Would the Church ever lie to save souls?

No. Of course not.

But it is a popular error among Catholics, often discussed online, to claim either that (a) lying is sometimes moral, or that (b) a deliberate false assertion is not always a lie.

(a) This error claims that if innocent lives are at stake, the deliberate assertion of a falsehood (i.e. lying) becomes moral.

No Pope is ever going to teach this error. The Magisterium already teaches that lying is intrinsically evil and that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral. And Sacred Scripture is also very clear and unequivocal in its condemnation of lying.

Moreover, if lying to save lives is moral, then it would also be moral when a greater value is at stake: the salvation of souls. No Pope is ever going to teach that lying is moral to save lives, because this would imply that lying would also be moral to save souls. And the main task of the Church is to save souls. A Pope who taught that lying was moral to save lives, would thereby discredit all of the teachings of the Church, as people would claim that the Church was lying in order to save souls.

(b) This error claims that a deliberate false assertion is not a lie, unless accompanied by the intention to deceive.

No Pope is ever going to teach this error, since it contradicts the teaching of the Magisterium that intrinsically evil acts are immoral due to their object, regardless of intention or circumstances. The object of lying is to deprive an assertion of the truth. A deliberate false assertion is therefore always a lie and always immoral (though not always gravely immoral).

Moreover, if the deliberate assertion of a falsehood were not lying and not always immoral, then the Church could be accused (falsely) of deliberately asserting falsehoods, not to deceive, but to save souls. Then every teaching of the Church would be cast into doubt.

The intention to deceive commonly accompanies the deliberate assertion of a falsehood because that is the evil intention that fits the evil act. But if the intention were good, such as to save lives or souls, the knowingly chosen act would still have the same object, the same moral nature (lying), and would still be intrinsically evil.

Aquinas also explains (Q110, A 2) “That a person intends to cause another to have a false opinion, by deceiving him, does not belong to the species of lying, but to perfection thereof”. In other words, the usual intention that accompanies lying is not essential to its definition as an intrinsically evil act. The Catechism on Lying and Intrinsic Evil


As a counter-factual hypothetical, IF the Church ever teaches that lying or deliberately asserting a falsehood is moral to save lives, THEN lying or deliberately asserting a falsehood, in order to save souls, would also be moral. And if lying or deliberately asserting a falsehood is moral, then Jesus or Mary might lie. For they are not forbidden from doing whatever is moral (although not everything is fitting to their perfection).

But the absolute truth is that God is Truth, and Jesus is Truth. Therefore every lie (deliberately asserting a falsehood) is intrinsically evil and always immoral. We should never lie, since every lie is objectively at least a venial sin. Lying is always wrong, regardless of intention or circumstances.

{19:11} You shall not steal. You shall not lie. Neither shall anyone deceive his neighbor.

{6:16} Six things there are that the Lord hates, and the seventh, his soul detests:
{6:17} haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,

{12:22} Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord. But whoever acts faithfully pleases him.

{13:5} The just shall detest a lying word. But the impious confound and will be confounded.

{7:13} Do not love a lie against your brother, nor should you act the same toward your friend.
{7:14} Do not be willing to devise a lie of any kind. For the practice of lying is not good.

{1:11} … and the mouth that lies kills the soul.

{8:44} You are of your father, the devil. And you will carry out the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning. And he did not stand in the truth, because the truth is not in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks it from his own self. For he is a liar, and the father of lies.

{14:6} Jesus said to him: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.

BOOK: Is Lying Always Wrong?

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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2 Responses to Would the Church ever lie to save souls?

  1. As a point of discussion, would the decision of the Vatican to forge baptism certificates for Jews during World War II then be immoral? Or would that not qualify as lying?

    • Ron Conte says:

      I believe that qualifies as lying, since the written assertion is a deliberate expression of a falsehood. The Church is only infallible in her dogmatic teachings, not in every decision in every situation.

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