So here we go, and I will link to this post often when the same objections keep being raised. It's old hat, all of it, but here it is in a nutshell.
WHY LYING IS INTRINSICALLY EVIL
I. THE CATHOLIC POSITION
- The Catechism is very clear on this point.
2482 “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.”281 The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: “You are of your father the devil,... there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”282 (392)
2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. 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.
2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. (1750)
2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray. (1756)
2486 Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships. (1607)
WHAT ABOUT WHEN SOMEONE HAS NO RIGHT TO THE TRUTH?
2488 The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it. (1740)
In other words, if someone has no right to the truth, we may keep silent. But we may not lie.
WHAT ABOUT IF WE LIE FOR A GOOD CAUSE? WE CAN CERTAINLY USE BAD MEANS TO ATTAIN GOOD ENDS, CAN'T WE?
1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).39 (2479, 596)
Note that an act that is INTRINSICALLY DISORDERED may never be done under any circumstances, not even for a good cause.
WELL, THERE ARE TWO TRADITIONS ON LYING, YOURS AND THE MORE LENIENT TRADITION. THE MAGISTERIUM HAS NOT RULED ON WHICH IS OFFICIAL, SO ANY CATHOLIC MAY CHOOSE EITHER.
This is the argument of people who say, "Until the Pope rules on this ex cathedra, I may believe what I will!" Note that supporters of abortion and contraception say the same thing.
The fact is that the Catholic Church teaches infallibly on matters of Faith and Morals when the Magisterium speaks - and the Magisterium is more than just the Pope speaking ex cathedra. Indeed, a large portion of infallible Church Teaching is communicated by the Ordinary Magisterium - bishops in union with the pope teaching the same thing over the millenia, as well as the lay faithful holding views in common over the course of Church History.
Even the Lying Apologists call the teaching that Lying is Intrinsicallly Evil "the majority view".
The problem is, even the teaching denouncing contraception can be seen as merely a "majority view", Humanae Vitae being but one element of the consistent teaching from the Church from the beginning, but with lots of dissenting views competing with it, popping up here and there, especially in the modern age.
Dissent does not make a Magisterial teaching less so. Dissent does not turn the teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium into one opinion among many. "A majority opinion" - especially when espoused by Scripture, Augustine, Aquinas, the Catechism of Trent and the Modern Catechism - is more than a "majority opinion".
BUT WASN'T THE MODERN CATECHISM CHANGED REGARDING LYING?
Yes, after the first edition, it was changed to reflect more accurately the teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium, that Lying is Intrinsically Evil. That more restrictive teaching has appeared in every subsequent edition, including the current one.
BUT WHAT ABOUT PETER KREEFT AND JANET SMITH AND JOHN ZMIRAK AND DEACON JIM RUSSELL?
People are fond of telling Mark Shea and bloggers like me that we are not the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. They are right. Neither are the folks you mentioned.
WHAT ABOUT PETER KREEFT'S ARGUMENT THAT LYING FOR A GOOD CAUSE IS JUST FINE?
Peter Kreeft argued that our "moral common sense" tells us it is OK to lie when, in our judgment, the situation warrants it. The problem is the "moral common sense" of 95% of the world today tells them that fornication is just fine, and many folks have a "moral common sense" that tells them that "gay marriage" is a good thing. Our "moral common sense" is, in fact, fallen and in need of a redeemer. It's not our "moral common sense" that we should consult in this case, but the mind of the Church - the mind of Christ. And His teachings shock and offend our "moral common" sense much more than His teachings soothe and affirm them.
IF LYING IS INTRINSICALLY EVIL, WHY IS KILLING SOMEONE NOT ALSO INTRINSICALLY EVIL, SUCH AS WHEN A COP SHOOTS A ROBBER?
As I understand it, even in wartime, we may not deliberately take the life of another. We may use deadly force if the situation calls for it and if we have no other alternative, knowing that the deadly force may in fact kill - but the death of the criminal or of the enemy is not our intent; stopping him is. This can be seen clearly that when a cop fires and fells a suspect - and even when a soldier shoots and wounds an enemy combatant - they call in the medics to save the life of the fallen perpetrator or soldier, as soon as the danger is clear. That's because our intent is to stop, not to kill.
In the sting videos, our immediate intent is to deceive the victim -the deception of the target is not an unintended consequence, but a means to an end. Thus it's wrong.
SO LYING IS AS BAD AS KILLING?????
No, read what I just said. We may not do evil so that good may come, but if evil results as an unintended consequence of a good action, we may do the action - under very strict and limited conditions. This you can read more about elsewhere.
WELL, THE STING VIDEO ACTORS AREN'T "LYING" - THEY'RE PLAY ACTING, OR SOMETHING SIMILAR.
To "lie" is to lead another into error deliberately. Audiences in the theater are not "lied to" by the actors playing roles. Audiences are "in on" the deception, which is not an "ontological deception" - not a deception at the level of our existence in the real world. The same applies to games and to fiction. What sting actors do, however, is lead their unwitting audiences (their victims) into error in the real world in a real way. The sting videos are about deception, not fiction or acting - for the targets are genuinely deceived, and without any prior consent or suspension of disbelief on their part.
WHAT ABOUT WHEN MY WIFE ASKS ME, "DOES THIS DRESS MAKE ME LOOK FAT?" IF IT DOES, BUT I SAY, "NO, HONEY," AM I LYING?
