Fr. John Zuhlsdorf approves the use of Fake Vaccine Cards

ASK FATHER: Is it sinful to make or use fake papers, vaccine passports, or false documents? Posted on 15 September 2021 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

The question is posed to Fr. Z.: “Is it sinful to make or use fake papers, vaccine passports, or false documents?”

He answers, first: “It depends.”

Such an answer implies that at times it would not be sinful. But are not such fake papers, vaccine passports, and other false documents a form of lying? Would you not generally have to lie to support the fake documents? Fr. Z. admits that this is essentially an issue of whether it is always wrong to lie.

Fr. Z. says: “There are situations in which it is right to lie.”

Really? In which of those situations have you lied, Fr. Z? How can you be trusted, when you say lying can be moral? And this is not a case of judging Fr. Z., but the Church Herself. If She were to teach that lying is sometimes “right”, then what situations would justify the Church lying? Is not saving souls a greater good than saving lives? If it is moral to lie to save lives, as Fr. Z. strongly implies with his example of lying to save Jews from Nazis, then why would it not be moral to lie to save souls?

1. If the Church ever taught what Fr. Z. claims, that “it is right to lie” in some circumstances, here is what the result would be: The Church would lose all Her credibility worldwide. For She would be implying that it is right for the Church Herself to lie, for at least for Popes, Bishops, and priests to lie. And if the Pope and Bishops were to say something like, “Well, lying is sometimes right, but we are not lying to you now.” How do we know that isn’t a lie, if the Church ever — in this counter-factual hypothetical — were to teach what Fr. Z. claims is moral truth. The whole Catholic religion would collapse, as any assertion by a priest, Bishop, or Pope might be a lie to save your eternal life.

2. Lying is intrinsically evil. If lying is sometimes “right”, due to circumstances (the situation), then all other intrinsically evil acts could also be justified by circumstances. That is the necessary implication of what Fr. Z. states when he says that circumstances not only justify lying, but make it “right”. Is contraception justified in some situations, Fr. Z.? No? Why not? Both acts are intrinsically evil. Is abortifacient contraception sometimes justified? Dr. Janet Smith has said it can be. And Fr. Z. takes her position, rather than that of a Catholic priest who is following St. Thomas on the topic of lying. Abortifacient contraception is a type of abortion as well as a type of contraception. And there is no end to the intrinsically evil acts that could be justified by “some situations”, if lying, and intrinsically evil act, were justifiable. For all intrinsically evil acts work the same way under the three fonts of morality. So if lying is justifiable, despite being intrinsically evil, then so are contraception, abortifacient contraception, abortion, adultery, pre-marital sex, stealing, murder, unjust war, racism, genocide, slavery and the rest of the intrinsically evil acts. You can’t make up a special set of ethical norms for the acts that you wish were moral. If any intrinsically evil act is not always wrong, then they all are not always wrong. “But no one would justify genocide, right?” See this article justifying the killing of every civilian at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Once you abandon the principle that intrinsically evil are always wrong, anything goes.

But some conservative priests no longer care what the Church teaches, as long as they are kissing the ass of the conservative Catholic subculture. The culture wants fake vaccine cards to be moral, and so Fr. Z. tells his audience what they want to hear.

3. Fake vaccine cards might cause deaths in some circumstances, making the lying act and the verbal lies needed to support that fake document gravely immoral. Thus, Fr. Z. is not merely justifying a venial lie to save innocents from murderers. And he is not merely making a personal decision in one particular circumstance regarding a vaccine card, where the reasonably anticipated harm might be known to be limited, but the act would still be immoral as a type of lying. Rather Fr. Z. generally states to his very wide readership that fake vaccine cards can be justified as “right” in some situations. This is necessarily implied by his answer to the question, which is that fake vaccine cards are a type of lying, and lying is sometimes right. This answer given to a broad audience can be reasonably anticipated to result in deaths. It is gravely immoral for Fr. Z. to promote fake vaccine cards in this manner. And he gives no guidance to his audience to tell them to avoid situations where this type of lie would cost lives. None. He does link to a video, which is over 2 hours long. Does it contain any such cautions? I don’t know because I am not going to spend my time that way, and many other readers also would not. (By the way, this trend toward publishing theology in video only form makes the content much harder to access.)

