“It’s okay to ask a prostitute to sleep with you since she’s already morally compromised…”

…is not something anybody remotely familiar with Catholic moral teaching would normally say. Likewise, no Catholic would say that if your car broke down on the way to your tryst, you are guiltless of tempting her to the sin of fornication. Nor would a Catholic in his five wits claim that “Since I had no intention of doing the deed, therefore I did not tempt her to do the deed.”  The sin has already been assented to by the woman you tempted, whether or not it achieves consummation. Any Catholic who understands elementary Catholic teaching grasps this–normally.

But in the heat of combat in the defense of lying to clinic workers and tempting them to agree to murder, such common sense goes out the window. So when we move to the case of the clinic worker who has already committed the grave sin of murder, a surprisingly large percentage of Catholics say, well, pretty much what a reader said to me yesterday when I used the analogy of temptation to fornication to describe the grave evil of urging clinic workers to commit murder: “If you ask a woman to commit adultery and she’s a nun, it has a different moral gravity than if you ask a woman who is a prostitute and is standing on a street corner under a red light”.

Translation: You *can* ask a prostitute to sleep with you since she’s a worthless slut and it doesn’t matter if you tempt her to grave evil. And because of this, you *can* tempt a clinic worker to grave evil since that person too is worthless due to their long involvement with evil. And as long as you don’t go through with the abortion, it’s all golden. Your act of getting them to agree to commit yet another murder is sinless.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, a *total* inversion of the Church’s teaching on Scandal. That teaching is as follows:

Respect for the souls of others: scandal

2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”86 Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing.87

2286 Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.

Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to “social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.”88 This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger,89 or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.

2287 Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!”90

The whole point of the Church’s teaching on scandal is that we bear a special responsibility not to lead into temptation those most likely to commit grave evil (i.e., the “weak”). So we have a special duty to the prostitute not to tempt her to fornicate, to the porn addict not to hand him the free cable access in our house for the weekend while we vacation, to the alcoholic not to give him a drink. Urging a clinic worker to agree to another murder for the sake of a photo op is *exactly* this kind of sin. And we assume responsibility for their agreement to commit murder when we argue that their guilt for participation in other murders gives us license to ask them to commit another one for the sake of a photo op.

The Church gives us three fundamental and non-negotiable guidelines in approaching all moral acts:

1789 Some rules apply in every case:
- One may never do evil so that good may result from it;

- the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”

- charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience: “Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience . . . you sin against Christ.” Therefore “it is right not to . . . do anything that makes your brother stumble.”

The tactic of lying to clinic workers and asking them to help commit murder violates every single one of these. Instead of defending these evil tactics, prolife Catholics should urge they be dropped and replaced with virtuous ones. That is possible. It is also, by the way, smart since a) LA can no longer be subject to the obvious refutation “You are liars, so why trust your videos weren’t edited?” and b) if a clinic worker *pressures* a LA agent to abort, it will be readily obvious, whereas this is obscured when the LA worker is lying and pretending to want an abortion.

In addition, the sooner LA drops these tactics, the sooner Catholics will end the extremely morally corrosive project of betraying the fundamental prolife Catholic ethos which says that every human being–including a clinic worker–is sacred in the eyes of God and that nobody can be reduced to a mere means to an end or treated as though their souls are disposable and as though it doesn’t matter if they are killed–or damned. This stuff is poison. Enough.

  • GinaRD

    So are you arguing that every undercover police officer who asks a prostitute for sex as part of a sting operation is sinning? Before you answer, I think it’s important to consider two points: (1) The police officer has no intention of actually having sex with her, and (2) he is not forcing her to say yes. He is asking her a question that (assuming no coercion from a pimp) she is free to answer with a no.

    • ivan_the_mad

      Because this hasn’t been asked and answered 902384820 times already.

      • Andy, Bad Person

        But what about if Nazis come knocking on your door asking about the Jews you have hidden in you attic. Have you ever thought about THAT one, smart guy? Bet you haven’t!

        • ivan_the_mad

          Bollocks, you got me. I am completely unable to answer that, or the even more weighty objection of “Solomon! SOLOMON!!!”.

      • GinaRD

        I beg your pardon; I’m fairly new to this conversation and wasn’t aware of that. My apologies.

    • michigancatholic

      Yes, I think this is an extension of the “hide from the Nazis” argument from before. We’re playing fast and loose with moral philosophy again.

    • Tom B.

      Actually morality aside i believe (though i’m no lawyer) that that would be entrapment. I’m fairly sure I’ve hear the cop can never ask for an exchange of sex for money, the prostitute has to do so first. By the way they know that and it can be a problem.

