The question of lying is a vexed one in moral theology.
Lying is wrong. But in every situation?
The classic modern example: the Nazis come to you and ask if you know where the hidden Jews are. You do, but you lie and save a life.
But it is never right to do evil that good may come of it (see St. Paul).
Are there exceptions to the moral law? Is the moral law simply a matter of God’s will from which he can exempt us? Are the voluntarists right?
Or is lying like theft?
The world is given by God not to individual man but to mankind to support life. God respects the arrangements about property that we make, but it is not an act of theft for a starving man to take bread from someone who does not need it and refuses to give it to him.
In 1946 German children were freezing to death. Was it allowed to steal coal from trains?
In his New Year’s Eve sermon, Cardinal Frings reassures a cold and hungry population that, in God’s eyes, there’s no real harm in stealing a bit of coal.
The Catholics of Cologne develop great fondness for their people’s cardinal. From now on his name enters the local dialect as a verb: “fringsen” means to steal coal. Ever since, the man of God is often invoked when the locals have to get the essentials of life by hook or by crook.
Frings applied the principal of the purpose of property and decided that to take coal to keep children from freezing to death was not theft.
What is a lie? Is it to utter a falsehood in any circumstance or is it to withhold the truth from someone who is not entitled to know it? Normally we are entitled to know the truth, but not always.
Archbishops thought that parents and police were not entitled to know the truth about abusive priests. They knew that the information would be used to protect children, but it would also hurt the careers and reputation of clerics. Nothing, in the Archbishops’ eyes, was more important than a priest. This is false. If the Archbishops had not told the truth to protect children from abusers, they would not have done wrong. But they told falsehoods to protect abusers who were hurting children.
This is beyond comprehension, unless one has encountered the arrogant clericalism that sees the priest as the most important person in the universe, infinitely more important than the soul of an innocent child. That clericalism is still very much with us, despite all the public relations blather that bishop are pitting out at the insistence of their lawyer.
The Vatican did not bother to answer that the Irish Commission sent asking for clarification of official church documents. The Vatican bureaucrats couldn’t be bothered. The Irish Times reports
Letters sent by the Commission of Investigation to the Vatican and to the papal nuncio in Ireland seeking information were ignored, the report has disclosed.
The commission wrote to the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, of which Pope Benedict had been head until April 2005, in September 2006.
It was asking for information on the document `Crimen Solicitationis’, which dealt with clerical sex abuse, as well as information on reports of clerical child sexual abuse conveyed to it by the Dublin archdiocese over the relevant period.
The Vatican did not reply. Instead it contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs stating that the commission had not gone through appropriate diplomatic channels.
The commission said that as a body independent of Government, it did not consider it appropriate for it to use diplomatic channels.
In February 2007, the commission wrote to the papal nuncio in Dublin asking that he forward to it all documents in his possession which might be relevant to it and which had not been or were not produced by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. It also requested that he confirm it if he had no such documents. The papal nuncio did not reply.
Earlier this year, the commission again wrote to the papal nuncio enclosing extracts from its draft report which referred to him and his office, as it was required to do. Again, there was no reply.
The silence of the grave.