So, One Can Commit Intrinsic Evils In War?

First, I would like to say, how much I disagree with many of his comments, I think Deal Hudson has shown the ability to dialogue and enage with people better than most people do on blogs (myself included) and has shown the ability to listen, to some degree, those who disagree with him. It is for this reason I wanted to make a brief comment on his newest post at InsideCatholic:  In Defense of Lila Rose and Her Sacred Deception.

On the one hand, I do agree with him, I think the expose of Planned Parenthood is a good thing, and it shows the problems of the insitution itself. Hopefully many will take note what is going on and demand further investigation (as they would if it were child abuse in schools or churches).

However, I disagree with his defense.  Consequentialism is not the answer to this. You cannot say, “In war, anything is permissible.” You cannot say “intrinsic evils” are acceptable because the consequences are ones you like. That’s the point of declaring something to be an intrinsic evil — it is evil despite whatever good which can be seen from its use. It is always sinful. And, according to Catholic theology, lying is intrinsically evil (I wrote a whole series on this topic, which is wrapped up with links to the rest of the series, here ). Consequences do not determine whether or not it is appropriate  (one, I am sure, could find benefits in war-time to the use of abortion, especially forced abortions on captured but pregnant enemy women, but it would  not be acceptable and it would be a war crime).

So, one could ask, could one do what she is doing and not commit sin?  What do readers here think (if one wants to read what I think, read my series on lies!).

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  • Gary Keith Chesterton

    Wow, that is a very good question.

    My own thinking on the matter is bound up with the position of the sinner who lives out Romans 7 is his daily life. There is an inevitable tension between the sort of life we live and the sort we care called to live. Our goal is to reduce this tension upward, not downward — that is, to be better, not to lower our sights.

    A person like Lila Rose, who genuinely desires to do good, and chooses a sinful way to accomplish it, is in my view less culpable that someone who just chooses a sinful way to accomplish evil, or just for the hell of it.

    Now, does this excuse Lila Rose? I don’t know, but I am inclined to doubt it, since we must never deliberately do evil.

    I don’t know the answer, and this is just a summary of my thoughts. But I cannot say that Lila Rose is as guilty in any way that makes sense of justice, as the abortionists she was exposing.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Hudson doesn’t understand consequentialism. It’s the reason he defends torture, at least when done by the US. Someone should ask him if he supports the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was intrinsically evil or just. I find this is the best way of separating the consequentialists from the virtuous.

  • wj

    If Lila Rose lied, she sinned. Perhaps many good things came from her sin–God is constantly changing evil to good–but that does not excuse her from culpability, assuming her act did fulfill the formal and material conditions of a lie. I haven’t read Karlson’s account of lying–but I do wonder what he thinks of mental reservations and whether, in Rose’s case (I don’t know the details), she might have recourse to that.

  • David Nickol

    I think what she’s doing is wrong for a number of reasons, but it seems to me that if it is impermissible to use at least some of the methods she is using, then it would also be impermissible for police to do undercover work, for government agents to try to infiltrate terrorist organizations, for consumer advocates and the like to do 60-Minutes-style exposés, and so on.

  • David Nickol

    I don’t know the answer, and this is just a summary of my thoughts. But I cannot say that Lila Rose is as guilty in any way that makes sense of justice, as the abortionists she was exposing.

    Lila Rose wasn’t exposing abortionists. She was exposing counselors who were trying to avoid reporting that a minor who came in for counseling had a sexual relationship with an adult. She was deliberately putting counselors in a difficult position by a made-up story, and then publicizing the way they tried to cope with the dilemma she put them in. In my opinion, it’s worse than lying to give a fake story to a counselor. It is damaging the counselor-client relationship. It means that every Planned Parenthood counselor, in dealing with a minor and trying to decide what is in their best interest, must take into account the fact that the counselor may be lying.

    What if a group of people decided some priests were too liberal and weren’t following Church teaching in giving advice in confession, so they made up tough situations (“My husband will leave me if I don’t take the pill”) and recorded fake confessions of priests who gave advice they disagreed with so they could expose the priests to the local bishop?

    My point is that this young woman was not merely lying. She was violating the counselor-client relationship in a way that could do damage beyond the people immediately involved. And of course she wasn’t stopping any abortions. Although presumably she is doing this for the “pro-life” cause, she is really just trying to hurt Planned Parenthood on a matter not directly related to abortion by accusing them of not complying with reporting laws.

