How much of an obligation do we have to correct accidental "lies"?

I have wondered that more than once.
If I tell somebody something - especially if it is a stranger during a casual conversation, like a shop attendant or somebody - and I later realize that I said something wrong, that is of hardly any consequences to them (e.g. something about me personally, and they don’t know me), do I have any moral obligation to go back there and correct what I said?

Another example came up yesterday, this time with a guy I know (not very well though). He is homeless right now and we had a conversation in the park. We came to talk about living on a small budget; I had told him that I was going to pick up free bread that the bakery threw out. He seemed a bit sad for me that i lived a lot on just bread (and peanut butter, or whatever). I told him I ate fruit too. He said was good. I also told him I ate soup sometimes and had a friend who made great salads… He seemed a bit worried about me, because even though he was homeless he seemed to live “better” food-wise.
On the way home I realized that I had forgotten to tell him about the little container of yogurt and the rice cakes I had bought that day. I had forgotten I had them in my backpack. I almost went back out into the night to let him know but then I didn’t (it would have seemed weird??).

But somehow I felt like I had left a wrong impression.

Any thoughts on things like this?


No, don’t worry about it. It’s not really any of his business, anyway.

As long as you don’t give the wrong impression about anything they want to and ought to know about, it’s not a lie IMO.
Scene One:
He says, "I don’t have much but I eat well."
You say, "Well, I eat nothing but old wet crackers and drainpipe water."
Truth: You just had a great breakfast buffet at a five-star restaurant, your normal morning repast, with crab legs and three kinds of aperitif. You had so much pastry you can’t stand it. Every day you have lunch at a little trattoria were you like to try everything on the menu once. For a light dinner you have a spring-green salad and a plate of cheese toast and for supper it’s back to the buffet for steak and soup and all the frozen custard you can hold. You don’t foresee this routine ever ending.
Verdict: Outlandish mendacity. Correct it immediately.
Scene Two:
He says, "I don’t have much but I eat well."
You say, "I eat a lot of stale bread and peanut butter. Well, and now and then some salad."
Truth: Also some yogurt and rice cakes now and then.
Verdict: He probably knows you really have something else once in a while too. If not, he has the basic idea of your standard of living and approximate level of nutrition. He isn’t likely to run after you and feed you a sandwich, and if he does, you didn’t get it by posing as a poorer person tan you are. There is no intent to deceive nor is there any probable bad outcome. if he does urge some food on you, you may say, “Well, I have some yogurt, I’m OK.”

One needs to avoid being overly scrupulous in this matter.

Certainly you did not sin as you only forgot to mention something you might otherwise have said. None of us have perfect memories! And if you didn’t sin, there wouldn’t seem to be the obligation to make up for it, especially on matters that are really so trivial.

One is not obligated to divulge every detail about one’s life and eating habits to complete strangers. They do not have a right to such details.

Even if you deliberately lied to them, that wouldn’t mean you were obligated to track them down and set the record straight (although it might be admirable to do so). Like when people convert later in life, they are not obligated to go back and try to replace all the items they shoplifted, even though some may choose to do so. Our obligation is to go to Confession and turn towards the Lord!

Your post made me hungry! :wink: :smiley:

Made me chuckle.:slight_smile:

And I must say, I thought along similar lines when I decided NOT to go back last night and “set the record straight”.


And I guess my other example, telling something to a complete stranger and later realizing it wasn’t a 100% accurate - doesn’t mean I have to try and hunt them down again to set a minor detail straight…


Yah, me, too. I just love old wet crackers and drainpipe water! :wink:

Kathrin, take this lightly in the spirit in which I’m saying it. :slight_smile: :slight_smile: You are afraid it would seem “weird” if you went back to mention the yogurt in your backpack, because it WOULD be weird! :smiley: You know what - that’s a great sign that you may be beginning to overcome your scrupulosity - your natural instinct about what’s normal and what’s not is making itself heard. Good for you!

As others have told you, total strangers and casual friends have no right or need to know every single thing about you. As long as you have no intent to deceive and no harm is done, there is nothing at all to worry about. The other point here is that the information you left out is quite trivial. Only in much weightier matters do you need to make the effort to be totally accurate. And even then, if you honestly forget, you have not sinned, because you lack the intent to deceive.

Please try to relax!


In the OP, the term “accidental lies” is used. A lie is a deliberate falsehood. If one gives someone else false information by accident, or mistake, it’s not a lie…it’s simply a mistake.

We all make them. :smiley:

That’s why I put “lies” in quotes.:slight_smile:


Omitting details because of forgetfulness or just privacy is not a sin, nor is it a lie. If I tell someone I went to the store for got milk and bread, but don’t tell them about personal items that I also bought, I’m not trying to deceive them. I’m giving them an idea of my purpose in going to the store while maintaining my privacy. It’s called generalizing. :wink:
Omitting details in order to deceive, on the other hand, is wrong. If I get pulled over by a cop on my way from the store and he asks what I’ve been doing and I tell him I went to the store for milk and bread and neglect to tell him I didn’t pay for them, that’s wrong. It’s not a lie, per se, but it’s a lie by omission b/c I’m deliberately leading him to believe that I paid for the milk and bread so I don’t get arrested. (Of course, there’s also the sin in having stolen, lol.)

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