Is White Lies without Mental reservation acceptable – ie, not a sin, not even venial sin? I do not know.
Is mental reservation acceptable? One explaination my priest regarding an example of good white lie is: If a kid ask if you have any Candy, the White Lie verison would be: “Sorry, I do not have any.” The mental reservation part is continuing: “… for you.” And to my understanding, he also used similar method to explain how it’s okay to not give out money to panhandlers on skid row, since it’s likely they use it for drugs or alcohol. As this is given by my priest, with a good explaination, I will accept his teaching unless proven otherwise.
P.S. regarding mental reservation, note that it is not just Jesuit that use it: apparently it is also used by St Athanasius to escape Emperor Julian. From what I can tell, it should have a good reason to do so. In the case of panhandling, there’s typically missions to handle their livelihood…
Without getting into the CCC, to love one’s neighbour as oneself is to not lie.
However, lying is not always lying, if the person you are telling something false to, is an unjust aggressor, and if, by telling something false to the aggressor, you would be protecting the life of another person, as a consequence.
It seems like the lying that is being condemned is when lying is done for the purpose of deceiving, or “leading a neighbor into error”.
If your lie has some other purpose than deceit, then it would seem to be either not a sin or not a serious sin.
Every lie has as one of its purposes deceit - a lie is said in order to lead another to believe something that is false.
Circumstances of duress, such as lives being at risk (eg the often-cited “do you tell the Nazis that you have Jews hiding in your house” conundrum), in my view, may lessen the moral culpability of a liar, to the point of venial or even possibly no sin. I wouldn’t say that they necessarily mean that lying is ever obejctively other than sinful.
There is a strong school of Catholic thought that allows the “lie” of necessity. If a person’s conscience tells them that the correct answer is to deny knowledge of Jews in the house to preserve them from unjust aggression, then they may speak so without fear of sin because the intention is to preserve innocent life, not to aid men engaged in objectively evil actions. To preserve innocent life is certainly love of neighbor as yourself.
By your definition, the “mental reservation” examples given would also have to be seen as “lessening the moral culpability of a liar”. Seems a stretch to have to say someone committed the objective sin of lying but then had their moral culpability reduced to zero because it was for the other party’s good.
I can think of another example: if a terrible accident occurs, killing one family member and injuring the other severely, and the injured one wakes up in the hospital and becomes agitated about where is the other person, and you or the doctor say “don’t worry, she is just fine” in order to calm the injured person down and keep them from possibly becoming sicker, you have also lied, but the purpose is not to lead someone into error.
Third example: Father Michael Pro in Mexico went about all the time in disguise, essentially lying about his status as a priest, to keep from being arrested or killed. He was lying to many people all day long, only telling the truth about being a priest to those Catholics to whom he brought the Sacraments. He is today Blessed Michael Pro and just one step from canonization.
Fourth example: You buy a person a necessity, but you know they will not accept it if they know you paid for it, so you frame it as having come from some other source rather than telling them “here I bought you this”.
So when it comes to lying being a sin, I think the more correct answer is “depends on the intent” than trying to frame it as objectively always a sin but with 1001 exceptions. “Deceit” in this framework would seem to specifically mean leading your neighbor into an error that is or could be harmful to either you or them, not just any old error.
I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around the idea that it would be acceptable to kill in self-defense or in the defense of another, but not to lie. That is, unless just as murder is defined as the unjust taking of a human life (and murder in self-defense is not unjust), lying is defined as an unjust falsification. (I’ve seen it defined in some places as deception for the purpose of withholding the truth from someone who has the right to have it.)
I think the words “murder” and also ‘theft’ are appropriate when describing lying itself in all its contexts.
If we lie, then we are murdering, to some level, the dignity of another by robbing that person of the respect they deserve as a human being. We are simultaneously doing that to ourselves.
When we tell a false truth to deny evil, however - in cases of definite ‘just’ cause - we are not so much lying as we are protecting, while murder becomes saving, and theft becomes giving.
The point is, an unjust aggressor is in a state of rebellion, against God’s Law, not the person who is being threatened or those they are protecting, and therefore, the person (the unjust) in a state of rebellion, has no rights that pertain to freedom, as they are or have, and have proved to demonstrate that they would continue to, abuse that freedom (in this case, via persecution).
I’m not sure if you mean ‘absolutely evil’. Lying objectively means lying with no personal opinion about the matter. That is, impartial and unbiased. Disinterested. I’m not sure if that’s even possible. I’m struggling to think of a situation where one could lie whilst remaining impartial and disinterested. The very act of lying means that you have an interest in the other person being deceived. You actually want them to be deceived, so it could hardly be described as impartial.
On the other hand, if you did mean absolutely, then the answer, as has been already explained, is a categorical no (although there have been some very recent threads where some have tried to argue the opposite). Absolute means not in relation to anything else. Not relative to anything else. And it doesn’t take much to realise that all lies are in relation to something. That there are conditions relative to the act.
And, as we have seen, if the conditions are such that a lie may save an evil from occurring (there is no-one hiding in the basement), then it is acceptable.
Now some may complain that this is relativism. And they would be perfectly correct. Lying is relative to the conditions as you have seen in all the examples given. And then who makes the decision whether it is correct or not? Well, you do. You could make up any number of scenarios where lying might or might not be acceptable and ask the forum and everyone will make that personal decision themselves if it’s acceptable.
Dictionary definition that pops up first online for the word “deceive” from which “deceit” comes:
(of a person) cause (someone) to believe something that is not true, typically in order to gain some personal advantage.
If you’re not doing it for personal advantage over another, then it’s arguably not deceit.
The full quote is: “According to the common Catholic teaching it is never allowable to tell a lie, not even to save human life.”
This is obviously not so “common” in view of some of the examples above. Catholics hid Jewish people and lied about it to save their lives. No one in their right mind would say that was “not allowable”. Fr. Pro lied to the officials constantly as he pretended to not be a priest so he wouldn’t get arrested and shot while secretly saying Masses and giving sacraments, and he is beatified.
Please try to stick with what the CCC says. It seems to me that 2482, 2483, and 2485 plainly assert that lying is objectively, inherently evil and therefore never permissible. All the* apparent* qualifications of that assertion involve withholding the truth, “discreet language,” etc. Nowhere does the CCC say that lying is morally permissible under any circumstances.
I am open to correction on this point with respect to the text of the CCC.
In the first edition of the catechism, the entry on “lying” made a distinction about the illicitness of the act to people “who have a right to the information (paraphrased).” The second edition eliminated this distinction and was a source of discord, since now the act of lying to an unjust aggressor to preserve innocent life appears to be condemned. This simply goes against common sense. No parent is obligated to tell an unjust aggressor that their teenage daughter is hiding under the bed, thereby making them susceptible to violent rape. Anyone who would maintain as much would rightly be judged as to be the victim of disorganized thinking.
The Catechism states that lying is never to be allowed (#2485) since the only purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. It is important to note, however that the Catechism is written for the ordinary Catholic in ordinary situations. Some theologians warn that there are extraordinary occasions where to tell the truth could cause a greater harm than the harm done by withholding it. Such would be the extraordinary occasions where a life or many lives can lie in the balance as the result of the truth an undercover agent conveys or chooses not to convey.
My apologies. On reading this part of the post more closely, this part of the argument agrees with the Catechism’ teaching. We are not obligated to tell the truth to those who have no right to know the truth. However, that is not to say that we may ever lie – white, black or gray. 2489 No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.