  • wj

    David Nickol,

    You make some good points here. I don’t have a view on Lila Rose’s project one way or another–in the short term, it may embarrass Planned Parenthood, in the long term, it probably won’t have any effect on the abortion industry–and I believe lying to be wrong.

    But I wonder whether you are being just a *bit* naive–of course one could say you were just being charitable–in describing the role of a Planned Parenthood counselor as “dealing with a minor and trying to decide what is in their best interest.” I take it that the *point* of Rose’s undercover act, however one judges it, is to demonstrate that Planned Parenthood counselors are of conflicted interests: on the one hand they purport (and no doubt many of them try) to counsel minors as to their best interest, on the other hand they are employees in an organization whose stated aims and goals put a certain amount of pressure on the counselor to advise in the right way: i.e. *for* an abortion.

    Now there may be a *loose* analogy here with a Catholic priest, but it is only a loose one: for one, a Catholic going to confession knows, or should know, that the advice the priest is going to give one will be the advice of the Church, whereas a minor seeking counseling at Planned Parenthood may expect that the counselor act in *her* best interests, and not in Planned Parenthood’s–but this waffling of interest seems to be exactly what Rose’s activity has brought to light.

  • Maria

    The Planned Parenthood counselors are not just free to act in anyway they choose is in the “best interest of the minor.” They are obligated by law to report statutory rape of a minor. The counselors in questions broke the law.

  • David Nickol

    wj and Maria,

    I am somewhat of a consequentialist, I suppose, since I would not condemn Lila Rose’s methods as “intrinsically evil.” However, it seems to me that you need a very serious reason to take people — any people, anywhere — put them in a difficult situation, surreptitiously film them, and put the films on the Web. It is obviously more serious in some circumstances than others, otherwise we would have to condemn things like Candid Camera (am I dating myself), which, by the way, didn’t show anything without the person who had been fooled signing a release.

    Now, it seems to me that to do this to a counselor of any kind (including a social worker, doctor, or priest) is particularly serious, and you would have to have an extraordinarily good reason to justify it.

    In this case, from everything I have read, Lila Rose’s primary concern is not that Planned Parenthood counselors are not reporting statutory rape (which is a requirement that varies from state to state, by the way). She is an anti-abortion activist, and she is trying to embarrass Planned Parenthood in any way she can.

    I would find her actions less troubling if she were passionately committed to protecting female minors from statutory rape, and that was the focus of her campaign. But that seems to be at best a secondary concern, and therefore it seems to me she is more culpable for deception than she would be if she were doing something to directly affect abortions. I would say to wj in particular that if, for example, Lila Rose were exposing counselors who were pressuring minors into having abortions that they were reluctant to have, she would be much more justified in her methods. However, she is not exposing anything having to do with the way Planned Parenthood counselors deal with the issue of abortion. The issue she is interested in is abortion. The issue she is doing an exposé about is the reporting or nonreporting of statutory rape.

    I think what she is doing is wrong not entirely on the grounds that she is lying (and invading privacy), but because she is doing something very serious that does not directly target the wrong she is attempting to remedy. It is actually a little bit like terrorism.

    But I agree with Maria that the counselors are required to obey the law if they can’t legitimately get around it, and I think that in the case I read about they deserved to lose their jobs (which they did).

  • David Nickol

    By the way, Lila Rose’s organization, The Mona Lisa Project, is also the group that had an actor call a number Planned Parenthood offices claiming to want to give donations earmarked for aborting black babies and then accused Planned Parenthood of being racist because the donations were accepted (with some agreement with racist remarks made by the actor, or perhaps some humoring of the caller willing to donate money).

  • ROB

    What a million babies a year are aborted and we have this agonizing over “lies”. Its absurd.

  • David Nickol

    What a million babies a year are aborted and we have this agonizing over “lies”. Its absurd.


    Apparently you do not believe in what the Church teaches about intrinsic evils — that they may never be done no matter what is at stake. Lies are intrinsically evil, therefore it would be authentic Catholic teaching that one may never lie, not even to stop all the abortions in the world.

    Gabriel Austin, who sometimes writes here, brought this quote from Cardinal Newman to our attention:

    The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one willful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.

    I would agree that such teachings are very difficult to accept, and quite frankly, I don’t accept them. But it seems to me that if you wish to adhere to the teachings of the Church, and you oppose abortion because the Catholic Church teaches that life begins at conception and abortion is murder, you are departing from Catholic teaching to justify the methods of Lila Rose, who, by the way, may very well not be preventing any abortions whatsoever.