4. This claim by Fr. Z. about lying contradicts the perennial teaching of the Church on lying and on intrinsically evil acts. It contradicts the teaching of Saint Augustine and Saint Aquinas on lying. It contradicts the Catechism of the Catholic Church on lying. And, by the way, it is an ERROR to claim that one can lie to persons who do not have a right to the truth. That error was in the first version of the CCC, proving quite well that the CCC is not in itself infallible; but it was removed rather soon and the current version of the text is now longstanding.

Catechism of the Catholic Church:

CCC “1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. the end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving). [39]”

footnote [39] references Mt 6:24 — “No one is able to serve two masters. For either he will have hatred for the one, and love the other, or he will persevere with the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that lying “is intrinsically disordered.” This is another term for acts that are inherently wrong or intrinsically evil. The claim that lying is justified by a good intended end contradicts the teaching of Sacred Scripture that “The end does not justify the means.” Therefore, a good intended end, or an end result in the circumstances cannot justify the use of an intrinsically evil act as the means to either type of end.

{3:8} And should we not do evil, so that good may result? For so we have been slandered, and so some have claimed we said; their condemnation is just.

More from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on lying:

2482 “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: “You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.

2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. the deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.

2486 Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships.

Commentary on the CCC: A lie is still a lie regardless of the intention. The CCC simply states the usual intention that accompanies lying, to deceive. In addition, lying is inherently deceptive, and so lying for some other intention is still inherently a type of deceiving of one’s neighbor. Then Veritatis Splendor teaches that intrinsically evil acts are not justified by intention or circumstances. Notice what the CCC says: “The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.” This statement directly applies to deceiving with false vaccine documents.

The teaching of the CCC and Veritatis Splendor, the encyclical of Pope Saint John Paul II on the basic principle of ethics, is that to be moral an act must have three good fonts: only good in “the intention for which the choice is made”, only good in the moral object, and in the circumstances of the act, “the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned” [VS 79] must be weighed so that the reasonably anticipated bad consequences do not morally outweigh the reasonably anticipated good consequences.

81. In teaching the existence of intrinsically evil acts, the Church accepts the teaching of Sacred Scripture. The Apostle Paul emphatically states: “Do not be deceived: neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).

Pope Saint John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 81: If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person. “As for acts which are themselves sins (cum iam opera ipsa peccata sunt), Saint Augustine writes, like theft, fornication, blasphemy, who would dare affirm that, by doing them for good motives (causis bonis), they would no longer be sins, or, what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?”. Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice.

Since lying has an evil moral object (as do all intrinsically disordered acts), it cannot be justified to obtain a good intended end, or to avoid a bad anticipated consequence. This is the teaching of the Church from Her earliest days, and there are many passages of Sacred Scripture that support this teaching as well, especially these:

Ephesians 4:25 — Because of this, setting aside lying, speak the truth, each one with his neighbor. For we are all part of one another.

John 8:44 — Jesus: “You are of your father, the devil. And you will carry out the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning. And he did not stand in the truth, because the truth is not in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks it from his own self. For he is a liar, and the father of lies.”

Proverbs 12:22 — Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord. But whoever acts faithfully pleases him.

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf uses a false argument to support his position that lying is not always wrong. He points to a debate on the subject between two persons, and then says that he is more convinced by the one person than the other. This is not a valid theological argument. One could apply the same approach to any question in order to support either side of any argument. It is not a way of finding out what Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium actually teach.

Fr. Z. ignores the teaching of the Church on this subject of lying. And he contradicts Augustine, Aquinas, John Paul II, the CCC, and Veritatis Splendor.

