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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  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    I beg your pardon, I should have proofread my statement above more carefully. What I meant to write in the third paragraph was:
    “Less than 100% success rate is not sufficient reason NOT to try contraception.”

    And while I’m at it, one more comment:
    Try not to get so lost in your own particular religious dogma that you forget that not everybody shares the same religion. For many, the telling of lies to support one’s prejudices is just further proof that without the lies, the prejudices are unfounded. In other words, if the truth doesn’t work, then there’s something wrong with your premise.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Hi, Steve
    Not an overpopulation crisis? What does it take for it to be a crisis? How much pollution, resource insufficiency, destruction of habitat for human use does it take for it to be considered overpopulation? Would you rather wait until this lovely planet is reduced to widespread disease, starvation, species extinction, pollution, climate change, wars for resources… oh, wait, that’s already happening.

    A fetus is not a child. You don’t get to redefine words to suit your prejudices.

    “Even if”?? Of course Planned Parenthood tries to limit unwanted pregnancies! Thus the name, “planned” parenthood, get it? And less than 100% success rate is not sufficient reason to try contraception. That’s like saying that there should be no cancer treatments because not everybody survives.
    I was never under the mistaken impression that a fetus is lacking its own unique genetics or that it has the potential to become a human being. That doesn’t mean it IS ALREADY a human being. Fertility clinics discard fertilized spe4rm when there is no need for it. Theoretically, that fertilized sperm also has the potential to become a human being. So, do you also accuse fertility clinics of murder?

    Re: making a decision for another. If you, Steve, are willing to provide physical and financial care and support for each embryo that is aborted, as well as total care for its host, regardless of circumstances, then you have a right to make a decision for that embryo and its host. Until then, Steve, you’re sticking your nose where it just does not have any business.
    I hope and pray that humans understand that there are not unlimited resources to support the voracious greed of one species.

  • Steve

    Ms. Hagan Bloch,

    I’m sorry to be stark, but if there is an overpopulation crisis (your contention, not necessarily mine), is your proposed solution to end the lives of innocent children in the womb? If the fetus is a child (what else is could it be?), then any willful killing of the child is a great evil. Can you please explain to me how abortion is not “making a decision for another?”

    Even if Planned Parenthood also attempts to limit unwanted pregnancies, does that negate their killing of children in the womb? And what about when birth control fails? Typical condom use has a 10-18% pregnancy rate over a one-year period, and is only 2% with perfect use. Should the new parents be allowed to kill there child because “they tried” to not get pregnant?

    To provide context to my questions, I am a former member of the ACLU, former supporter of Planned Parenthood, and former advocate for abortion rights. When I was confronted with the uncomfortable fact that the child in the womb can be nothing other than a child given the fact that it had its own unique genetics (and not merely an extension of the mother, like a cancer, as I previously thought), I was compelled by logic and my conscience to halt my support of abortion rights.

    I hope and pray that others do the same. God bless and be well.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    William Grogan, you hit it right on.
    And I further suggest that anyone believing they have the right to make a decision for another(i.e., whether someone else should carry a fetus to term) should seriously consider all the aspects of that individual’s situation. And all the anti-choice proponents seem to forget that Planned Parenthood also provides counseling on how NOT to become pregnant, so the question of abortion need not arise.
    What to my mind is the greater evil is the indiscriminate breeding of humans. The global population is reaching unsustainable numbers. When animal species overpopulate, there is disease, starvation, increased agression. Humans are different only in that with us, it’s worse. We have the means to destroy much of the earth’s resources in our insatiable greed for more and more to support more and more and more humans. When will we, as a species, come to our senses?

  • Tom R

    What is the ruling if your two choices are:
    1) Be an accomplice to murder
    2) Lie
    Was this not Oskar Schindler’s choice? If he remains silent, the Jews die, and his silence is responsible for that. If he tells the truth (they are not necessary for my business), the Jews die and his truthful information to the Nazi’s makes him an accomplice to their murder, in the same sense as a bank teller providing the combination to a bank vault makes the teller a robbery accomplice. So he lies – not deceives – unless you twis the word and its definition into a meaningless garble of nonsense.

    This perversion of the catechism to negate the role of conscience in imperfect human situations is ridiculous, and it is why Veritatis Splendor makes the point of the dignity of the human conscience.

  • Mark


    Thank you for your comments.

    Please point me to a CCC reference or other church teaching of what less-than-lethal situations cannot merit the use of broad mental reservations.

    I understand that it is asserted that broad mental reservations are not to be used wholesale, only for special circumstances, for example life saving or limb saving circumstances.

    But people rationalize all the time of when to be fast and loose with the truth, even to the point of deceiving themselves that they are not lying by misdirection via a broad mental reservation and so gain advantage over the person being deceived. This happens frequently in normal everyday occurrences, not just in the Nazi-at-the-Jew-hider’s-house door situations.

