what would be appropriate catholic response for certain situaitons that mamy require a lot of lying?
for exampled, hiding jews from Nazis, police investigators that go undercover and have to pretend to be other people in order to catch a suspect. hiding victims from aggressors that require changing their identity or keeping them in a safe place (something like sister act comes to mind)
isn’t lying always sinful? these situations usually require a lot of falsehoods
Jesus said “To give onto Caesar what is Caesar’s and onto God what is God’s.” Luke 20:25, Mark 12:17, Matthew 22:15-22. In the situations you described, a Christian is called to do God’s Will first. Doing God’s Will requires us to exemplify respect for human dignity and human life above cooperating with any worldly authority that seeks to destroy life.
I do not sin when I tell my children about Santa Claus; I do not sin when I tell me wife “no, that dress does not make you look fat;” I do not sin when I engage in undercover police work that requires me to hide my identity.
Jewish commentaries reveal a long history of struggling with the commands of the Torah which conflict with each other.
Jewish leaders who are thought to have succeeded the prophets are referred to as Sages.
The sages have tried to give practical advice especially when there are apparent conflicts between commands (mitzvah) in the Torah (first five books of the Bible).
Questions like in this thread come up frequently and I can never seem to lay my hands on the book that lists the exact logic to the solution.
The Torah is thought to require us to save a life if it is up to us, and certainly not to take a life. So, there is a conflict between telling the absolute truth and saving a life. You are in a dilemma of violating one or the other of these commandments.
The sages and rabbis have concluded that there are four commandments that you can never break, even to save your own life (including not to worship any other god). One of those commands is never to deny the existence of one and only one God. Another such absolute command is to not take a life. And, I cannot remember the other two absolute commandments. If I find the book, I’ll give you the rest of their argument.
But, their point was, that when faced with a conflict between commands, you can break ALL of the OTHER commandments of God except those four. So, to save a life, you would be compelled to tell a lie.
This dilemma is hinted at in the gospels, when the Jews pose questions to Jesus, like can you help your neighbor save his donkey on the Sabbath, if the animal has fallen into a ditch. And, Jesus says (in other words) “of course.”
So, this is why I like to read Jewish commentaries which deal with a lot of important questions about God and commandments and holiness.
The Catholic version of this argument is IN the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but it is rather obscure. Please see my next post in this thread.
There are a handful of ideas from both St Augustine and St Aquinas which are rejected by orthodox Catholics, including among them the Popes of the 20th and 21st centuries.
It’s generally agreed that a human being has a moral responsibility to protect the welfare of others. St Aquinas and co. that seemed to have a more hardline stance attempted to reconcile this with the idea of mental reservation, which is to say, that it is not a lie if you simply withhold information rather than stating information which you know not to be true, or you can make a statement that is - on a technicality - true, even though it is misleading the person. For example “Are you holding Jews in this home?”. And you respond “No, I am not holding any Jews”, and you rationalize to yourself that you’re not literally holding any Jews, therefore you weren’t lying.
This argument fails because one of the cornerstones of Catholic morality is the idea of intent. Stating a technical truth that is intentionality engineered to mislead somebody is identical to simply stating a technical falsehood. There is zero functional difference, if we were to assume that misleading somebody is always wrong. We can demonstrate this by flipping this idea around on itself. What if I were to say something that is technically true (and yet misleading) for the deliberate purpose of causing somebody harm? Am I spared from God’s wrath because I stated a technical truth? Have I outfoxed God?
Mental reservation fails because in most circumstances, silence in itself is an indicator that shed lights to what the answer is.
When our current Pope was working in Latin America under dangerous and oppressive conditions in Argentina, and there were many people’s lives at stake for political reasons, the explanation was that in order to believe that lying is always wrong, you would therefore have to believe that everybody always has the right to know the answers to what they ask. If you believe that a person, in some situations, has no right to know the answers to their questions, then it follows that there is no sin in misleading the person so that they do know what they were never morally entitled to in the first place. A murderer is not entitled to know the location of the person he seeks to kill. Charity does not demand that you give them correct information. In this respect, we may differentiate between lie and mislead in the same way we may differentiate between kill and murder.
OK, here’s the Catholic Catechism answering the question in its usual abstract and vague way:
1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.
So, the short answer to one of your situations is, your guilt and responsibility for lying is diminished or even nullified because of duress.
Somebody’s life is at stake, so you lie to save it.
So, lying to the Nazis to save a life is not wrong.
Lying under oath in a courtroom, where the defendant’s life is at stake is another matter.
You have sworn to tell the truth and you must. Although, you might lie out of fear for your life, if you believe it to be threatened.
As one post said, you should do God’s will…
My ancestors had definitely benefited from the many Christian abolitionists who flouted the law by hiding runaway slaves and teaching enslaved people to read. Somehow I’m sure God forgave them breaking the law in such a case:D:D
In addition to duress, lying to the Nazis is not a sin because of social factors (which are too numerous to mention in paragraph 1735).
1735 is part of a discussion of human freedom. When the Nazis are hunting for Jews in your house, you are not operating under perfect freedom, but, in fact, under no freedom at all.
In the Old Testament, there is scriptural validation for 1735. There is described how a man takes a married slave woman out of lust and commits adultery with her. He is guilty of adultery but she is not, because she does not have freedom.
I have asked many priests and the “ask an apologist” thread for a full discussion of 1735, and no one wants to answer me. IF 1735 is valid (and it is part of the Catechism – the deposit of faith – you MUST believe it) then it mean that you don’t have to confess an action under those terms, even if otherwise it would be considered a mortal sin.
1735 is really about the mercy of God and his judgment. It’s not just legalistic mumbo jumbo. It is for this reason that any of us should not pass judgment (at all, in the first place) of anybody, if we want God’s mercy to take full effect.
The Catechism describes homosexual conduct as “grave matter” but it does not come right out and condemn it as mortal sin – because, in general, of the considerations in 1735. Does a same-sex-attracted person really have complete freedom to avoid this “disordered” conduct? Most homosexuals would say not. Most homosexuals would say that they would prefer to not be that way (watch some “coming out” videos on youtube.com).
Suicide is self-murder. That would be a mortal sin. But, Fr. Ron Rohlheiser has written in national publications about suicide is a disease and we shouldn’t judge the suicide. And, that the Church’s attitude (towards funerals, for example) has changed.
We have to tread very lightly and withhold judgment. Let God decide.
I tried to pose the question about the meaning of 1735 to Fr. Mitch Pacwa on his EWTN Live program. Lo and behold, I got an answer written by a third person that the question was TOO COMPLICATED to discuss on TV. Imagine that! That one sentence is too complicated to discuss on TV.