I just wrote to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, asking for some clarification on the Lying versus Lila debate:
There is currently a debate raging among Catholics here in the United States over the morality of the actions of a group known as “Live Action” and its founder “Lila Rose”. This group, as you might have heard, goes around to Planned Parenthood clinics. Their members pose as pregnant women, prostitutes, potential donors and others, asking Planned Parenthood questions and filming or recording what the Planned Parenthood workers and volunteers say. They have done a great deal to expose many things such as covering up of child prostitution.
Some have pointed out, however, that Catechism 2464-2499 is pretty clear on lying and the obligation to truth. They also argue that if the so-called “sting operations” are moral to begin with, some of the dialogue on the videos or recordings indicates entrapment, such as an early recording when Live Action person called a Planned Parenthood donation center and said, “I’d like to make a donation to pay for abortions for black babies because I hate black people,” or something to that effect, and a clearly confused worker said they’d accept the donation.
Lila Rose has become quite the celebrity, and her videos have gotten a lot of attention. So recently, people have been raising the question of how her actions can be “squared” with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the teachings of the Saints, and the Gospels. Most of the arguments raised in her defense seem rather weak or consequentialist. One of the common things people say is “Undercover cops,” but part of the point of those raising the question is that the Church has never made a clear statement on whether the work of undercover police or spies is morally acceptable. Another common response is to compare the situation to people trying to save Jews in Nazi Germany, and “lying” to the Nazi soldiers. This discussion is really generating a lot of anger and confusion, and I thought I might as well just go ahead and ask at the top.
I see no way in which Lila Rose’s actions can be considered virtuous, and certainly not heroically virtuous, and the only case that can be made that they are not intrinsically evil is that there is some method of justification at work.
My own reflections on the matter, after paragraphs 2464-2499, is to reduce the debate to the following questions:
a) Is there a form of falsehood that is not, technically, a lie? Not every killing is murder, and not every act of taking something from someone else is stealing.
b) Is it a lie to assume a different identity and then act in accordance with that identity? In other words, ontologically, if Lila Rose walks into a Planned Parenthood clinic and says, “I’m a prostitute,” and acts and speaks in accordance with being a prostitute, could it not be argued that she is, within that context, a prostitute, and that she’d only be lying if someone asked her, “Hey, aren’t you Lila Rose?” and she denied it.
Of course, ultimately, the discussion really boils down to the following, and I think that is why so many people are mad, because they’re concerned about family and friends (and selves) who are police or soldiers or intelligence agents:
c) Is “undercover” work or espionage work morally licit at all?
I appreciate your time and consideration.
Pax et bonum,
John C. Hathaway, OCDS, MA