Chris Ferrara vs Mark Shea
You Don’t Shea! (Why Planned Parenthood Really Digs Neo-Catholic Schoolmarmery)
Written by Christopher A. Ferrara
“Not so fast, Mr. Pro-Lifer!”
Mark Shea’s online broadcast on the sting videotapes of Planned Parenthood’s trafficking in human body parts is a prime example of what his brand of neo-Catholic punditry is all about: the smug assurance that he is more nuanced than thou, more thoughtful than thou, more reasonable than thou, and thus more deeply Catholic than thou. As usual, however, Shea is simply more obnoxious than thou.
In vocal tones that echo his smarmy blog posts, Shea inveighs against the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) for employing assumed names in order to gain access to the inner sanctum of Planned Parenthood, where CMP investigators engaged PP representatives in grisly conversations about their harvesting and pricing of the internal organs of butchered babies.
For Shea the Enlightened One, this is all very simple, don’t you know: CMP engaged in lying, lying is always wrong, and “there can be no justification for a lie… You cannot lie for any reason.” You cannot even lie to the Nazis about the Jews hiding in your attic. You can only “figure[e] how to hide your Jews well.”
After a passing reference to how “ghastly” PP’s activities are, Shea spends the better part of 45 minutes explaining how bad CMP’s lying was, and how this sort of thing must lead in the end to the destruction of our entire religion:
the main thing that I worry about… is for a faith to found itself on the proposition of the noble lie I think is incredibly dangerous because all we have at the end of the day is faith as Christians. And if we start saying to the world we believe that lying for a good cause is the way to go, where is the bottom, where does that end?
Come, come now. No one, least of all the brilliant and devout young man who heads up CMP, is suggesting the ludicrous proposition that we ought “to found the faith itself on the proposition of the noble lie.” The issue here is a very narrow one: was CMP’s dissimulation excusable, pardonable and even understandable given the circumstances, even though, objectively speaking, it constituted a lie amounting to a venial sin? Of course it is.
In the Summa Theologiae Saint Thomas, while teaching that deliberate lying is always to some extent sinful, distinguishes between three kinds of lies: the officious lie, which is told “for the wellbeing and convenience of someone,” the jocose lie, which “is told in fun,” and the mischievous lie, which “is told out of malice.” (ST, II-II, Q. 110, Art. 2). If the aim of a lie is not contrary to charity, he continues, it is only a venial sin, “as in the case of a jocose lie, where some little pleasure is intended, or in an officious lie, where the good also of one’s neighbor is intended.” (ST, II-II, Q. 110, Art. 4)
Concerning the officious lie, Saint Thomas considers an example quite apt to Shea’s caricature of the moral issue: that of the lying midwives in Exodus 1. As Holy Scripture recounts, Pharaoh commanded the midwives of the Hebrews to kill all male offspring at the moment of delivery, thus performing the Old Testament equivalent of partial birth abortions. But “the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded, but saved the men children.” And when asked by Pharaoh why they had saved the male children, the midwives simply lied though their teeth, falsely stating that Hebrew women themselves “are skillful in the office of midwife; and they are delivered before we come to them.” Yet, despite their lie, “God dealt well with the midwives… And because the midwives feared God, he built them houses,” meaning that He blessed their families. (Cf. Gen.1:14-21).
Answering the objection that every lie is a mortal sin, Saint Thomas provides the kind of nuance of which Shea merely thinks he is capable:
Some, however, are commended in the Scriptures, not on account of perfect virtue, but for a certain virtuous, disposition, seeing that it was owing to some praiseworthy sentiment that they were moved to do certain undue things…
The lie of the midwives may be considered in two ways. First as regards their feeling of kindliness towards the Jews, and their reverence and fear of God, for which their virtuous disposition is commended. For this an eternal reward is due….
Secondly, it may be considered with regard to the external act of lying. For thereby they could merit, not indeed eternal reward, but perhaps some temporal meed [archaic for “reward”], the deserving of which was not inconsistent with the deformity of their lie, though this was inconsistent with their meriting an eternal reward…. (ST, II-II, Q. 110, Art. 4
So, as Saint Thomas makes clear, a lie told with the intention of protecting another from harm, thus constituting only a venial sin, does not preclude an eternal reward. Nor is it even inconsistent with a temporal reward. Both rewards are due on account of “a certain virtuous disposition” and “praiseworthy sentiment.” It is not that the lie itself is justified, but rather that God “overlooks” the venial sin in such circumstances and bestows the reward due to well-motivated behavior—the motives being “kindliness towards the Jews, and their reverence and fear of God” in the case of the midwives.