  • Noah Doyle

    “If you ask a woman to commit adultery and she’s a nun, it has a different moral gravity than if you ask a woman who is a prostitute”

    Actually, I kind of agree with this. The nun, a woman living a consecrated life as a bride of Christ probably has more capability (in whatever capacity) to resist that temptation. The prostitute has less. Tempting her is kicking her when she’s already down, it’s trying to make sure she stays on a path away from God. It’s significantly worse.

    • michigancatholic

      The average age of women religious in the USA is 77 years old. Just a little data point to enlighten your conversation.

    • Barbara

      Thank you! I would say the prostitute, just like the clinic worker is in need of twice as much mercy and compassion, not less. The sick need more medicine than the well.

    • Roki

      Well, on one level, there is certainly a difference in moral gravity: it’s a different thing to proposition a nun, a married woman, a single woman, a pre-pubescent girl, because each has a different appropriate expression of the duty of chastity.

      But just because there are different kinds of wrong and degrees of wrong doesn’t make it right to propose fornication with anyone.

      What’s at stake here is not the moral status of the prostitute or the abortion worker or any target of a sting. What’s at stake is the morality of the choice you or I make to lie, to tempt, to scandalize.

      It does not matter how well any of the women in question are fulfilling their duty of chastity (or any other virtue). After all, there’s no essential reason the same woman can’t be both a nun and a prostitute. She’d be a very bad nun, but her vows would not cease to exist if she happened to sell her body. What matters is that her vows and her essential dignity as a daughter of God made in his Image and Likeness, remain worthy of respect – even if her own actions degrade them.

      What matters is whether I choose to degrade her, to treat her as one who is unworthy of God’s love or mercy, to treat her as one who is less than human.

      • tedseeber

        In Massachusetts, if the target is between the ages of 16 and 18, and is a slut, it becomes legal. If she is chaste, then even trying to seduce her is statutory rape.

  • michigancatholic

    I wonder if they have a blog piece like this over in the evangelical Christian part of Patheos.

  • Andy, Bad Person

    I’ve also noticed that in the conversation to which you are referring, the shift in focus has gone from, “Is lying wrong?” to “How can you, Mark Shea, possibly know whether in every circumstance it is immoral for X to do Y?”

    At least we’ve left consequentialism. We’ve gone straight into relativism instead.

    • kenofken

      Live Action, like all extremists of every political and religious stripe, has always been about relativism. That is the entire premise and operating software of extremism. It is nothing more than the hubris of self-righteousness which wraps utter amorality in the cloak of a great cause. A cause so holy that someone, (ie US), must (reluctantly, of course), sharpen and wet our steel for the greater good. In such urgent times, accountability and rules are for the small people, the ones who lack the courage of heart we have and who can’t see the big picture or don’t have the stomach to do what needs to be done.

      The magnitude of LA’s actions are different, from, say, the French Revolution’s excesses or the architects of the drone program and “extraordinary rendition”, but the moral reasoning used to justify them is letter for letter the same.

      • ivan_the_mad

        Say not amorality, but immorality … especially in the case of those who nominally confess a creed, establishing an objective standard against which to judge their actions.

  • michigancatholic

    This is far more interesting than it looks at first pass, simply because the Catholic viewpoint, which is a specialized subset of the point of view of classical moral philosophy, assumes things that the classical viewpoint doesn’t.

    Notice the propositioned woman is furniture in this argument. There are really two people involved here, so there are two calculi of guilt or non-guilt, #1 and they are inter-related. Oddly, that’s not being discussed. Wonder why (tongue in cheek).

    #2 There is virtually no force involved in asking for sex or declining sex–unless the situation escalates to rape. This is a key issue when deciding the morality of the issue. Of course, the Nazi example involves I robust estimate of force (violence!).

    I’m not as sure as some who spend their time in exclusively *catholic* circles that an idea is a consummation. I think it’s far more complicated and interesting than that. Discuss.

    • Zac

      Intent, basically.

      Your intentions shape you as a moral agent….whether as much as, or less than, the actions themselves…I don’t know. But enough that we can say “these intentions are bad, don’t have them”.

      Reminds me of a Simpsons quotation: “I am presently incarcerated, imprisoned for a crime I did not even
      commit. “Attempted murder,” now honestly, did they ever give anyone a
      Nobel prize for “attempted chemistry?”

