Is it always wrong to lie? My mother asked me some personal questions about a friend and I didn’t want to reveal something that she had told me in strict confidence. What should I have done?
We should always tell the truth. The eighth commandment in Exodus 20:16 is: “You shall not give false witness against your neighbor.” Giving false witness means not telling the truth. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2475 says, “Christ's disciples have put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. By putting away falsehood, they are to put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.” In Jesus Christ the fullness of God’s Truth has been made known and if we want to follow Him then we must be truthful at all times. St Thomas Aquinas said, “Men could not live with one another if there were not mutual confidence that they were being truthful to one another.”
The Catechism recognises that there are times when being truthful may hurt others. It says, “Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.” (Paragraph 2489) Priests, for example, are not allowed to reveal to anyone, under any circumstances, what has been revealed to them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we are faced with serious questions we should pray for guidance and follow our consciences to decide whether to reveal something that may hurt others. That is why a well-formed conscience based on Christian principles is so important.
With regard to answering questions with charity the Catechism says that there is a golden rule to help one discern, in concrete situations, whether or not it would be appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it. That rule is to treat others as you would want to be treated. So if someone is asking you something trivial like whether a dress suits them and you think that it does not look good at all, it is more charitable to say that it might look better in a different color or with a longer skirt, rather than reveal the full extent of your feelings. Do you have any questions that you would like us to answer for you? Please send them to us at email@example.com. These will be treated in strict confidence and your name will not be used.