Seen in this light, Shea’s dire claim that the foundations of the Faith are threatened by any defense of CMP’s sting operation against the baby butchers of Planned Parenthood is revealed as nothing but shallow Internet punditry. But we know what this really all about. In his own article on Shea’s commentary, John Zmirak lays bare the motive at work: “Curiously, Shea has no previous track record of condemning the use of deception by police trapping pedophiles, CIA operatives fighting terrorism, or animal rights activists infiltrating factory farms. But over several years, Shea has spilled tens of thousands of words denouncing pro-life investigative reporters who infiltrated Planned Parenthood…”
Indeed, during the online broadcast Shea was asked by his co-host whether his condemnation of CMP’s use of false identities and sting operations to obtain information “Would… extend, in your mind, to the FBI or to the OSS during World War II?” Shea’s answer could not be more revealing: “Uh, I’m not confident of that.” Not confident of that? Yet Shea had just finished telling his listeners that “You cannot lie for any reason.” The best he could do to dance away from his obvious double standard was to quip: “One of the things that it is important to recognize is that we form our conscience as Christians and not as disciples of the CIA.” But lying is wrong for everyone, not just Christians, so why is Shea “not confident” that it is wrong for the FBI or the OSS or the CIA, many of whose operatives are (or were) Christians?
Shea has revealed the real motive here: yet another neo-Catholic attack on militant Catholics by a haughty, always politically correct commentariat, eager to make itself look good at the expense of those who have the courage to stand in radical opposition to the sociopolitical status quo in the culture of death or the post-conciliar revolution in the Church.
Shea and his “gay-friendly,” Francis-extolling neo-Catholic collaborators are serving as pallbearers at the funeral of the Church Militant. Even if their commentaries are not entirely devoid of worthwhile content, it is long past time for Catholics to look to other sources for an uncompromisingly Catholic perspective on the ecclesial and civilizational crisis we are now witnessing.
Zmirak vs Shea
No one can deny the explosive impact of the Planned Parenthood videos painstakingly obtained over three years of undercover reporting by the Center for Medical Progress. A GOP that had shoved the abortion issue to the political back burner has suddenly seen it boiling over, with major Republican candidates (such as Marco Rubio) now speaking loudly about the “barbarism” of “murdering babies.”
As Jason Jones and I wrote here last week, if you tune out the Trump-induced static at the last Republican debate, you will hear one message loud and clear: The Republican party has committed itself to advancing protection for unborn children, to extending legal rights to one class after another of vulnerable unborn Americans as it becomes politically feasible, and slashing the funding of the organ-profiteering eugenics organization Planned Parenthood that targets the urban, black poor for abortions. The only openly pro-choice Republican candidate, George Pataki, barely registers in the polls. Donald Trump has been forced to claim a pro-life “conversion,” though he wants to use cheap accounting tricks to keep on subsidizing inner-city abortions, earning him the sobriquet “Planned Parenthood’s favorite Republican.”
You can read on left-wing sites like The Daily Beast anguished testimonies such as “I Don’t Know if I’m Pro-Choice After Planned Parenthood Videos.” You can see fear begin to edge out the arrogance on the face of pro-abortion candidates such as Hillary Clinton, as they double down on their support for Planned Parenthood, and refuse to watch the videos.
What’s the last thing you’d expect right now? That putative pro-lifers would start condemning all this evidence of moral advancement, claiming that the Center for Medical Progress used evil means to uncover the truth about Planned Parenthood — so evil that Christians should denounce the CMP for employing them, so sinister that these videos themselves will backfire and discredit the pro-life movement. Because, you see, the CMP’s investigators told Planned Parenthood employees things that weren’t true. And that is evil. By this logic, the Planned Parenthood videos are the fruit of a poison tree, and should not even be made public or shared. Like Nazi doctor Josef Mengele’s experimental results, or sins we overheard in someone else’s confession, we should shun them and keep them secret.
