I've been pondering the topic of whether or not lying of the sort that Live Action engaged in is ever justified, having followed some of the writing about it here and there.
As I've read and participated in some of the discussions, I've started to have the uneasy feeling that we've had this sort of theological debate before, in the Catholic blogosphere. Only last time around, the sin being discussed was the sin of torture, the would-be exculpatory scenario the infamous Ticking Time Bomb (TTB) scenario, and the justification for its use the idea that agents of the state have the right to torture people in the interest of public safety.
Of course, the fact that agents of the state are involved does not make something that is intrinsically evil suddenly good. Agents of the state, for instance, may not murder. If they are carrying out a lawful execution they do not commit murder, by definition; but if a guard shoots a docile prisoner as that prisoner is being marched to the execution chamber, he is guilty of murder--and murder is intrinsically evil by definition.
So we can't pretend that agents of the state may lie without being guilty of lying (ordinarily a sin of much lesser gravity than the sins of murder and torture, of course). What some people are presently pondering is whether certain untruths are actually lies, given some rather restricted circumstances--for example, in those situations where you are protecting a potential victim from his would-be killers, or where you are being unjustly forced to reveal knowledge you are morally bound to keep secret.
It is my completely un-scholarly opinion that the answer, ultimately, will be: no, you still can't tell an actual, honest-to-goodness lie, not even in these situations, without committing a sin, at least objectively. Your moral culpability may be greatly lessened or even completely absent, but the action itself is still sinful. But, like I said, that's my opinion as an average Catholic laywoman trying to sort this stuff out. For all I know, moral theologians may be able to work out a definition of lying that totally exempts situations in which one's life or the life of another is at stake or the information is being unjustly coerced, where an untruth of sorts somehow manages not to be a lie. But I don't really see how that will work, any more than I ever bought the idea that some form of painful coercion might somehow be defined as "not-torture" when circumstances seemed to demand it.
Still, that's not--thankfully--my call. Moreover, it has nothing to do with the Live Action situation. The Live Action people are not responding under duress to unjust examiners, nor are they being pressed to reveal information they are pledged to keep secret. Instead, they are entering clinics knowing ahead of time that they will be holding a false conversation containing numerous lies. I am sure they are courageous, and I'm also sure they are convinced that the purpose of their actions justifies the methods--but morally speaking we reject such reasoning as consequentialism, the idea that the morality of an action depends on the actions consequences.
But there's a larger point here. When the TTB scenarios kept cropping up in the torture debates, people like Mark Shea responded by reminding everyone that the questions raised should not be "How close can I come to committing the evil act of torture without quite crossing that line?" or "What exceptions that will allow me to commit acts of torture against Truly Evil Bad Guys can be carved out?" but "How can I fulfill Christ's commandment to love my neighbor as myself?"
I think we're seeing the same sort of thing here. Instead of asking "How can we justify some lying when it's for a Really Good Cause?" or "How can we define lying so as to permit it in some really excusable circumstances?" we should be asking ourselves, "How can I fulfill God's desire that His children speak the truth in charity?"
Putting the question that way forces us to think of our duty to speak the truth not as something that simply or mainly impacts ourselves alone, but that is something we owe our neighbor both in justice and in mercy. It is, for instance the truth about abortion--the full, ugly, horrific truth--that has led to the conversions of some abortionists and clinic workers; sometimes they encountered this truth for years before their hearts turned away from the evil, and other times it took just one graphic encounter for them to realize the evil, but the truth was the weapon that set them free.
If we truly love our neighbors, even the ones who work in abortion clinics, we will not see them as hopelessly depraved and beyond conversion such that it's just fine to lie to them. We will, instead, continue to confront evil with the most powerful weapon we have: the truth. It is, after, the Way, the Truth, and the Life Who Himself sets each of us free from the evils of sin and calls us to spend eternity in happiness with Him forever; we can offer no less to every person than what we have ourselves received.