  • Steve P

    I find this one of the most compelling and helpful new approaches to the question of LA’s tactics (or any who would emulate them).
    Partly in answer to michigancatholic, the examples of Christ that come to mind always show Him interacting with a person in a manner that respects the individual’s dignity. The woman at the well, the rich young man, the woman with the alabaster jar, Nicodemus, etc. It probably isn’t as clear when He is calling out the hypocrites collectively. But I was struck by the reference to the “little ones” and to the scene of Jesus placing the child in their midst. In those cases, the child is almost a “prop” in the wider point Jesus is making. If we make this same comparison as in Mark’s post, the clinic worker or the prostitute or the drunk become more similar to the child, i.e. one who is weak and ought not to be tempted to stumble. Rather, that person should be engaged with love, respect, dignity, and yes…truth.
    I’m reminded also of a Pope Francis homily in the last couple of days, in which he makes a reference to the single mother bringing her child for Baptism. Is our pastoral strategy to begin by telling her the “truth” that she is a fornicator?
    Bottom line, even in confronting monstrous evil, our tactics should not by design shortcut basic morality and the law of love.

    • michigancatholic

      Steve, you’ve got lots of stuff all thrown together here.

      The “Nazi comes to the door” discussion is an interesting one and deserves discussion all by itself, according to all the possibilities, as a problem solving and learning exercise about the nature of moral philosophy qua moral philosophy, and that’s how it’s usually used in the philosophy classroom.

      The reduction of the other person in the interchange to a “prop” is only appropriate if you make clear what you’re talking about is *only* the culpability of the person suggesting the idea. In which case, this is not the same as an undercover policeman trying to arrest a hooker/drug dealer/whatever. Otherwise, you still have a whole host of issues to negotiate around communications and force and interpersonal subjectivity to address, which cannot be adequately addressed here.

      The reduction of the other person to a “prop” is interesting in the case of the child to be baptized too, because it is far, far more complicated than what you have here. And far more involved theologically. It gets at sacramental theology in a way that very seldom shows up in normal internet conversations about baptism, or even in homilies and common talk about it in parishes. Yes, I agree with Pope Francis, but for reasons far more technical than what you have here.

      • Steve P

        Yes, I do have a jumble of things that I think are germane to the conversation, but in my haste to put them out there, I sacrificed any clarity.
        I’m processing this as I write, but I would say that the difference between Jesus’ interactions in those Gospel scenes points to something that bears reflection. My point is to highlight not the “innocence” in that comparison between the child and a clinic worker/prostitute/drunk, but rather their precarious footing. Both are prone to stumble and fall hard. Jesus (and by extension, the Church) has a mission to the weak and the lost. I can’t see Jesus going in and engaging the clinic worker as a tool to be used for a gotcha. Jesus is concerned about bringing that individual into a loving relationship.
        That, to me, is at the heart of this debate. In our haste to produce a damning piece of evidence (mostly to reinforce the beliefs of people who already agree with us), we are reducing the personhood of the clinic worker or abortion doctor, who Jesus also died to redeem as surely as you or me or Lila Rose.
        If we keep in mind that an even larger goal than saving unborn children is to bring sinners to repent, then we will surely do more good than just a juicy bit of film. And these two goals need not be at cross-purposes.

  • dan-O

    Hmmm… this seems like sophistry to me. Is the worker at the abortion clinic not engaging in sin until they answer questions about abortion, or help file paperwork, or do whatever they are doing in these sting videos? Or are they engaging in sin by the mere act of working at an abortion clinic? Their complicity in the abortion(s) that take place has already occurred. So how does this sting operation cause them to sin?

    It seems to me that you don’t like the *tactics* of Live Action, which is fine. I’m not sure what I think about them myself. But that is a separate issue. What they are doing is not evil.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      So, abortion clinic workers are engaging in sin simply by working at said abortion clinic, because their clinic commits abortions.

      On the other hand, Live Action is not doing anything wrong, even though lying is evil.

      Which is it? Is it wrong to participate in an organization that does evil?

      N.B. I am NOT comparing the gravity of LiveAction’s error with abortion. They are clearly on different planes.

      • michigancatholic

        Yes, it’s possible that they’re both doing wrong, although the acts of wrong-doing are different acts of wrong-doing. I mean, probably that’s why this discussion has come up in the first place, right?

        • Why is this an issue?

          Okay, the women going into the clinic are not even lying! (at least in the last string of videos I have seen) They are not even asking for an abortion to be done! They have come in, pregnant, asking what would happen IF they were to have one and the baby survived. No different than asking someone what they would do in other situations.

          • michigancatholic

            I have no idea what videos you’re referring to, but let me assure you, pregnant people do walk into Planned Parenthood hoping to walk out non-pregnant. Otherwise it would be a waste of a good afternoon. Nobody goes to Planned Parenthood because they’re looking for something to do for the afternoon.