Catholic writer Mark Shea is leading the charge against Planned Parenthood’s critics. On July 21, Shea condemned the Center for Medical Progress in an online Catholic radio broadcast, where he also said that families sheltering Jews during the Holocaust would have sinned by deceiving the Nazis who hunted those Jews. At 35:30 he quipped, “The issue is not and never has been figuring out how to lie well; the issue is figuring out how to hide your Jews well.” Then he chortled heartily.
Curiously, Shea has no previous track record of condemning the use of deception by police trapping pedophiles, CIA operatives fighting terrorism, or animal rights activists infiltrating factory farms. But over several years, Shea has spilled tens of thousands of words denouncing pro-life investigative reporters who infiltrated Planned Parenthood, even alleging that these pro-lifers had endangered their immortal souls by “tempting” professional abortionists into sin. You see, the prolife investigators of Live Action, including Lila Rose, showed up at abortion clinics and made fake appointments, trying to see if the clinics were willing to violate relevant laws. According to Shea, Rose was playing the evil temptress by doing that, urging someone to sin … because they intended to give her an abortion, so they sinned as gravely as a murderer who shoots but misses. She “tempted” them to do that, so she is just as guilty. Really?
Clearly Shea doesn’t understand the difference between entrapment and legitimate undercover work. If someone is already in the business of habitual acts of evil, presenting him an opportunity to express that fixed intention in order to stop him is not considered entrapment under law. Nor is it a sin. By Shea’s logic, if a sniper were picking off pedestrians, police who shoved out a mannequin to draw away his fire would be “tempting” him to murder, since he intended to shoot a real person. To say that such policemen were guilty of “incitement to murder” would not just be false; it would be slander.
Such absurdities aside, let’s examine the question that deserves our serious scrutiny, which is echoed by serious thinkers, such as philosopher Christopher Tollefsen: To win the trust of the abortionists and obtain the video evidence of their human organ trafficking, the investigators from the Center for Medical Progress “lied.” And that’s always evil.
Or is it? Not every killing is murder. Is every verbal deception a sinful “lie”? That’s the only real question here, and it’s one that has vexed Christian thinkers since almost the beginning. There isn’t space here to review 2,000 years of theological debate, and in any case we can’t resolve this natural law question that bears on public policy affecting non-Christians as well as Christians by an easy appeal to authority. We must each use our reason to consider this question seriously and come to honest conclusions whose implications we’re willing to live with. An argument that yields ludicrous conclusions has got a flaw in it somewhere, usually way back in its unexamined premises.
Means and Ends
Any principled person will admit that the end does not justify the means. Not if the means is something intrinsically, that is, under every imaginable circumstance and by its very nature, evil. To clarify the point, let’s choose an extreme example. If it would have beaten Hitler sooner and stopped the Holocaust, should the Allies have been willing to recruit French and Belgian children as suicide bombers? No, because using children as weapons of war is evil, the same kind of evil as the Nazis were committing. You can’t use a “little” bit of real evil to fight for the good, a point which lay at the heart of The Lord of the Rings. The One Ring could serve as an allegory of any truly evil means, which corrupts the user. Some argue that Allied bombings of Axis cities from Dresden to Nagasaki was an intrinsically evil means, since it targeted civilians. In fact, I agree.
But the end can reveal an error in the chosen means. Keeping your hands clean and your conscience perfectly shiny is no excuse for letting the real world go to hell, or allowing the vulnerable to suffer at the hands of the utterly ruthless. When Gandhi advised Europe’s Jews (and also the Allies) to resist the Nazis by exclusively non-violent means, he played the role of a callous purist — as George Orwell pointed out.
While an individual choice for non-violence might be noble, universal pacifism is not merely quixotic and self-indulgent. It is actively sinful. It empowers the killers, thugs and rapists of this fallen world by disarming the forces of justice. When only your personal pride or even well-being is at stake, it can be right to turn the other cheek. But when the lives of others are involved, that amounts to reckless cowardice empowered by moralistic preening. So, I will argue, does refusing to fool the guilty in order to save the innocent — a stance I’ll call “verbal pacifism.”