Note that the two persons debating this subject are Fr. Gregory Pine, a Catholic priest who follows the teaching of St. Thomas, and Dr. Janet Smith, whose grave errors on multiple serious topics are well documented on my blog. Also, here is my article refuting Smith’s claims on lying.

Fr. Z. offers the usual bad argument: that it seems moral to lie to Nazis to save Jews during the holocaust, and so one can lie in any other situation where it also seems moral. But the point of Fr. Z.’s article is not that you should lie to murderers to save innocents, but the case of using false vaccine documents, so that an unvaccinated person can be treated as if they were vaccinated. Aside from the issue of lying, this endangers lives. Unvaccinated persons are much more likely to contract Covid-19, a disease that has killed millions of persons. So it makes no sense to cite the “lying to save innocent lives” argument, when the lie you are promoting endangers lives. And Fr. Z. has no way to limit the use of fake vaccine cards to only situations where lives would not be endangers (not that this would justify it). He generally and rather loudly justifies fake vaccine cards by comparing it to lying to Nazis to save Jews from the Holocaust. This gives his readers the impression that using fake vaccine documents is highly justifiable, as the example used has a very high emotional impetus.

My position is that the Covid-19 vaccine is generally necessary to society, to defend against the pandemic. However, the vaccine also has uncommon though serious risks, while the disease itself has grave risks of its own. Therefore, each person should be free to weigh those particular risks in their own life, as the risks of each may be greater or lesser in a particular circumstance for one person versus another. I am not an anti-vaxxer; nor do I promote the Covid-19 vaccine as if it were a moral obligation for all persons. I agree with the Roman Pontiff that it is a moral obligation in general; but he does not have the role to evaluate the specifics of each medical case and each use of conscience.

Fr. Z. has a large audience, and his promotion of false vaccine documents may do much harm. It is entirely possible that some persons, encouraged by his post, might use a false vaccine documents, contract and spread Covid-19, while both deceiving those around them and endangering their lives. This post could literally result, indirectly but with moral culpability, in deaths.

Please note that: “Making, selling, forging, or buying a counterfeit card is illegal. You can be fined or jailed.” Source.

Fr. Z. is encouraging this crime, justifying it by means of his pretended authority as a supposedly faithful Catholic priest, but one who contradicts Catholic teaching and often ridicules the Roman Pontiff. (He even profits from selling merchandise that ridicules Pope Francis.) Encouraging a crime that often endangers lives is not justified by the baseless claim, in contradiction to Catholic teaching, that lying is right in some situations.

As for the argument about lying to Nazis to save Jews during the Holocaust, the argument does not apply. You are not saving lives by using a fake vaccine card. Depending on the circumstances, you may be endangering lives with your lie. That is the opposite of the “lying to save lives” example. If you want to lie to Nazis to save Jews hidden in your home during the Holocaust, I will not criticize you. Such a lie is intrinsically evil, but it is also one of the lesser venial sins.

But in no way does such a lie to save innocent lives justify lying in your ordinary daily life. That is the common logical fallacy that follows in such an argument. “It’s moral to lie to murderers to save innocents,” the argument claims, in contradiction to St. Augustine in his treatise “On Lying”. And then the person goes on to justify lying to their spouse, children, co-workers, employer, the government, and medical authorities. I have participated in many arguments about lying online. I have heard these particular arguments made, even specifically citing lying to one’s spouse or employer as examples of supposedly moral acts, on the basis of a claim that one must lie to murderers to save innocents.

Lying is intrinsically evil, and intrinsically evil acts are never justified. But suppose you lie only to save innocents from murderers. It’s a venial sin. But if you then say or imply: “therefore, lying is moral whenever one judges it to be necessary, useful, or good.” That assertion is gravely immoral as a heresy contrary to the infallible teaching of the ordinary universal Magisterium on intrinsically evil acts. Such a claim is entirely incompatible with the teaching of Jesus who is Truth and entirely incompatible with Catholic Teaching. It is a rejection of ethics per se. It is a rejection of the distinction between good and evil, between truth and lying. If lying can be “right” or good, then what is truth in that situation? Does truth become wrong or bad? Since God is Truth and Good by His very nature, good cannot become evil, and truth cannot become a lie. Therefore also, a lie cannot become good and the truth cannot become evil.

