Can a Lie be Justified?


We all know that there is a range of lies that can go from venial to mortal, depending on effect and intent. Like there is a difference between telling a lie that destroys someone’s reputation (false witness) and a lie that saves someone from being hurt ('Darling, do I look fat in this?).

I’m curious to see what the range of opinions is about a lie that can (or can not) be justified. Telling lies and misrepresentation, for example, changed the course of the Old Testament which had positive ramifications even to the time of Christ, like when Jacob and his mother cheated Esau out of his birthright by lying and misrepresentation. Abraham and Sarah told Pharaoh they were brother and sister, ie not husband and wife, so that Abraham’s life would not be endangered (she must have been good looking then).

In my work these days I deal with people with often severe degrees of dementia and I often have to tell lies to save them from unnecessary distress. These old people often have no continuous memory of anything that happens and may ask you each morning where their husband or parents are. If you tell them the obvious (ie ‘they are all dead’ as I heard one nurse impatiently say) the old person will cry and mourn their loss all over again… and so each day the same thing. My 93 year old mother often asks smilingly if I’ve seen her parents, brothers and sisters and I just tell her they are fine or for whatever she asks. I don’t regard that as a sin but rather as a mercy. If I tell her they have passed away she will mourn but an hour later she will have forgotten and the same conversation could take place again.

I spoke to my confessor about it recently and so I thought I’d see if how others perceive degrees of ‘white lies’ or whether some think a lie is a lie, period.

With Thanks,



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