I realize some of my regular readers may be growing a bit weary with the discussion on the morality of lying; that's because most of my regular readers probably don't have a problem with the morality of lying, but are willing to accept unquestioningly that lying is a sin and we're not supposed to do it--which is a good thing.
But I continue to post on the topic because I don't think I've covered all my bases yet; at least, I'm finding questions raised here that I've covered briefly elsewhere, and it's only fair to my readers who aren't reading the zillion plus comment threads elsewhere that I post here, too.
For instance, Lindsay asks below this post about the Santa Claus question. I know I've discussed this before when the whole Santa debate has come up, but it bears repeating, so I hope you'll indulge me. The reason the Santa story isn't a lie is because it is a myth or fable, which is a kind of truth, not a species of lie. Myths and fables are stories told to children to draw them toward an adult reality which they are not yet capable of grasping. No three-year-old I've ever known has the capacity to understand that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity in the fullness of time became man, was incarnate in the womb of the Virgin, was born in a stable at Bethlehem, and thus began His earthly mission of salvation in which He healed the breach between God and Man which had persisted since the Fall. We can, if we like, tell the child the great truth that Jesus, Emmanuel, is God's greatest gift to us, since He is God giving Himself to us in an efficaciously salvific way--but the child will probably tune out the words she doesn't understand and imagine Mary and Joseph arriving at the stable to see a large beribboned box on the manger which, when opened, revealed God's gift, in much the same way that I, as a child, thought that the statement "Mary gave us the Rosary!" meant that Mary went around with a little cart in Israel after the Ascension giving people handmade rosaries and telling them what it all meant. Which is cute, perhaps, but not even remotely close to the literal truth of it all.
So when we allow children to believe that Saint Nicholas (a.k.a. Santa Claus) will bring them gifts to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus, we are teaching them two things that are true: that Saint Nicholas is a saint who has a special love and care for children, as he is one of their dear patrons; and that Christmas is about a Gift, something they will understand better when they are older. We are making use of a story to teach them these things, and before they are very much older they will come to recognize that while some of the elements of the story are not literally true, the symbolic meaning which transcends the merely literal is truer than they could possibly have imagined in the days of their child-like glee.
To put it simply, there is a good reason why we tell children truths via myths and fables, fairy tales and stories, and even the old wives' tales about wearing proper coats or feeding a cold. We do this because children's minds are a delightful mix of fantasy and reality at all times, because their powerful imaginations are sometimes greater prepared to receive truths than their still-forming rational intellects, and because there are some truths which, no matter how we try to explain them to a child, are simply not accessible to them yet.
Take, for instance, sex.
There has been quite a trend lately to start telling even tiny tots all about the human body and its capacity for reproduction, in scientific and clinical terms. Some parents do this because they shun "lying" and insist on telling the two-year-old just exactly how his baby sister got into mommy's tummy--oh, wait, into her uterus--while others believe that child development requires frank talk about sex as soon as a young child asks any questions. I was not a part of that generation and don't really think it's a good idea; while you can, certainly, give a child all the anatomical names for body parts and explain to him or her using simple charts or diagrams just what reproductive activity involves, you can't give him or her an adult understanding of these matters. Which means, at the very least, you can't stop him or her from shouting out in church, at a crowded restaurant, or on a plane "My [anatomically correct body part] is really itchy!" or from telling a pregnant neighbor, helpfully and in detail, just how that baby got into her uterus.
So I side with those who employ the ancient parental wisdom of answering little ones' questions about body parts or babies with a bit of euphemism and a bit of story-telling; after all, it is true that a little boy's baby sister is a gift from God, and that when a man and a woman get married babies are God's gift to them; but if the child then imagines that same big bow-covered box jostling around in his mommy's "tummy," and gets the idea that the doctor's job is to remove the present so Mommy and Daddy can open it--well, he will come to an adult understanding soon enough, and in the meantime what he has been told is true. In fact, in some senses, the sentence "Babies are a gift from God," is much truer than the literal truth.
Now, what's different between employing myths, fables and stories in order to help us enter into a child's world to communicate with children, and the sort of thing Live Action did?
It is not that adults can't sometimes benefit from stories. Our Lord, after all employed many parables, and His adult listeners learned great truths from them. But the difference with adults is that they usually know they are being told a story. We purchase or watch fiction, we listen to a homily containing a humorous anecdote without needing to believe that the joke is literally true; we have, to put it simply, outgrown the childish state of seeing stories as real and reality as a story in its own right. Parents of small children see, and lament a little, the movement past the "everything is a story" age. As a child approaches and then passes the age of reason, they begin to have that same adult awareness of what is truth and what is fiction; in fact, if they are being told a story at that age they will ask with precocious cynicism, "Did this really happen?" It is a distinction that would have escaped them a few years earlier.
The Live Action operatives were, of course, speaking to adults, and they were not presenting themselves as actors or storytellers. And they were not trying to tell a larger truth by their words; their words were intended to cover up the truth--because the truth was that they were Live Action operatives bent on tricking the Planned Parenthood workers into being apparently willing to violate statutory rape notification laws, among other things. And so there is no loophole of the "Santa" variety for adults telling demonstrably false things to other adults--because adults are not children, and the fact that we sometimes tell children truths via stories and fables which the children may accept as literally true for that glorious period we call childhood is not in any way the same thing as lying to one's fellow grown-ups.