Pope Francis and lying to save life

Back during World War II, some people lied to save Jewish lives.

More recently, Lila Rose has used undercover tactics to expose Planned Parenthood.

At issue is the question of whether it is ever okay to lie, particularly when you’re trying to save lives.

We live in a violent world, and the issue keeps coming up in human history.

Here is some information you might want to be aware of involving Pope Francis.


I’m not sure that this qualifies as a definitive answer but it is a question that has been asked many times on these forums. I know because I’ve joined several.

This is a great article for laying out all the points of view in a reasonable way. Needless to say, Pope Francis’ own choices are interesting even if they don’t quite settle the matter.

Indeed, the original edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church contained a definition of lying that seemed to endorse a proposal made some decades ago that restricted what counts as a lie to telling a falsehood with the intent to deceive a person who had the right to know the truth.

I still believe that this is the best definition of lying for the purpose of determining what is a sin. It never made sense to me that it would be ok to kill someone (in self defense or to protect the innocent) but not to lie to them for the same purpose.

Before revision, the English version of 2483 did read:
Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has a right to know the truth. 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.
Perhaps they removed that extra part because it was unclear who it was that had a right to the truth. The reader might interpret that to mean their spouse or acquaintance can be told falsehoods with impunity, so long as the teller doesn’t think said spouse or acquaintance had a right to know the truth.

(I’m not talking about when someone asks you for information. I’m talking about when you speak voluntarily.)

Telling a lie is a sin. Breaking of one of the Ten Commandments is sin. No one earth can say it is not a sin.

We are told we cannot do a wrong even if it will end up with good result.

We cannot have it both ways. The Ten Commandments is not a multiple choice test.

so is with holding the truth a sin, for a common good ? not lying directly, merely refusing to speak the truth to protect others that need protecting from evil when evil is demanding the truth be spoken so they may commit evil.

If a Nazi to ask “where are you hiding Jews” and you didn’t respond, that wouldn’t be lying. It would constitute not responding.

:shrug::shrug::shrug: If friend asks me if I have seen husband and I say nope. However I know he in motel with another woman. This is not a lie because I know it will hurt three people. No good will come out of it. It will cause evil.

Looking at it this way I can understand not being honest. No need for confession.

Guess we need to use common sense in certain situations.

That’s more like what I’ve seen labeled as a mental reservation. No, I have not seen him anywhere that I am able to mention to you. I usually evade somehow rather than do that, but if a friend asked I might reply like, He hasn’t been by the house in weeks. It’s so depressing. Let’s talk about something else.

Do you think that when Jesus said that no one knows the day or the hour not even the Son that He was lying? I really don’t think so. He was just saying that it was none of our concern. Same goes here… Moral theology can be so intricate as well as so simple. Are we for God or not? And then let Him be the judge…

The prostitute Rahab lied to her own people to save the Israeli spies, and she and her family were blessed and attached to the people of Israel.

Jacob agreed to deceive his father Israel in order to steal the blessing of his brother Esau. Yet, God takes his own Eternal Name after him.

King David feigned madness (an act) in order to avoid slaughter by the Philistines. Yet, he has an eternal throne in Heaven.

So, there are instances when there has been lying by God’s own Elect.

On the other had, St. Peter writes, “Stop lying to each other.”

So, in my conclusion from Scriptural references, is that we should avoid lying, especially to our brethren in the Church, unless there is a compelling reason that the person we’re lying to does not have the right to know, like the original Cathechism says.

I didn’t read all the posts so I hope I’m not repeating anyone. Pope Pius XII ordered the issuing a fake baptismal certificates to Jews in Rome in order to trick the Nazis into not into taking Jews into a concentration camp.

If you were walking down the street and a pregnant woman asks, "I’m new here; do you know of any abortions clinics?" and you knew for a fact that there was one two blocks away, what would you do? (And please, no I would just walk away responses; it doesn’t further the discussion).

In most social situations keeping your mouth shut is a pefectly reasonable choice. But that is not always possible. In the prototypical Nazi inquiry (and obviously the situation is not limted to Nazis), silence is not an option. Such governments are all too willing to use force to compel an answer.

Thus, I think part of the problem with the discussion of lying stems from our causal familiarity with other options. In the above case, for example, the most reasonable response would be to sidestep the quesiton and focus on the humanity of the fetus in an effort to disuade the person from her current objective.

You might try something like that in the Nazi situation, appealing to his humanity in some way, but while that might work with an indivdual it’s very unlikely to work with a group or even with a pair as they will not be able to trust each other.