Yes you are. Of course you can always say, "I love you no matter how you look." She will hit you, but you can always say this.
OH, THAT'S NITPICKING!
I'm not saying such a "socially conventional" lie ("No, you don't look fat!") is a major sin, only a minor one. That's why we call it a "little white lie". It is indeed a lie, albeit little and white. Of course, one can make the case that all social intercourse, even between husband and wife, is usually a kind of game, and certain rules apply to the game so that people don't take every social utterance seriously and no "ontological deception" is involved.
ISN'T ABORTION A KIND OF WAR ON THE MOST INNOCENT, AND CAN'T WE DECEIVE THE ENEMY IN WAR?
Just War doctrine and what may be done during war has a special place in Moral Theology. Again, if war is a kind of "game" or "convention" where words aren't taken at face value, and that is mutually understood, perhaps a case can be made that lying in wartime is not really "lying", since communication is no longer taken seriously and "game rules" apply. We understand that politics, for example, is such a game, and we believe nothing any politician ever says. But we still get mad when they "lie" to us, so ultimately this analogy doesn't work. And war can only be declared by a legitimate authority, not assumed by individual combatants.
YOU'RE A PHARISEE! THIS IS "HOW MANY ANGELS CAN DANCE ON THE HEAD OF A PIN!"
Most certainly not. Theology is simply using reason and applying it to what God has revealed. The point of theology is to understand God as best we can and to praise Him, especially by living up to the life He has planted in us.
III. VARIOUS AND SUNDRY OBJECTIONS
- OBJECTION: Jesus lied!
- ANSWER: No he didn't. Ever. From CCC 1381 "St. Cyril says: ‘Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he is the truth, he cannot lie.’”212
- OBJECTION: Scripture praises lying!
- ANSWER: No, it doesn't. It condemns it, hundreds of times, in both the Old and New Testaments. For a list of Bible verses on lying, click here.
- OBJECTION: If what you say is true, then undercover cops can't do their job!
- ANSWER: Most undercover work can be done without the cop positively asserting a false identity. For example, if an undercover policeman approaches you and says, "I want to buy some drugs from you," he is telling the truth - for if you sell him drugs, he can arrest you and get you off the street. Much of this kind of stuff can be done without lying.
- OBJECTION: Without lying, we'll lose this battle!
- ANSWER: Look to the Cross. Winning in the world is not what this is about. Witnessing to Christ (even if it includes the "ultimate loss" - martyrdom) is what this is about.
- OBJECTION: Santa Claus! What about Santa Claus! Am I lying to my son when I tell him about Santa Claus?
- ANSWER: Santa Claus is real. He's St. Nicholas, a bishop of the Catholic Church. And he's very much alive, in the communion of saints. The love that's shared at Christmas is real. Even Fairy Stories are "true" if not "real" - true at a sense that children may not realize until they get older, but examples of "fiction", not lying. The limited apprehension of children, an apprehension that slowly grows as the child matures, makes actual deception on a legitimate level difficult to achieve. But I will personally concede that while Santa Claus is real and helps to enlighten the truth of the Season, the Easter Bunny is not and helps obscure it.
- OBJECTION: NAZIS! NAZIS! NAZIS! IF THE NAZIS KNOCK ON MY DOOR AND WANT TO KNOW IF I'M HIDING JEWS, YOU'RE SAYING I MAY NOT LIE TO THEM TO SAVE THE LIFE OF THE JEWS?
- ANSWER: You may not. You may remain silent, even if they beat you and shoot you. You may say, "I would be terrified to hide Jews from you," which is quite true. But even if you lie to them, do you think they still won't search your house? In any event, you are obligated NOT to reveal where you have hidden them.
- OBJECTION: Quit picking on Lila Rose!
- ANSWER: Lila Rose is a very well-intentioned brave woman who is doing what she sees best in the trenches fighting the great evil of abortion. She is using the wrong methods, thereby endangering her soul and those of her supporters. But we admire her and freely admit the next answer.
- OBJECTION: Even if Lying is wrong, is it as bad as abortion?
- ANSWER: Of course not. But itty bitty iniquities are iniquities all the same. And if we start excusing the little ones, we're compromised. And if something may never be done, per the teaching of Christ, woe to us if we start telling ourselves it's OK to do it.
OUR MAIN POINTS
- Even if Lying for a Good Cause can be justified, ridiculing and victimizing abortion clinic workers only makes them and their supporters angry and alienates them from the Truth. It's not the sort of thing that converts hearts to Jesus or the Pro-life cause. And these sinful victims are children of God as much as we sinners are, and they need a witness to Christ, who is Truth, not to the lie, whose father is Satan (John 8:44)
- If even the best and most devout Catholics among us say, "To hell with Church Teaching, we're in it to win it!" we are in big big trouble - even if "to win it" means to win the war on abortion. Such a moral compromise is to be compromised indeed!
- Our call is to personal holiness, and Lying - even for a Good Cause - is no way to get there. Neither is tying ourselves in knots to rationalize our behavior.
In brief, what Lila and company are doing is commendably motivated, but ultimately harmful on many levels.
Beyond that, if we get into the habit of rationalizing things we want to do, of soothing our consciences with sophistries, we can hardly call ourselves Christians.