11 March 2011

Lying is ALWAYS a sin

Lying is always a sin.  Period.  Always.  The gravity of the sin is determined by intent, circumstance, harm done, and the nature of the truth sinned against.  But the act of lying is always a sin.  Period.  Always.  Whether it's done to save babies, whales, baby whales; Jews hiding in your closet; whether it's done here on earth, under the earth, above the earth; on an alien planet;--wherever, whenever, whatever, whyever, whoever--lying is always a sin.   Always.  Nothing that can be said, done, thought, written, acted out, mimed, televised, telegraphed, digitized, whispered, signed, or turned into a reductio ad absurdum argument can make lying into not-lying.

From the Catechism:

2482 "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving."  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."

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. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.

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.

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.


  1. Marty3:25 PM

    Father,thanks for your clear and open direction. Very grateful! Haven't read / hear the status of lying as related to undercover law enforcement work. Can you advise?

  2. Perhaps you can explains something to me, Father.

    How do we square this teaching with the actions of great heroes like St. Edmund Campion and Bl. Miguel Pro?

    Are they canonized only for their martyrdom and their deception of the malicious governments they were hiding from something to be condemned and not imitated?

    Or were they right in fooling the government in order to bring the sacraments to oppressed people?

  3. Thank you, Father. Unfortunately, I've posted over and over again about this on Mark Shea's NCRegister blog, Creative Minority Report, and elsewhere, and I'm tired of repeating the same thing again and again to people who enter the debate with the same debunked arguments about Nazis. Lying is always a sin, but sometimes telling the truth about how lying is always a sin is just too exhausting. You'll have to insist on that truth on your own. I agree with you, but I can't do it again! Have fun.

  4. Although what you say is certainly correct (the Catechism says that "Lying consists in saying what is false with the intention of deceiving one's neighbor", and further says that "lying is intrinsically disordered"), it does not at all address those occasions when it is possible to knowingly utter a falsehood with some other intention.

    In the 19th century, the Bl. John Henry Newman wrote his major work, "Apologia Pro Vita Sua". This was in response to a charge that not only was he lying in a part of his previous writings, but that in fact lying was permitted to Catholics. A part of this work can be seen here. He strongly defends the Church against such claims, but does in fact point out that knowingly uttering a falsehood is permitted on some occasions.

    Between then and now, there has been no significant shift in Church teaching on this issue. It would be more fully helpful if you could directly address what the Bl. John Henry Newman said about this.

  5. Paul, "lying" isn't defined as "uttering a falsehood." Lying is uttering a falsehood with the intent to deceive. Therefore, uttering a falsehood with some intention other than to deceive isn't lying. Acting in a play, telling a joke, etc. So, Bl. Newman is correct.

  6. Micah, we aren't insisting "on our own." We are simply repeating the Church's teaching.

  7. Baron, saints make mistakes. Thomas made a few. So did Augustine and many others.

    A large component of judging culpability for any sin is knowing the circumstances and intent of the actor. No gov't has the right to prevent anyone from receiving the sacraments. We are not bound by unjust laws. However, lying is still a sin regardless of the law, so, their culpability would be greatly reduced for lying in order to circumvent unjust laws. But I don't the circumstances or their intent.

  8. Marty, if the undercover officer is uttering a falsehood with the intent to deceive, then he is lying and lying is always a sin. There might be an argument for viewing undercover work as a kind of acting, but that really only works if everyone involved knows it's just acting.

    Reread #2484 above. The gravity of the sin in this case would probably be very low given that the truth deformed is fairly minor, the result is generally a good, and justice is served. But it's still a sin.

  9. Father, I agree. Sorry to give the impression I didn't. We insist on the Church's teaching, so we do not insist alone, but that wasn't my meaning.

    My prayers for your grandfather.

  10. Thank you Padre; I appreciate your help.

    May God bless and receive the soul of your grandfather, and give comfort to you and your family for your loss.

  11. Father, I'm sorry but that still confuses me. Thomas and Augustine making mistakes isn't part of what made them heroic in the eyes of the Church. Campion and Pro were heroic, or so I have been told, for going into hostile territory and brining the sacraments to the people. By calling these things mistakes makes it sound like the world would be better off if they had never done them. Didn't Thomas Aquinas say that we are never even suppose to willingly commit a venial sin? And I'm sure that these priests were well versed in moral theology so they would know better, right?

    I'm not trying to be a pain, these are the questions I get from my confirmation students.

  12. Father, what would you say about the girls who've been exposing Planned Parenthood recently? Do undercover cops fall into the same category? You know me- not trying to be a jerk, but I'm curious what you'd say.

  13. Anonymous1:52 AM

    Father, is lying a mortal sin? I'm keeping a secret to my parents for already five years, making them believe I don't have a boyfriend yet. I was in my 2nd year college when I started loving this guy, and during those times, they don't want me to engage in any relationships, for they fear that it might ruin my future. But I want to prove them they're wrong, that I can still build a good future, finish my studies, despite such. It;s been five years since then, and until now, they don't know the truth.. I don't think they would accept it..

    Does this make me undeserving to receive the Holy Communion?