Mental Reservation

The Irish Times is reporting this morning on a new book by Professor Colin Barr who claims that Irish Cardinal Paul Cullen used mental reservation to lie to a civil jury in a case in the 1870’s. The claim is made in Professor Barr’s new book The European Culture Wars in Ireland – The Callan Schools Affair, 1868-81 , which describes a schism in the Catholic Church in the late 19th century.
More importantly for those following the priest abuse scandal, it’s an acknowledgment from a reputable scholar and associate professor at Ave Maria University in Florida, that church officials did employ mental reservation in conflicts between the church and state.
Mental reservation is not church doctrine but a concept from moral theology that allows someone to mislead others without lying. The classic example of mental reservation concerns Nazis hunting for Jews during World War II. If someone was indeed harboring Jews in their home and a Nazi official asked if they were Jews in their home, the person could employ mental reservation to evade the truth.
Unfortunately, the concept of mental reservation has been suspected in cases of priest abuse to protect the institution of the church and the reputation of a priest who has abused children.
Mental reservation may be a theological concept which allows one to evade the truth in church circles. In a court of law, there is no evasion of the truth. If asked a question under oath, the whole truth is expected and demanded.