What is happening with conservatism today? Conservatives, especially priests, used to pride themselves on supporting the Magisterium and following the teachings of the Saints, especially Augustine and Aquinas. Now we have a supposedly very conservative priest who follows a liberal woman theologian, in contradiction to the Magisterium, Pope Saint John Paul II, Saint Augustine, Saint Aquinas, and the official Catechism of the Catholic Church. Why is this? It is because many conservative Catholics now follow whatever the conservative Catholic subculture teaches or approves, even illegal acts that endanger lives, and reject any teaching of the Church contrary to the subculture.

The subculture accused Pope Francis of idolatry for praying with the leaders of other religions at Assisi. But Pope Saint John Paul II did the same thing. “Oh well, he must be guilty of idolatry also,” says the subculture. And “he must also not be a Saint”, they claim. Then they reject Vatican II, as does Fr. Z., and so they don’t accept that John 23 and Paul 6 are Saints either. But Vatican I says…”Then Vatican I must be condemned also”, they say. Once you start rejecting the teaching of the Church, and substituting what you yourself or a popular subculture says, your faith unravels.

No one can serve two masters, and many conservative and traditionalist Catholics have decided to serve the subculture and to reject the teachings of Popes and Saints. You cannot serve the traditionalist subculture and Christ. You cannot serve the conservative subculture and Christ. If the Pope suppresses the traditional Latin Mass, then you stop saying that Mass and you stop attending that Mass. If the Church teaches that lying is intrinsically evil, then that is what you believe. And when you stand before God in the particular judgment, He will not accept as a defense for your grave sins that you read it on a blog by a popular priest or saw it in a video.

Did Jesus Lie?

What would happen if the Church officially taught that lying is not always wrong? The entire Catholic Faith would fall apart. If it is moral to lie to save lives, then it is moral to lie to save souls. The Church would be essentially stating that Her own words are untrustworthy, if lying is not always wrong. And this would apply to Jesus also, in this counter-factual hypothetical. If lying is not always wrong, then why can’t Jesus lie to you to save your soul? And what does Dr. Janet Smith say? That Jesus did lie.

Janet Smith, from her article on lying called “FIG LEAVES AND FALSEHOODS” and subtitled “pace Thomas Aquinas, sometimes we need to deceive” states the following: “Indeed, there are many stories in Scripture where lying is at least countenanced, if not endorsed: … Jesus himself, after telling his apostles he is not going up to the festival, in fact goes.” Here Dr. Janet Smith accuses Jesus of lying. She also accuses Scripture of “countenancing” lying.

But if Jesus did lie, that would constitute proof that lying is not always wrong. What is clear from the actual verse of Scripture is that Jesus did not lie, but rather He used mental reservation. Smith leaves out the fact that Jesus said he was not going to the festival because the time was yet not right. This implies that when the time is right, he might go. But accusing Jesus of lying helps make her case, so she leaves out that part.

{7:8} You may go up to this feast day. But I am not going up to this feast day, because my time has not yet been fulfilled.”
{7:9} When he had said these things, he himself remained in Galilee.
{7:10} But after his brothers went up, then he also went up to the feast day, not openly, but as if in secret.

And Fr. Z. thinks Smith’s position on lying is the correct one. Does Fr. Z. think that Jesus lied? Does Fr. Z. lie in any situation? Does Fr. Z. own and use a fake vaccine card?

If, as Fr. Z. plainly asserts, “There are situations in which it is right to lie,” which of those situations has caused Fr. Z. to lie? If Fr. Z. thinks it is moral to lie in a situation where the lie endangers lives, as in the fake vaccine card case, why wouldn’t it be moral to lie to save souls?

