Lying is a sin EVEN if they don't have a "right to know"?

This is my first time starting a thread, so be nice. And hopefully, I have not violated any rules / posted in the wrong section.

Okay, so there’s been a few threads dealing with lying, and all of them have mentioned that it’s not lying if the person being mislead does not have the “right to know”. But here’s the problem: the “right to know” clause has been REMOVED from the Catechism.

The first edition (released in English in 1994) has the following WHITE cover:

The Second edition (released in English in 1997) has the following GREEN cover:

The second edition removed everything from the catechism that narrowed lying to when a person has the “right to know”.

For more information on this change: (shows every change made by second edition) (scroll down to very end) (just a blog post, but gives a good summary)

Forgive me if that seemed over the top, but there’s a lot of confusion surrounding that, and I was confused myself for a while too. So I wanted to lay it out clearly.

My question is this: What does it mean? Can we no longer lie if the person has no right to know? Or does it just mean the CCC will no longer back us up and we need to decide for ourselves?

Thanks in advance!

Why not just be honest in these situations and tell the person, “I’m sorry, that’s not something I can discuss; and I will not.”

Or you may resort to a mental reservation.


condemnation of, 2485
definition and significance of, 2482
devil as the father of the lie, 392, 2482
gravity of a lie, 2484, 2486
as an offense against the truth, 2483
tempter’s lie as the beginning of sin, 215
ways to discern the truth and the lie, 1954, 2847

Paragraphs 2482- 2487

2482 "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving."281 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."282

2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.

2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.

2486 Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships.

2487 Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven. When it is impossible publicly to make reparation for a wrong, it must be made secretly. If someone who has suffered harm cannot be directly compensated, he must be given moral satisfaction in the name of charity. This duty of reparation also concerns offenses against another’s reputation. This reparation, moral and sometimes material, must be evaluated in terms of the extent of the damage inflicted. It obliges in conscience.


2488 The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. **This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it. **

2489 Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. **The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.283 **

2490 The secret of the sacrament of reconciliation is sacred, and cannot be violated under any pretext. "The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore, it is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason."284

2491 Professional secrets - for example, those of political office holders, soldiers, physicians, and lawyers - or confidential information given under the seal of secrecy must be kept, save in exceptional cases where keeping the secret is bound to cause very grave harm to the one who confided it, to the one who received it or to a third party, and where the very grave harm can be avoided only by divulging the truth. Even if not confided under the seal of secrecy, private information prejudicial to another is not to be divulged without a grave and proportionate reason.

2492 Everyone should observe an appropriate reserve concerning persons’ private lives. Those in charge of communications should maintain a fair balance between the requirements of the common good and respect for individual rights. Interference by the media in the private lives of persons engaged in political or public activity is to be condemned to the extent that it infringes upon their privacy and freedom.

The Compendium has:

  1. What is forbidden by the eighth commandment?


The eighth commandment forbids:

false witness, perjury, and lying, the gravity of which is measured by the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims;

rash judgment, slander, defamation and calumny which diminish or destroy the good reputation and honor to which every person has a right;

flattery, adulation, or complaisance, especially if directed to serious sins or toward the achievement of illicit advantages.

A sin committed against truth demands reparation if it has caused harm to others.

  1. What is required by the eighth commandment?


The eighth commandment requires respect for the truth accompanied by the discretion of charity in the field of communication and the imparting of information, where the personal and common good, the protection of privacy and the danger of scandal must all be taken into account; in respecting professional secrets which must be kept, save in exceptional cases for grave and proportionate reasons; and also in respecting confidences given under the seal of secrecy.

A good strategy if it is an impolite question that a person does not have the right to know is to say, “Why do you ask?”

Most polite people at that point will realize that they’re crossing a line. However, it they persist with something like “I just wanted to know, etc.”, a good response would be “oh” and then change the subject. If they continue to persist, you can paraphrase the original question with something like “I’m not sure why you want to know?”, etc. Then change the subject again.

I had a situation recently where I lied instead of subtly and politely letting the person know that the subject was none of their business. I regret this.

By the way, my paraphrasing of this advice comes from Emily Post.

In some cases one would have a positive obligation NOT to tell the truth to someone who has no right to the information. That’s why companies and government’s have “privacy policies” to limit the information which can be disclosed.

Even in the absence of a ‘privacy policy,’ detraction is still a sin. That is, if you know of someone’s faults but others do not, you have no right to disclose the information to those have no right to it.

Thanks for your posts! I already feel like I have a better grasp on it now.

But what about cases where simply avoiding the answer GIVES the answer?

For instance, let’s say a friend did something scandalous and told you in confidence. And someone else (who suspects) asks you point blank? In such a situation deflecting, giving vague answers, etc would quickly reveal to the other person that its true or at the very least that you knew something. Whereas if you just simply stated “I don’t know” or “I haven’t heard of that” (which would be technically lying) would sufficiently save the others reputation.


I think I know what you mean. If you (rightly, in my opinion) say “none of your business” or something like that, it’s pretty much confirming the truth. I’m not sure what to do, except that it is commendable to spare your friend’s dignity and reputation. We all sin and make mistakes and wouldn’t want these broadcast on the evening news.

This is a great topic, and something I’ve thought about it

I’m not sure if this fits in, but it might-and I’m just asking this, so please don’t jump down my throat-Can I criminal lawyer advise a client to “plead the 5th” is the attorney has a strong belief their client is guilty? Would that be a lie?

Again, I don’t know-just asking.

I don’t know U.S. law, but if a client hasn’t confessed to you (therefore you don’t know), isn’t your ethical job to provide them with their constitutional right to representation and defense?

If you are convinced of a client’s guilt (and, therefore, are unable to give them their constitutional right to representation), are you allowed to pass of the case to a colleague?

And, you’re right. It is a great topic.

I don’t think it’s a lie since they aren’t speaking any falsehood. They’re simply requesting legal protection to remain silent. Although I’m pretty sure this is the only way you are allowed to do it:

“I am sorry, but you know as well as I that I would not be the person to ask if you want that information.
Go ask the source.”

It has worked for me plenty in the past.

Well, I’m sure you can say, “look, I can’t do this case because of this or that reason…can you take it for me?”

I assure you, it’s happend before, and there is clearly no ethical problem with passing the case on to someone else.

Thanks guys.

And I agree, that if a client hasn’t confessed to you, you still have to right to defend them against the state.

I think this would be pretty revealing. If someone had confided something to me and I said something like that, it would be pretty obvious that I knew something.

Think about, anytime someone is pressed on something and they keep dodging the question, it becomes pretty obvious what the answer is.

Does anyone have anything from the Catholic teaching that would enable you to lie in that situation? Should you just walk away?

Is it really that hard to figure what should be done in any given situation?

Umm…yeah. Hence the questions and helpful discussion.


How would this apply to people working undercover? I’m pretty sure they lie on a regular basis.

There is already a thread running on this subject;

I do not believe it revealing at all.
If someone asks for personal information about someone else, they are relying upon your willingness to talk about other people in an inappropriate fashion.

If you maintain yourself as one that does not talk about other people, then the answer is completely expected and non-commital.

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