Lying

Can it be okay, and if so, when?

I remember reading once here that some white lies are fine. Like we won’t condemn you for telling your kids Santa or the Easter Bunny is real. Or I doubt many people would actually say it’s a sin to tell a gunman the school’s the other direction to protect everyone.

But then on a recent thread (I can link if people want), someone said those white lies are still sinful. And it sounded like it’s grave matter. So which is it, not a sin, venial or mortal?

I think it’s down to effect and consequences.

If you lie to a blind person and tell them there isn’t an abyss in front of them, then the consequences of that lie would be appalling.

If I lied to a mugger and told him I didn’t have any money on me (and he believed me) then the consequences are clearly not a problem.

A ‘white lie’ could be the case where you tell someone ‘the cheque is in the post’ an hour before you actually post it. There aren’t any practical consequences (the money still gets there) but you save yourself from having to own up to something else that could have someone have a go at you (maybe rightfully)…

I don’t think anyone would say there was sin involved in someone during WW2 lying to a stormtrooper coming looking for the Jews they were sheltering…

Lies aren’t always bad because it depends on the situation as to whether what you are doing by the lie is good or bad.

In fact, I suppose you could say that, like wars, there can be ‘just lies’ and ‘unjust lies’…

No – lying is a sin

Catechism:

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.

scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s2c2a8.htm#III

But one need not always give the information sought

See for such CCC 2488 through 2492

scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s2c2a8.htm#III


and of course the question that may come up is “is this a lie” ? Some things that someone may think are lies --may not be.

Yes. Lies are sinful.

As to gravity – there can be grave matter (for example: lying under oath in court) or venial matter.

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.

Then I still ask about WWII. If lies are always sinful, then it would be sinful to tell the Nazis you are not hiding any Jews. Something tells me they would have been more suspicious had someone not responded to the question

My response:

Lying is an evil (no matter how small)

Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned…

scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s2c2a8.htm#III

It can be said that one can use certain licit “mental reservations”…or “discreet language”.

Now lets say one is in the very serious event of the Nazi at the door… and one can not find those discreet words…and others lives are at stake …and one thus ends up lying. What then? Well of course one should have found the other way. But in our weakness we sin …indeed we commit venial sins daily …hence they are called at times “daily sins” for which we pray daily “forgive us our trespasses”…and certainly ones culpability will likely be even further reduced by the event of the Nazi’s with the guns at your door…so ones venial sin will be reduced to an even smaller venial sin (if there is culpability at all)…which God in his knowing mercy can wipe away as one glances at the Crucifix with prayer after the Nazi’s leave…

God knows that in our seeking to live the varied virtues in our lives we will have venial sins in the process…that we being “saints” …being a new creation in Christ in the state of grace…in charity …living in Christ will still have “daily sins” to pray for. He loves us and continues to purify us with his love. (Not that such is an excuse to not seek to overcome our sins more and more in our lives …nor ought we seek or plan to lie in this case …but rather seek to find the right way)

Now all this does not make it “good” to lie. Or not a sin to lie (be it ever so slight). Nor does the ends in this circumstance “justify” the means of the lie. It remains a lie. A sin. But so too does the intemperance that one exhibited that morning at breakfast with too many eggs or the little anger one expressed at ones spouse that afternoon. If one falls here too…it will be another venial sin. Another weakness. Something that ought not have happened. One ought to have found a good way.

But it is somewhat understandable that it may happen in such events of Nazi’s at the door… even to Christians. To saints.

And there is really no point in trying to argue too much about such…

(PS: perhaps one could argue that there is a different “object” involved-- (hence not be a lie–similar to where taking say food by a starving person may be not “theft” by reason of the object…the definition of theft being something different and the universal destination of goods being in effect etc --see CCC 2408–such is a change in the object --it is a different thing than theft)…but again I leave that to the professional theologians to argue out and to the Magisterium to decide scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s1c1a4.htm#I and scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s2c2a7.htm#II)

Catechism:

1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means.

Catholic Answers apologist’s answer – similar to mine: catholic.com/quickquestions/is-lying-a-sin-if-done-to-protect-someone-from-death

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