In her article on lying, quoted above, Smith tries to make a distinction between deliberate false assertions that are “false signification” and lies, as if lies were somehow different. Thus, she can claim that “lying is always wrong” by putting the deliberate false assertions she wishes to justify in a different category, called “false signification”. Wrong. When did the Church teach that blatant act of acrobatic sophistry? Never. Can you imagine Jesus saying such a thing? I should hope not. The CCC says: “The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil.”

Smith also claims: “Indeed, the failure of the Catechism to condemn explicitly such practices as spying, sting operations, the deceptive missives and maneuvers of warfare, and research that involves deception suggests that the question remains open.”

No, it doesn’t. The CCC doesn’t have to cover every example of lying in order to teach, what the Catechism does in fact teach, that lying is “intrinsically disordered” and is by its nature wrong. When an act is always wrong, you don’t have to specifically condemn each example of that intrinsically evil act. It is always wrong.

As for lying to murderers to save innocents, it is wrong but venial. By comparison, lying with a false vaccine card can be a mortal sin, as it can endanger lives. You cannot justify the latter by reference to the former.

What has happened to Fr. Z.? He used to be a good conservative priest who followed Church teaching and the teachings of the Saints. But Pope Francis challenged his faith and put it to the test, and Fr. Z. failed that test miserably. His ridicule of Pope Francis is shameful. And his selling of merchandise that ridicules the Pope is wicked. He is unfortunately no longer a reliable source on any topic in faith or morals, except the details of the Latin Mass.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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7 Responses to Fr. John Zuhlsdorf approves the use of Fake Vaccine Cards

  1. Fr. Matthew says:

    Everything you said above in the post is basically the truth. But what about the Holy Cardinal Roncalli (the future Pope and Saint John XIII), in order to save them from the Nazis and Mussolini’s army, making and providing FAKE papers presenting unconverted Jews as formally baptized Catholics, as receiving the SACRAMENT of Baptism? This was not condemned formally by the saints and popes Paul VI or John Paul by the way either.

    • Ron Conte says:

      That was a venial sin. It is not a valid argument to say that an act not formally condemned by Popes or Saints must be moral. Lying is in itself immoral. But as I said, it is a venial sin. Any other position risks unraveling the entire teaching of the Church on intrinsic evil. Popes have been known to commit mortal sins while Pope, so they might commit venial sins before becoming Pope, certainly, or at any time.

  2. Perelandra says:

    Good piece. I was appalled.

    “What is happening with conservatism today?”


    “… which of those situations has caused Fr. Z. to lie?”

    I have tried to charitably (and hopefully) believe that there was some sort of misunderstanding…but his situation with the exorcisms led me to the uncomfortable realization that he had implied he was given permission to do exorcisms in relation to the election, and his bishop said he was given no such permission, and one of them was not being truthful. I didn’t believe it to be the bishop, but I could be wrong.

    It feels like Fr. Z has sold his soul. He started out so differently. When Pope Francis was chosen and some trads immediately trashed him, Fr. Z initially said “Calm down. I kind of know him. Wait and see. Read Francis through Benedict.” But apparently that wasn’t good for business. Or so he thought…if you look at comment activity from years ago vs. now you will see that only a few dedicated fans still haunt that place. I think he’s alienated the more moderate people who enjoyed him and the very extreme folks have ”better” places to go. It’s really unfortunate. I will always hold hope that he will wake up and realize, because I appreciate who he used to be (or at least who I thought he was).

  3. Fr. Matthew says:

    Your reply is to my question is the position that is faithful to Catholic Truth. I fully agree with your assessment of my question. The reason I brought it up is because I think that Fr. Zuhlsdorf maybe had the above historical example in mind to justify making fake vaccine documents. Also know that your niece is on my prayers.

  4. Mary says:

    What are your thoughts on the vaccine passports being the Mark of the Beast due to the similarities to what is said in Revelation re not being to buy ,sell,etc ?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The mark of the beast is in the distant future, as is the reign of the Antichrist. I object strongly to requiring vaccination to buy or sell, especially necessities. It may be a foreshadowing of the mark. But the vaccine is not evil to accept. It has risks, but it also has benefits. Both must be weighed.

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