(I trust everyone commenting here has read the article linkedin the OP.)

During the inquisition period, people were forced to lie by torture. For example, a woman who was accused of being a witch would have to admit to all kinds of awful lies about herself. Under torture people will do anything to stop the pain. (Well, unless they were saints or martyrs.)

Your example shows a lack of knowledge on the subject of the inquisition.

I didn’t say that the inquisition tried the witches, I said it was during the time period of the inquisition that the witch trials took place. In any case, most people will lie or fess up if they are tortured enough. That’s why torture is such a horrible method of “extracting the truth”. Also, the torturers have their own version of the truth. So telling the truth to people who have their own version of the truth, their own agenda, especially people with extreme power, is really meaningless.

However, that may be a high-risk approach. In an strict effort to avoid lying, you are placing the jews in your home at risk. So many will say mental reservation is the correct and moral approach. Instead of lying, one says something which is true, but is said in a way one knows it will be misinterpreted. For example, “are there jews here?”, you respond “no”, because you are standing on your front porch with the Nazis and there are no jews on the front porch. That works. But it is a rather specific case. If the question is “Are there Jews in this house?”, mental reservation becomes much more difficult to do without adding to the risk of the Jews you are hiding.
I have even read moral theologians that will say you must still do some sort of mental reservation, and if it fails, the guilt of the death is on the Nazis, not on you. But I am sure the fact that you are guiltless is of little consolation to the Jewish family who may have been saved if you had told a very firm and unequivocal lie.
So while these are extreme/hypothetical situations, I have a hard time seeing any sinfulness in lying in these situations. It seems that at times, members of the Church hierarchy have agreed with me, at least when judged by their actions.

Also, I would like to respond to the following post:

[quote=KrazyKat]Telling a lie is a sin. Breaking of one of the Ten Commandments is sin. No one earth can say it is not a sin.

While the absolute admonition against lying is certainly in the Catechism and as the OP article says as been supported by the majority of theologians, can one really use the 10 commandments as support for that teaching?

Exodus 20:16: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Deut 5:21: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. "

Both of these seem to be lacking in the absolute sense. Certainly, and unequivocal statement to the Nazis: “There are no Jews is in this house” does not constitute false witness against thy neighbor.

Anything but an absolute, unequivical “no” would probably put them and you in danger.

But there is another aspect to this that just occured to me.

Many soldiers and agents of evil are, themselves, ambivalent about their circumstances. They will often go through cursory motions in a silent objection to their task. If you don’t lie you are also endangering any who find themselves in that situation. You make it harder, if not impossible, for them to avoid doing what they don’t really want to do out of fear of less sympathetic comrades.

In addition to Akin’s blog post, here is more information on the clandestine network the future Pope Francis ran to save lives:


Quite a few Catholics are in law enforcement agencies or intelligence agencies, working undercover on-line and in person to help keep people safe from drug dealers, from child predators, and from terrorists, sometimes at great personal risk. They frequently have to lie about who they are and what they are doing to keep your children safe. Are these actions to be held as morally wrong?

Is a Catholic actor morally wrong when he strides on stage and tells us he is Hamlet or another character? One could argue that it is a mere convention to do so, and the audience is aware that he is “really” not whom he says he is. But the actor does not usually make that clear, other than letting his true name be identified in the program. And what if there are no programs?

I would argue that if someone is engaging in an inherently dangerous, evil act, they do so with the full knowledge derived from their conscience that good people will attempt to deceive them to mitigate the harm they may do to others. This is an inherent and accepted risk and thus, a “convention” of the life they have chosen, whether as a Gestapo officer hunting Jews, a meth dealer, a child molester, an al-Qaeda member, or a member of an escuadrón de la muerte under the former Argentinian military junta. They know that innocent people will attempt to lie to them to avoid harm and death. An honest person does not expect people to lie to them as they perform their day-to-day duties. Because of the moral choices evil people have made, they have willingly forfeited the right to expect truth from an honest person. In the same way as an audience member accepts the convention that an actor will “lie” to him or her, so an evil person accepts that good people will lie to them. They have no right to the truth since they intend to misuse it, and can only expect it if force and cruelty is used.

Of course it is acceptable to lie to a person who intends to cause you or another harm under such circumstances, as did the pope and hundreds of Catholic priests, brothers, nuns, sisters and laity in WWII, and as our current pope did to save lives.

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