The Bad Effects of Verbal Pacifism
Here are just a few of the implications of verbal pacifism. On that theory, the following activities would be intrinsically evil, just like using child suicide bombers against the Nazis — and it would be better to die, and let millions of others be tortured, raped or killed, rather than engage in them. In fact, doing any one of them would be a sin sufficient to damn one’s soul to hell:
■Deceiving the Pharaoh who wished to kill all the newborn male Hebrews — as the midwives did in Exodus 1:15-21. (The Bible tells us that “God dealt well with the midwives.”)
■Deceiving priest-hunters by using assumed names, as Jesuit missionaries did when they ministered in Reformation England, and St. Miguel Pro did in Mexico in the 1920s.
■Deceiving the Nazis to rescue Jews from the gas chambers, as Oskar Schindler did.
■Distributing false baptismal certificates so that Jews could pass as Gentiles and escape extermination, as John XXIII did during World War II.
■Using false documents and false statements in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, like the conspirators working with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who were aided by Pope Pius XII (who passed their messages via Vatican couriers).
■Deceiving the brutal dictators who hoped to hunt down and torture leftist priests, as Pope Francis did while serving as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
■Posing as a child in online forums in order to catch child porn distributors and pedophiles, as police routinely do — having found it the only effective means of capturing such predators.
■Pretending to be an Islamist, in order to infiltrate terrorist organizations like al-Qaida and ISIS, as CIA operatives do.
■Misleading criminal suspects about the evidence you have, as police do to obtain truthful confessions without coercion.
■Infiltrating an abortion business like Planned Parenthood to see if they are breaking laws about statutory rape and organ trafficking, as Live Action and the Center for Medical Progress did.
Any moral philosophy that claims that all these activities are intrinsically evil has got some explaining to do. By insisting on premises that yield such repugnant conclusions, and claiming that the only alternative is a crass and unprincipled pragmatism, verbal pacifists are cutting off their nose to spite their face.
Where the Great Augustine Went Wrong
Verbal pacifists’ profound confusion can be traced to one of the greatest writers and thinkers in history, St. Augustine, who wrote in De Mendacio that it would be wrong to deceive murderers at your door who asked about their hoped-for victim within. (Augustine found falsehood especially repulsive because it played such a major role in his previous life as a pagan, when he worked as a rhetorician, by his own admission flattering and lying for hire.) Augustine was not a physical pacifist, however, just a verbal one. While he wouldn’t allow you to lie to these would-be killers, if they tried to force their way in, you might be justified in killing them. Thomas Aquinas agreed; he likewise condemned all deception, but allowed for defensive wars, and even the use of torture on Christian “heretics.”
How can we make sense of such a position, which sees physical violence as almost morally neutral — its merits depend on the situation at hand — but verbal falsehood as evil beyond excusing? Moral philosopher Janet Smith has done the heavy lifting here. In a brilliant article for First Things provoked by Mark Shea’s relentless campaign against pro-life activists, she critiqued the fundamental premise of the Augustinian tradition: That human speech was created exclusively for speaking the truth, and we sinfully pervert it by using it deceptively, in however worthy a cause.
As Smith writes, that claim is correct as far as it goes. Just so, human hands were not made to kill or fight with other men, but to till the Garden of Eden. However, given the Fall, God permits us and even commands us to use our bodies in new ways that would have been unnecessary and wrong in an unfallen world: Thus Christian soldiers and policemen can use deadly force when needed in defense of the innocent. Why should our words be held to such a radically different standard than our bodies?
At this point in the argument, someone is bound to start misquoting scripture, pointing to the fact that Christ is called “the Word,” and suggesting that what we say is morally more significant than what we do, since it reflects our inner selves more purely or perfectly or something. That is gnostic balderdash. Christ saved us not by what He said but by what He did. On the cross. With His body.
In the early Church, non-Christians were invited to attend the liturgy long enough to hear the Gospel — but then ushered out before the sacrifice of His sacred body and blood. Even today, we let the unbaptized read the Bible, but not partake in Communion. And so on. It is frankly bizarre to treat words, made by man, as more significant than bodies that took life from God.
Just so, CMP’s words, spoken to professional killers who have no right to expect the truth, were nothing sacred. What was sacred were the lives of those tiny, helpless humans whom Planned Parenthood sells like scrap metal or chicken parts. We must choose our words very carefully in such innocent children’s defense. We will each someday be called to answer for what we did or didn’t do to help “the least” among us.