    • Silly Interloper

      After the Demon gets a person the PP job, they are done? No more temptation is involved in engaging that persion in evil through variations, specifics, and opportunities? Once general decision has been made, decisions to do specific evils related to it are not damaging to the person’s soul and instrumental in dragging them further and further toward hell? They don’t help to cement that person’s damnation?

      It’s ridiculous to assume so, and it is ridiculous to disregard the evil of specific acts that actually occur because of a more general act or intention.

  • michigancatholic

    So dan-O, are you saying that a person who has committed a sin can be asked to do anything, say act as a hit man, because it doesn’t matter anyway from a standpoint of moral philosophy?

    Note: civil law doesn’t work this way, and for good reason. [It doesn't work this way in the confessional either, otherwise they wouldn't ask you how many times you committed the sin in the old manuals on confession.]

    I’m not taking a side on the whole question of the reasons Catholics object to abortion thing, or the Live Action thing, just pointing out a philosophical problem with your reasoning.

  • Kim Whelan

    Wow… always just thought it was a matter of opinion on the tactics used by LA. I think people were trying to explain to me why it is wrong. This finally gets the point across to me! Thank you.

  • askingquestion

    So, what do you think we should do about the HHS mandate?

  • mudsack

    Forgive me if this question has been asked and answered already: Judith deceived Holofernes. The scripture does not condemn her deception. Aren’t the actions taken by LA of the same nature?

  • BM

    As a nerdy aside, the statement your reader gave you taken strictly (and not as he intended it) is actually true. Tempting a religious is morally worse than tempting a non-religious or non-consecrated person. They are both serious sins and cannot be justified, but when you tempt a consecrated person, you bring into the mix the further sin of sacrilege. Of course, this has nothing to do with his foolish attempt to excuse lying.

  • michigancatholic

    Adam and Even sinned and it was wrong. But should we all give up on account of it, mudsack? What do we make of such things?

    Is it ever permissible to sin in order to get a result that we forsee as good? What if that good doesn’t come about and we can’t see that at the time of the sin? Is the goodness or badness of sins a property that they have or something else then?

    Is it ever permissible to receive unforeseen good as a result of sin?

    How does all this work?

  • kirthigdon

    I appreciate Mark giving the exposition from the CCC on scandal, which is a generalized form of bad example. Too many people today just regard scandal as a juicy rumor to gossip about.
    Kirt Higdon

  • tedseeber

    Must live in Massachusetts.

    I wrote, in my alter ego as a Marxist, a post about this in my slashdot journal.

    http://slashdot.org/journal/400027/the-sexual-revolution-jumps-the-shark

    • tedseeber

      Worth reading if only for the final punch line about J. Edgar Hoover, by the way.

  • Dave G.

    Well it looks like we have this settled. Now what? This has been going on for some time across the Catholic blogosphere, and yet Live Action continues doing what it’s doing. Perhaps it’s time for a different approach.

  • Guest

    glad your the so called expert…Live Action should be applauded for bringing the darkness into the light. If their actions have saved even one baby…then their gathering of information is well worth it.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      This is consequentialism, the backbone of the entire pro-lying argument.

      You may not do evil so that good will come of it.

    • ivan_the_mad

      YAY HERESY

  • Guest

    Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do
    evil.

    what about the person who calls a current apparition site (where many have had the grace of conversion)”a dog and pony show”. The reader is then influenced and decides to instead take vacation in Cabos san Lucas during college spring break –where sin abounds. The reader who is tempted at Cabos sins against the virtue of purity. Is the blogger who berates the Apparition site and influences one’s potential visit there…guilty of scandal?

    • chezami

      Dumbest comment of the month.

  • F M

    I would have to look a little closer at the “urging a clinic worker” characterization, Mark, – implying a clear element of coercion/pressure. At least in some of the examples I’ve seen, I don’t recall anyone “urging” an abortion worker. I recall dishonesty about the circumstances of coming into the clinic, but I don’t recall any of the clinic workers being pressured, cajoled or otherwise “urged” into doing something immoral. My recollection is that they came in pretty much the way that most any woman probably comes in – seeking the kind of service that the business publicly purports to provide. I would agree that pressuring/urging on of anyone to assent to an immoral act is unacceptable and would also seem to align with the legal definition of entrapment. Could you point me to examples where Live Action actually pressured/cajoled/urged on an abortion worker to do something immoral? I’m not stating that it never happened – I just really can’t recall it. If they did that, I would agree it’s clearly unacceptable.

    You also wrote, “So we have a special duty to the prostitute not to tempt her to fornicate, to the porn addict not to hand him the free cable access in our house for the weekend, to the alcoholic not to give him a drink. Urging a clinic worker to agree to another murder for the sake of a photo op is *exactly* this kind of sin. And we assume responsibility for their agreement to commit murder if we argue that their guilt for participation in other murders gives us license to ask them to commit another one for the sake of a photo op.”

