Salvete, omnes!

Does the Catholic Church consider espionage/spying a tactic that must not be used in war because of its deceptive element?

Hs the Church ever ruled definitively (and even infallibly) on this subject? Or, is there still room for debate?

If there is room for debate, do you think espionage in wartime to be a tactic prohibited by CHristian morals or do you think it legitimate during wartime? What is your supporti8ng evidence either way?

When I think of this, I think of the two times when Both Abrhama and Isaac told those around them that their wives were actually their sisters in order to spare their lives. If we make the analogy to war, it would seem that these passages are telling us that, even if our very lives (or our nation’s life/security) are at stake, we should not engage in deceptive tactics because lying/deception is wrong (but in all cases?).

Still, virtually every nation (apparently) does it and I’m even wondering if, for its security, whether the Vatican itself does it.

Thanks for any help you may be able to provide.

However, I also recall some instances where the word in Hebrew often translated as “scout” could also be translated as “spy” when the Jews were fighting their wars.

What say folks on all this? Again, is espionage/spying/spycraft incompatible with Christian practice?

Honestly, I’ve always thought of its illegality as more a deterrent to protect a nation’s interests rather than as a judgment against its inherent immorality. Here, we just may have an illegal but not necessarily immoral sitaution (?).

There is no infallible teaching on espionage.

I seriously doubt you will ever see the church rule or weigh in on individual elements of wartime practices, other than something like the Geneva Convention, the Red Cross etc. An exception might be that of Nuclear Weapons.

Every country uses espionage on every other.

Although we will of course never know, I’d be surprised if the Vatican had no spies.


There is some information emerging that during World War Two, Pope Pius XII worked against Hitler.

Apparently, also, Pope St. John Paul II worked with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher against the Soviet Union, which may have been the reason why the Holy Father was shot.

All warfare always has involved deception. Leaders always want to mislead the enemy about where their troops are, what their intentions are, etc.

On the Catholic aspect, I’m pretty sure the Church engaged in espionage/worked with underground elements in the Polish resistance to resist the Soviet occupation.

I would say that espionage involves concealment more than deception. Compared to the violence involved in war, espionage is insignificant ethically.

Espionage, the gathering of secreted information about another, was practiced by the persecuted early Christians who posted lookouts during their celebration of Eucharist.

Defensive espionage against an unjust aggressor is always justified. Offensive espionage against an unjust aggressor may be justified under certain circumstances e.g., obtaining information which would allow or prevent the waging of a just war (Can we win?).

  1. Espionage does not always involve lying. Intelligence gathering also involves surveillance and reconnaissance.

  2. The Church has no infallible teachings on espionage or spying or law enforcement in general.

  3. The Church does have the 8th commandment dealing with the truth. And the moral concept of strict mental reservation. There are various schools of thought regarding the concept of prevaricating when a person does not have the right to the truth.

You can read the Catechism on the 8th commandment.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit