Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Orthodox Catholics Abandoning Ship

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.


Baron Korf said...

Kevin, I think you left off an option there.

3.) Undercover journalism is a legitimate form of defense in a war of information.

Granted CCC 2263 and following refer to physical violence, I do not believe I am twisting the intent to apply it here.

The Church's leadership has precluded violence from our side of this struggle, but that does not mean this is not a war.

suzanneslu said...

It IS a war,,,,we are told that in Eph 6,,,against principalities and powers and Evil itself.

I, for one, do not like being lumped into the group of "orthodox Catholics gone bad" just because intellectuals out there disagree. It is VERY VERY much like the Pharisees, in my humble opinion.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Even in war, we may not do evil so that good may come.

Suazanne, I admire your zeal on this issue. But you and others like you are turning your back on the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. And as for Pharisees, I've blogged on them (the Puritans among us) before.

Tom Leith said...

Most of the specific criticisms of the CCC I have seen came from the Lefebvrists and they published extensively on the topic. If anyone's really interested, their criticisms may be found on line but I'm not going to help.

A French monastery, Abbey of Le Barroux, which had been part of the Lefebvrist society before the Episcopal consecrations in 1988 wrote a whole book refuting them. Unfortunately it is only in French: Oui! Le Cat├ęchisme De L'├ęglise Catholique Est Catholique! It means "Yes! The Catechism of the Catholic Church is Catholic!" The text is not on line: the monks want to sell their book for 6 Euros. I’d sure love to have it in English.

A man I know, a Republican Party activist and “conservative” Catholic who is in favor(?!) of capital punishment, similarly rejects the CCC as a reliable guide because it echoes JPII's analysis that capital punishment is not necessary in most of the developed world to protect the citizenry, and therefore it ought not be used. The man stridently insists that JPII is just one theologian entitled of course to his opinion and so forth, but that he'd abused his office to get his opinion into the CCC, and what other mischief is in there, anyway? After all, there are centuries of papal documents saying that the prince may execute people. We all know the Church is now ignoring its dogma to be pastoral and acceptably modern!

Williamus Filius Johannes in the flesh.

The mistake both the Lefebvrists and the conventionally-conservative man make is they both deny in their own way Newman's Development of Doctrine. They expect the development to be declared in an "infallible document", otherwise they feel free to reject it.

It should be noted that "Progressive Catholics" also complain about the CCC -- they said it marked a return to Byzantine obscurantism, which is another way of saying it doesn't give them the easy answers they want. Not that they care much one way or the other what the Church actually says.

To be "docile" means to be "teachable". The Church teaches us by many means, and we can't throw out the CCC or or any other part of the Church's Magisterium, ordinary or extraordinary, that doesn't happen to suit us even in the face of apparent contradictions. We are called to understand its entire meaning and integrate it as best we can into our lives.

Baron Korf said...

I understand that Kevin, but am I to take that to mean we may not kill in a Just War either?

Kevin O'Brien said...

Theological musings on this from a deacon friend of mine:

I just read-skimmed the Tollefsen link. I think he's mis-identified the "object" of the act in question. The "lying" done in the PP sting, apparently in Tollefsen's view, would be the actual statements made while... "in character" as the "pimp" etc. Obviously those statements are not "true" statements but they're all stated, ironically, as part of the "character's" "imagined truth." The *real* lie in the PP sting, as I see it, is the *assuming* of the role. the dialogue that follows, while not true in itself, isn't "lying" any more than when an actor is on stage speaking dialogue. The question, morally speaking, should be, is it appropriate to take on the role of a pimp to trick PP into revealing its true practices?

Maybe that's what this whole issue hinges upon--presuming that character "dialogue" is actually a form of lying when in fact a "sting" operation is all about assuming roles requiring an "imagined truth" of their own, which in itself is *not* lying. The deception in a "sting" operation must first be evaluated by assessing the moral quality of assuming a *role* in the first place....or am I on a tangent?OK, Kevin--one last comment--pondering more and more the probability that folks are not properly identifying the "object" of the act in question. Particularly if one is trying to weigh the morality of individual statements made while playin...g a role in a sting operation, then the "object" of that evaluation is "speaking untruth while role-playing in a sting operation" rather than "lying." With the sting issue, the first thing to do is assess the preliminary "object"--"role-playing in a sting operation." Is this itself intrinsically evil? Or immoral? Or equal to lying? If it is, then it should never be done. If it's not, then it admits of circumstances justifying such role playing, and further justifies use of language in keeping with the role being played, meaning that such language is not "lie" language.

It's the "role-play" that's the "deception" (not using "lie" here) in this case. In other cases it may be a one-time "deception" or pretense whose "object" is not intrinsically evil (speaking something that's not true in order to save a life).

I think people are talking past each other in the blogosphere on this one--I really think, morally speaking, the "sting operation role-play" is not the same as intrinsically evil "lying". And I think the CCC doesn't directly address the issue, but the indirect inferences from the CCC seem to leave room for this one...

Tom Leith said...

> I really think, morally
> speaking, the "sting operation
> role-play" is not the same as
> intrinsically evil "lying".

Yeah, I think the deacon's on to something you sorta got instinctively. Seems to me the question turns on the meaning of "in order to lead someone into error”. In a sting operation is there intent to lead someone into error, or to show the error they're already in? Does a sting operation lead the person to form an intent he didn't already have or wasn't already prepared to form? I suppose there is this danger but "I'll pay you $10MM to kill my wife" isn't the same thing as "How much for an abortion on my horribly unfortunate girl here?"

The standard for US police practice (not that this is necessarily normative) is that the police may not provoke or pressure a subject to commit a crime, but may give him an opportunity to commit one while someone's watching. This seems analogous to the "lead someone into error" standard: the police may not lead them, but they may provide a door even if there's really nothing behind it but a cop.

Maybe we should send a dubium to CDF. We are allowed to...

Kevin O'Brien said...

Baron, I don't know anything really about the Just War doctrine.

Two things strike me, however. Killing to defend another is not "murder". The Catechism alludes to killing in self defense as part of the double effect, such that the killing is not directly intended, but the defense is. " The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility."

Thus, in a Just War (a defensive war), moral rules are not suspended.

And again, I'm not saying that this undercover journalism is necessarily "lying". I think a case can be made that it's not, and that's what folks across the internet are working on.

However, I have noticed some typical defenses of these videos. The typical defenses have been:

1. The consequentialist defense.

2. The warfare defense: all's fair in love and war and this is war (this is an exaggeraton of what Baron is saying, but others have gone this far with this claim).

3. The double effect defense.

4. The ad hominem defense: you are a Lila hater and a judgmental bigot.

5. The Protestant defense: "we are not bound by what the Catechism teaches" or "the Catechism is not magisterial, or at least it is only provisionally so, thus it may be ignored".

6. The equivocation defense: equivocaton is not exactly virtuous, therefore direct lying is good.

Moral theology aside, only #3 above deals with the issue, as the issue is the intent and the object of the actions of Lila Rose and others likeher.

Baron Korf said...

I do not think that the warfare defense should be so easily dismissed. The ad absurdum of all things are allowed in war is wrong, but war puts things into a context that seems to change things. Just War is all about double effect.

I would point out that Joshua used spies in his conquest of the holy land. They were protected by Rahab and she was rewarded for that.

I would also point out that the Vatican tried men as covert priests to bring the sacraments to the faithful trapped in communist Russia (See With God in Russia). This is not mental reservation but actively passing yourself off as something you are not.

These wars and wars-that-are-not-wars seem to have slightly different rules. Or the rules are the same and the actions take on a different color in light of these struggles.

Lila and I are both young enough to have had open war declared on us in the womb and the death toll is staggering. The legitimate authority has not come to our defense, but is instead backing the aggressor. We must pick up the slack that the government investigators are leaving behind.