    I had a few initial reactions to this paragraph that I’ll throw by you:

    First, in keeping with your means/ends theme here, characterizing what LA does as merely “for the sake of a photo op” seems almost a calumnious caricature to me. As best I can tell, they’re doing this to help stop the murder of babies. The phrase “photo op” typically implies a desire for personal or corporate notoriety or gain. If you’re going to criticize them essentially for a lack of charity toward others, I don’t think it’s consistent or effective to do so with a lack of charity toward *them*.

    Second, as a result of the point above, I don’t think any of your comparisons are “exactly” the same. I also think the comparison to an alcoholic or a porn addict isn’t apt because the alcoholic’s and porn addict’s will is gravely compromised by his habit/addiction. Not so in the case of an abortionist or abortion mill manager – or at least not nearly so. I even think the example of the prostitute isn’t apt because prostitutes are so commonly involved in prostitution under duress – frequently drug addicted, pressured, etc. Thus, their will is likely seriously compromised as well.

    In support of this point, I would point out that Canon 1398 provides that, “a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication.” This means that at the very moment that the abortion is successfully accomplished, the woman and all formal conspirators are excommunicated. The alcoholic, porn addict or prostitute are not subject to such automatic penalties that provide no room for mitigating factors like addiction.

    Third, this is just off the top of my head, but it seems to me that what LA is doing is more akin to this example –

    Let’s say that slavery is still legal in our country but it’s illegal to sell or buy slaves who are under 12 years old. There’s a business in my town called Sanger Slavery that sells thousands of slaves each month. It’s obviously gravely immoral, but it’s also perfectly legal. I have information that this business is breaking the law by selling and buying children who are much younger than 12 (in violation of the law). I also have clear evidence that no one in law enforcement is interested in investigating because slavery is big business and sacrosanct. No one in authority wants to do anything about it (something we certainly know for sure now in regard to abortion – if there ever was a doubt – after what came out in the Kermit Gosnell trial).

    So, I go into Sanger Slavery and state that I have a child under 12 (which is true) and that I wanted to see about selling that child to them (but I really have no intention of selling the child – so I’m being deceptive there). I tape Sanger Slavery agreeing to buy my underage child and explaining how I can do it while getting around the law. I then give the tape to the police and sympathetic news organizations in order to make it harder for the police to continue to ignore what’s going on at Sanger Slavery.

    I’m not saying that this is still clearly fine and acceptable. I’m saying that it’s a bit more nuanced than the examples you gave of tempting someone whose will has been gravely compromised by addiction – merely for a “photo op”.

  • Doorman Doorman

    There is a way to do this without lying. Think of a script like this.

    Imagine you do in fact know of a young girl who is in fact underage, and did in fact get pregnant by an older man who would be guilty of statuatory rape. You could go into an abortion clinic and tell them, or she herself could go in there willingly and say “I am pregnant and scared, and wanted to know if it’s possible for me to end this abortion” “I am also concerned because the man who got me pregnant is older and I’m concerned he might get in trouble with the law if I report him, is there a way to do this so he doesn’t get in trouble”.

    With this type of situation, you are merely posing facts and asking questions, and letting the ‘dice fall where they may’. If the abortion worker then instructs the girl or the friend how to get the abortion illegally, or instructs them how not to get the man in trouble, that is their own fault. It is similar to how police stings work. They don’t bait the person or ‘trap them’ but merely present the conditions, so the criminal can make the choices to steel, or sell drugs etc… This is a licit way of stopping crime. You are presenting a situation where a person who would NOT commit the crime, will refuse to participate, but in the same situation, a person who is willing to commit the crime, is being ‘caught in the act’ of attempting to commit a crime.

    If on the other hand, the police, or the LA individual ‘leads the person along and cajoles them into cooperating’ so as to trap them in crime, then that is obviously wrong.

    • F M

      Where is the evidence that LA ever cajoled these abortion clinics into cooperating? I don’t recall it.

  • seba

    Conservative polish christian woman, member of polish parliament, said few days ago that prostitutes are worthless, sub-human creature that doesn’t deserve any respect, and this is shared by many polish outspoken priests. Same goes with homosexuals, “subhuman and worth nothing”. “Jewish conspiracies”, “homosexual lobbies”… I guess you can enjoy being catholic in your country but in poland it’s extremely hard, views like those are very common and you just feel weird listening to hateful, political sermons full of hate and have in a back of head that prostitutes and sluts were among Jesus’ friends and followers.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X