    It seems that a given circumstance requires an assessment by the deceiver to ascertain if the questioner/listener has the right to know something, and if not, then to deceive by broad mental reservation trickery, and not by outright lies, thereby avoiding moral culpability.

    As a victim of deception, I would have more respect for the deceiver if the deception was engineered by an outright lie spoken to my face than one who tricked me into thinking a certain way by the clever use of calculated word sets in that deception via broad mental reservation makes the victim of deception feel like he was played for a fool.


  • Christine

    Mark–keep in mind that the deception employed in broad mental reservation may only be used in exceptional cases, e.g., when your life or the life of another is at risk. A person cannot go about willy-nilly using broad mental reservation and think he is not culpable.

  • Mark


    I don’t think “speaking with forked tongues” to be equivalent to narrow mental reservation only. It can be broad as well. Why? The listener doesn’t know, at least initially, whether he is being deceived by lies, being deceived by broad mental reservation, or being deceived by the mind games employed in narrow mental reservation. Lies, broad mental reservation, or narrow mental reservation amounts to the same result—the listener being a victim of deception under a forked tongue.

    I would argue that once the deceived listener becomes wise to the deception and determines it to be under the less culpable broad mental reservation, he would be ticked off more than if he was simply being lied to. Why? Because he realizes that he was just played under the ploys of a mental reservation by a cunning, calculating deceiver and the listener didn’t have the brains to figure it out. There are books out there that describe how manipulation tactics are employed by calculating deceivers. You have to watch out for these people as their cunning deception via expressed ambiguous statements absolutely destroys trust. The deceived listener, now on to the person who deceived via a broad mental reservation, has to shift to prosecutor mode in any future discussions with the cunning deceiver with an interrogation mindset.

    Professionally and personally, I have no use for deceivers, be the deception mechanism engineered by an outright lie or a cunningly expressed broad mental reservation that I was duped under. I would fire the person if they reported to me or end the personal relationship as I could not trust that person in the future.


  • jim c.

    I haven’t read all the comments but in what I have read I am amazed that none seem
    to assert that in every single there can only be sin where a person acts against his own conscience – as the Catechism states – even when his conscience is in error. Also Scripture is very clear that we must be very careful not to usurp God’s prerogative to be the sole judge of what
    is in any person’s conscience. We ar
    indeed obliged to make judgments of right and wrong -but judging others is
    dangerous business. As we judge we will be judged. I don’t know about you but I want to be judged with mercy as
    only God can be merciful.

  • Christine

    Jairo: Thanks for the namecalling, but you’ve obviously never read Zmirak if you think he’s a liberal Catholic. Good people can come down on either side in this debate, and it doesn’t help matters to accuse others of simply being “liberal.”

    The way I see it is if the first edition of the Catholic Catechism contained a definition of lying that would have COMPLETELY EXONERATED Lila Rose’s actions, then the matter is hardly settled, and people need to stop being so dogmatic about it.

    I also find the title to this article extremely offensive. It’s a clever play on words, but comes across as utterly self-righteous and accusing of a group of people who have done more, through their courage and tenacity, to help cripple the abortion industry than anyone writing here.

  • Jairo

    Once again LIBERAL “Catholics” are more interested in being LIBERAL than “Catholic”. I think “Liberal Catholic” is actually an oxymoron ?

  • Christine

    John Zmirak wrote:

    “I don’t believe this discussion should even be taking place; there was no prudent reason for Catholics to publicly question Live Action’s tactics, and doing so was at best an act of sinful detraction worse than any “lies” Live Action told. Objections to the use of investigative journalism tactics should have been raised with the members of Live Action privately, and then with their local bishop. Then, and only then, if Live Action had continued in such tactics despite the warnings of appropriate Church authorities, it would have been worth raising the question of their tactics — but in a charitable manner, without publicly calling these pro-life heroes ‘liars.’ ”

  • Jacki Gosselin

    This may stir some of you up, but, I often wondered why angels lie. I’ve read many a story where the “angel” poses as someone else, or tells a story of what they do or where they’re from, an then when the person they’ve helped tries to go thank them, they disappear, and the story they’ve told about themselves is not true. So, if angels lie to disguise themselves, WHY can’t we lie to do a good deed as well?

  • William Doino

    Thanks for the thoughtful contributions on this important issue.

    I have written a piece entitled, “Did Pius XII Lie to Save Jews?” posted at the Public Discourse website (February 22nd), which addresses many of the issues discussed in this thread, relating to the Church’s (and specifically, the papacy’s) role during the Holocaust, and how Pope Pius XII combatted evil without lying.

  • tom in ohio

    At the behest of John Zmirak I will change one word.

    Instead of “To me it appears that lying to protect the life of the innocent, far from being sinful, can even be virtuous.”

    I will say “To me it appears that using deception to protect the life of the innocent, far from being sinful, can even be virtuous.”

