We begin with this: the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that lying is intrinsically evil and can never be justified.
Now then. There is lighting up across the internet a discussion on the morality of undercover journalism, a la Lila Rose and her videos that show Planned Parenthood workers willing to support underage prostitution.
First, it seems odd that we need to be shocked at lesser evils in order to combat greater evils. The fact is if you're willing to kill babies, you're willing to do anything. Did the troops fighting the Nazis need a headline reading FILM OF HITLER STEALING APPLES! in order to appreciate the character of a man who made no secret of his devotion to evil?
But beyond that is what orthodox Catholics, to their shame, are revealing about themselves in this debate.
As my friend Joe Grabowski points out, there are two possible answers to the use of deception in sting videos.
1. Since the lying is being done for a greater good, one may claim that the end justifies the means. This is mere consequentialism, poison to any individual or society, a despicable position to take, but one that answers our emotions and appeals to our desire for effective action.
2. One may claim that the actors in these videos are not "lying", that their acts are of a different nature than that.
In fact, this is a claim I first advanced in my early defense of James O'Keefe, Lila Rose's partner in many of these videos, the "Undercover Journalist as Guerilla Theater Actor" defense. And while something can be said for this position, I'm no longer satisfied with it, and in fact I ended up publicly criticizing James O'Keefe here, here, and here. A much more thorough and philosophically grounded criticism of lying and role playing in undercover journalism has been penned by Professor Christopher O. Tollefsen at Public Discourse.
I will concede, however, that while position number one above, CONSEQUENTIALISM, is despicable, a case can be made for position number two - AN ATTEMPT TO DEFINE THE NATURE OF THE ACT IN QUESTION.
What surprises me, however, is not that the dozens of orthodox Catholics I've discussed this with on the internet are trying to deny that undercover journalism is lying; or that such people are quite sincere in their conviction that in life or death issues, such as opposing abortion, the end justifies the means - taking the position that consequentialism is licit. I can understand and sympathize with both positions.
What really shocks me is this - what is, in effect, position number three that Catholics take on this issue - and that is that THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH CAN BE IGNORED.
It seems that the opposition to magisterial teaching is not at all confined to liberals who hope to excuse contraception, make room for fornication and sodomy, and make excuses for abortion. The opposition to magisterial teaching is - surprise! - rampant among conservative Catholics when what it teaches goes against their political beliefs. This was true during the torture debate, but it was less obvious then, as the Catechism says a lot less about torture than it does about lying. Then torture defenders relied upon slippery definitions and not Catechism bashing. Now it's Catechism bashing.
The fact is that not only is the Catechism of the Catholic Church a magisterial document, it is a magisterial document of very high order, and (as I understand it) carries more authority than Papal Encyclicals. But conservative Catholics (I can't call them "orthodox Catholics") are telling me again and again these past few days that, to quote one, "we are not bound by what the Catechism teaches".
And we wonder why the Church at times appears to be moribund in this country? Neither the left nor the right have put their faith in anything other than their own desires, I'm sorry to say. The right may have better intentions than the left, but in either case, their Gods are their bellies.