For a time, some theologians used the term "strict mental reservation" to refer to a statement which is directly and deliberately false, but which is modified to become true by an unstated (mentally-reserved) qualification. However, this idea was subsequently condemned by Pope Innocent XI [Santissimus Dominus, n. 26, 27.]. Since then, strict mental reservation has been held to be merely a type of lying. For in strict mental reservation, the assertion is directly and deliberately deprived of truth. And the unexpressed qualification does not affect the deprivation of truth in what is expressed (or asserted), because that qualification is unexpressed (not asserted). This act is entirely unlike true mental reservation, which asserts one truth, while reserving another truth. An act of strict mental reservation asserts a falsehood, and therefore is not true mental reservation, but is merely a lie. The proper definition of mental reservation excludes strict mental reservation, since that act fits the proper definition of lying.
Mental reservation is the expression of one truth, with the reservation (i.e. the omission) of a related truth. There are two types of limitations that may cause a statement to be a type of mental reservation: (1) the expression of a truth with the omission of a related truth, or (2) the expression of a truth with the omission of the true manner of interpretation. In the first case, there are two related truths; one is expressed and another is omitted. In the second case, the related truth that is omitted is merely the proper manner of interpretation of the expressed truth. Human language often has multiple possible meanings; this commonly-understood feature of language does not cause what is expressed to be a lie.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia provides four conditions for the application of the principle of double effect:
1.The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent.
2. The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect he should do so. The bad effect is sometimes said to be indirectly voluntary.
3.The good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed.
4. The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for the allowing of the bad effect“ (p. 1021).
In a similar vein, there is a moral distinction between intended and involuntary foreseen lying.
From the Irish Times :
One of the most fascinating discoveries in the Dublin Archdiocese report was that of the concept of “mental reservation” which allows clerics mislead people without believing they are lying.
According to the Commission of Investigation report, “mental reservation is a concept developed and much discussed over the centuries, which permits a church man knowingly to convey a misleading impression to another person without being guilty of lying”.
It gives an example. “John calls to the parish priest to make a complaint about the behaviour of one of his curates. The parish priest sees him coming but does not want to see him because he considers John to be a troublemaker. He sends another of his curates to answer the door. John asks the curate if the parish priest is in. The curate replies that he is not.”
The commission added: “This is clearly untrue but in the Church’s view it is not a lie because, when the curate told John that the parish priest was not in, he mentally reserved the words '…to you’.”
“Well, the general teaching about mental reservation is that you are not permitted to tell a lie. On the other hand, you may be put in a position where you have to answer, and there may be circumstances in which you can use an ambiguous expression realising that the person who you are talking to will accept an untrue version of whatever it may be – permitting that to happen, not willing that it happened, that would be lying. It really is a matter of trying to deal with extraordinarily difficult matters that may arise in social relations where people may ask questions that you simply cannot answer. Everybody knows that this kind of thing is liable to happen. So mental reservation is, in a sense, a way of answering without lying.”
Example of how they experienced the use of such ‘mental reservation’ by Church authorities in Dublin were supplied to the commission by Mrs Collins and fellow abuse victim Andrew Madden.
In Mrs Collins’s case, the Dublin archdiocese said in a 1997 press statement that it had co-operated with gardai where her complaint of abuse was concerned. She was upset by it as she had reason to believe otherwise. Her support priest Fr James Norman made inquiries and later told gardaí he that when he did so, the archdiocese replied “we never said we co-operated fully” - placing emphasis on the word ‘fully’ - with gardaí.
In Mr Madden’s case, Cardinal Connell emphasised he did not lie to the media about the use of diocesan funds for the compensation of clerical child sexual abuse victims.
He explained to Mr Madden he had told journalists “that diocesan funds ARE (report’s emphasis) not used for such a purpose; that he had not said that diocesan funds WERE not used for such a purpose. By using the present tense he had not excluded the possibility that diocesan funds had been used for such purpose in the past. According to Mr Madden, Cardinal Connell considered that there was an enormous difference between the two.”
Given this doctrine, how can I possibly trust any Church official's pronouncement in any civil matter ever again? "No, the murderer is not hiding in the vestry" (he's there with my knowledge, not hiding at all). "No, of course we don't condone the murder of that arbortionist" (except in private). "We keep the police fully informed" (of the time if they ask us what time it is, nothing else).
I fear the Church has lost its way. I'm not the only one.
Also from the Irish Times :
How could twisted accounts of truth be let obscure the protection of children from abuse?What seems to me to be the thinking behind this:
AFTER ARCHBISHOP Martin’s press conference following the release of the Dublin diocesan report on Thursday, I commented to a senior journalist that the whole saga was utterly depressing. To my amazement, he said that, on the contrary, it was a tribute to the courage of so many people who doggedly kept on refusing to be put down and silenced.
And he is right. Andrew Madden, Ken Reilly, Marie Collins and so many others who were violated, worked tirelessly for justice. And then there are people like the young garda, Finbar Garland, who had less than one year’s experience when he was told of altar boys being abused. In 1983, on advice from a sergeant, he conducted extensive interviews before the other young people involved could be “got at” or silenced. He could recognise evil and react appropriately.
There are priests who acted with courage, and refused to duck below the parapet. And there is this statement by the commission which compiled the report, at once inspiring and damning: “The commission has been impressed by the extraordinary charity shown by complainants and their families towards offenders. It is very clear to the commission that complainants and their families frequently behaved in a much more Christian and charitable way than the church authorities.” And then there is the other side – the buck-passing, the chronic indecisiveness, the active choice to cover up scandal rather than protect children. At times while reading the report, I felt that some of the senior clerics inhabited a kind of weird parallel universe that apparently made sense to them, but is utterly incomprehensible to anyone outside it.
I truly believe that no parent, confronted with evidence that children were being abused, would think first of preventing scandal, and not of the pain and terror of a child. And what about “mental reservation”? As a practising Catholic who also has a degree in theology, completed a stone’s throw from Clonliffe, I have never heard of this idea.
The concept of “mental reservation” means that you can believe nothing from someone who thinks it is an acceptable practice, because at any moment, that person may be allowing you to “accept an untrue version of whatever it may be”, while comfortably absolved from the guilt of lying.
How could anyone, much less one of the most senior churchmen in the country, believe that to be acceptable? What kind of training and formation allowed people to justify lying, albeit passively?
1. The Church does a great deal of good.
2. If this scandal came out, much of the good would be undone.
3. Therefore it would be a bad thing to expose the scandal, and morally justified to cover it up.
4. The Bible says that a slave beaten by a bad master earns a reward in heaven.
5. Therefore persecuting the victims, lying to absolve the church and incriminate the victims rather than the evildoers is permissible. In fact, you're doing the victims a favour.
6. And as any moral burden for doing this is taken on by the priests who raped, and those who covered up, and only they would suffer in the hereafter because of that, they're the real victims here, who should be sheltered and granted compassion.
I don't believe that many of the bishops, archbishops and cardinals who lied did so to protect themselves. Some did, as in Canada, but most did not. They lied to protect the Church, and prevent its good from being undone. And to protect their brothers in Christ, those who had so grievously fallen.