  • tom in ohio

    one must ask: When does the practice of deception become sinful? Is all deception sinful? In war time don’t submarines hide under the water? In police work don’t undercover agents pose as non-policemen? When Corrie Ten Boom hid Jews wasn’t she being, in a certain sense, deceitful, right from the get-go, long before anyone interrogated her? She pretended to the Germans to not be hiding Jews. The very act of hiding carries with it the will to deceive. Is it the speaking the deception make it sinful? Is that the test, when it is spoken?
    What about a Joseph who hides his identity from his brothers as well as his ability to both speak and understand their language. This is intrinsically evil? What about Rahab, the harlot in Joshua 2 who hides Jewish spies, lies to the authorities about it, and earns a place in the bible hall of fame in Hebrews 11 for doing so. Augustine claims Rahab was wrong to lie but that she did not know better because she was a Pagan, not a Jew and did not know the 10 commandments. That seems weak to me, especially given her reward in the New Testament. Furthermore, the the law forbidding lying certainly belongs to the category of “natural”—things we can’t not know, laws that don’t require revelation for us to be bound by them. In other words even Pagans know it is wrong to lie—and so do Hindus and Buddhists. The golden rule (I won’t lie to you because I don’t want you to lie to me) does not require any “thus says the Lord;” it is written in the human heart.
    Was Strider sinful in hiding his identity from the Hobbits at Bree? Were the twin boys Cor and Corin in C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy sinning for masquerading for a good part of the story? All of the great stories of heroes masking their true identity now need to be banned?
    When Jesus tells us to hide the fact that we are subjecting ourselves to the rigors of fasting by oiling our hair and washing our face, is he asking us to do something sinful? When the Christians let Paul escape down the walls of Damascus they did so at night, very much hiding their actions from the eye of the authorities. Isn’t that deceptive? Does one really think they were obliged, if asked, to tell the authorities which direction he went? Or . . . they needed to have command of verbal trickery to tell a truth that does not help the authorities find him? Really? Where does this end?

    To me it appears that lying to protect the life of the innocent, far from being sinful, can even be virtuous.

    When it comes to “sting operation” journalism such as Lila Rose’s I am not at all convinced that it is intrinsically evil. The attempts to do end up like those defending absolute pacifism. They do not work.
    Tom in Ohio

  • Brandon

    I didn’t read all the comments so I apologize if this was mentioned by someone else. I think what Lila is doing is more akin to playacting or “secret shopping.” She sends in people who are playing a role to see the reality of the services planned parenthood offers. It would be like a company hiring people to shop at their stores as well as competitors to get a feeling for the real levels of service.
    If someone from Planned Parenthood was on to them and asked them about their true identity and they denied who they were, that would be a direct lie. Otherwise they are simply playing a role in order to learn and possibly expose corruption.
    It might be charitable (and possibly a good legal idea) to blur out the faces of the workers they capture on video though.

  • JohnHinshaw

    I will begin (and only the beginning)my consideration of these “Catholic” concerns by asking two questions. Was Pius XII aware of his Catholic obligation to reveal the truth of religious houses hiding Jews hunted by the (place your nation here)? #2:When can I next expect my (or anyone’s) bishop to issue a statement/letter/sermon on the illicit use of stings by the police?

  • Juan Lino

    There‚Äôs been quite a buzz about this on the net for several days now and I‚Äôve been mulling over it to ascertain what I believe about it. Well, here‚Äôs the fruit of my reflection. I agree that the guiding principle articulated in #1753 was violated: ‚ÄúA good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means.‚Äù

    As to the question that many are asking: Is Live Action an advocacy group? I answer yes in the same way that WikiLeaks is an advocacy group. Are they both journalists? Hard to say since the internet is changing what the definition of a journalist is. For example, Time magazine has said that WikiLeaks “could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act.”

    Then of course there is the phrase: “Be wise as serpents…

    I‚Äôm not sure we are ever going to solve this one because the facts are as solid as air at the moment. (This is not to say that I am advocating situational ethics just saying that “the object determines the method of investigation.”)

  • William Grogan

    I live in shades of gray, not black or white. I expect the rest of the world does as well. All this article does for me is to point out the flaws of intransigent reasoning with no room for acceptable deviation. Those ridiculous statements saying it’s never permissible to lie under any circumstances, then using the protection of innocents in WW2 as a case in point, are laughable. As if remaining silent in the face of a direct question, “Are you harboring Jews?” is not an affirmative. I would lie a million times if I thought it would protect another from harm. The truth is an elusive thing. What is truth to one may not be so with another. That is why we have the power of reason and the ability to talk and hash out what are appropriate actions in a given circumstance. I have never been one to believe in a one rule fits all agenda. That includes abortion. I know what the Catholic Church dictates. But I also believe it is an intensely personal decision between a woman and her God, and not for me, or anyone else, to make that decision for her. Only she knows her own truth.

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