism, can be found at the New Theological Movement’s blog, referenced above)

    2. Many of your objections are addressed in my earlier comments–note the fourth comment down, from the beginning of this thread.

    3. As it happens , I have written a great deal about the Church and the Holocaust (see my contribution in the anthology, The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII, Lexington Books, 2004), and so I’m quite familiar with Father Marie-Benoit.

    He was a great man, and priest, rightly honored by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile. The Vatican admired and shared his concern for persecuted Jews, and in fact assisted him to save them, but Vatican officials did repeatedly advise him not to forge documents for both moral and practical reasons: it was arousing the suspicion of the occupying German authorities, who were on the verge of stepping in and shutting down his whole operation. Fortunately, the Vatican protected Father Marie-Benoit behind the scenes, preventing the Nazi police from acting against him, while counseling him on the best strategy to rescue Jews. All of this is revealed in volume 9 of the Holy See’s Actes and Documents of the Holy See during the Second World War (especialy, document 433, pp. 568-569).

    4. Finally, the Nazis did not recognize baptism as the Church does. Even when Jews were baptized or converted, the Nazis still saw them as Jews, and so forged baptismal certificates, while well-intentioned (to the extent they were used–many exaggerations and uncomfirmed claims have been made about them) were certainly not a guarantee for survival. This is the reason why the Nazis killed converts like Edith Stein, now St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. When Jews did survive, often with the help of the Church, it was invariably for other reasons, e.g., successful covert operations, or the humanity of local officials, not yet totally corrupted by Nazi ideology, and, not infrequently, influenced by the passionate appeals of the Holy See.

  • Jairo

    Bravo Alexander !
    Another perfect example, I agree with you on all points. We must remember there is a great distinction between a priest or nun lying to a nazi, or going out and killing a nazi. If anything, there are examples of Priests or nuns sacrificing themselves to save Jews during WWII.

    Saint Maximilian Kolbe

    Sister Sara Salkahazi


  • Alexander

    What about Catholic hero Father Marie-Benoit, who used the printing press in the basement of his Capuchin monastery in Marseilles to create thousands of false baptismal certificates for distribution to Jews during World War II? Or all of the other Catholic clergy who must have uttered, at some point, some falsehoods to the Nazis in order to protect Jews? Are we really obligated to view those actions as objectively wrong and sinful? Yes, these people should have tried in those circumstances to avoid uttering any untruth through equivocation or the use of discreet language, but when that wouldn’t work, were they really obligated to, for example, give up the location of the Jews they were hiding?

    If Ms. Eden and Mr. Doino are serious about their position, I think intellectual honesty requires them to have the courage of their convictions and say yes, I would refuse to print false baptismal certificates and would never utter an intentional falsehood to a Nazi, even if it led to the certain death of Jews I was hiding.

    One last point: the statement that “If the Church allowed Alinskyite reasoning to prevail among Catholics, anything would be permissible” is not quite on point. No one here takes the Alinskyite position that one may do evil that good may come of it. The question is whether all intentional falsehoods — even those told to someone with no right to the truth — are necessarily evil. I agree that the Catechism’s language doesn’t appear to make any excpetions, but it also does not say that there are no exceptions. When I hear Pope Benedict say, in his teaching capacity as Pope, that Fr. Marie-Benoit was objectively wrong to print false baptismal certificates, I will accept that teaching. Until then, I will stand by my position that it was better for Fr. Marie-Benoit to do so and will hope that I would have done the same thing under the same circumstances.

  • dcs

    @Jairo, yes, the actors used disguises, but they also lied. No one denies that using disguises can sometimes be justified. It’s the lying that is problematic.

  • Jairo

    Lila Rose simply used a disguise to get at an ugly truth within Planned Parenthood. In an effort to ultimately save lives.
    I would argue that a disguise to help save others has most definitely been sanctioned be the church in the past. In fact not only sanctioned but applauded.

    During WWII Hugh O” Flaherty often used disguises to help save the lives of Jews and Allied troops in Rome.

    The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican

    ” By the end of the war he had helped over 6,500 Jews, American and British Soldiers escape from the Germans and his activities earned him the nickname ‚ÄúScarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican‚Äù as he became the master of disguises, evading capture from the Germans when he had to leave the security of the Vatican to go on his rescue missions.”

    From http://www.hughoflaherty.com

    There is a movie with Gregory Peck that pays homage to this wonderful deceiver.


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