ASK FATHER: Signing a contract, like for a credit card, but with 35 pages of small print.

From a reader…


Do you consider it a sin of lying to sign a contract or an agreement stating that you will/have done something that you know you will/have not done?

In this case, you know the other party does not really care and that the clause is just for liability issues or some other legal non sense.

For example, saying you have read the terms of agreement for your credit card that are 35 pages in fine print. My gut is telling me it’s not a venial white sin lie but just a legal thing. A similar thing is causing a friend of mine stress.

I told the friend an agreement minor misstatement is not the same thing as a usual spoken white lie, so they were in the clear. Was that right to say?


See the issue of “adhesion contacts” – HERE

For such adhesion contracts, often used for consumer products, I don’t think there is a reasonable expectation that the consumer will or could read all the elements of the contract, and courts will render unenforceable excessive clauses for lack of a “meeting of the minds” with such contracts. With this in place, the expectation of the consumer shifts away from the need to read the entire contract in a true arms-length transaction of parties with equal negotiating power, and due to court precedence and oversight, and potential court intervention, signing such a contract isn’t a “lie” that you’ve read the whole contract, but that you agree to the contract in light of the underlying law in place applicable to adhesion contracts.

I hope that helps on that one point.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. iPadre says:

    Kind of like every time you install a piece of software on a computer or join some foolish social network. Nobody in their right mind reads the whole darn thing.

  2. acardnal says:

    The explanation seems clear.

  3. Amateur Scholastic says:

    Tell your friend to stop worrying. Context matters, and in this context it’s not a lie to say you’ve read the entire document, because the other party knows that those words aren’t meant to be taken literally. Rather, it’s what moralists call a ‘mental reservation’.

    A lie is the deliberate communication of a falsehood, and is always and everywhere wrong. By using said words, *given what the other party knows in this context*, you are not communicating a falsehood.

    If you said the same thing to a child, that would be a lie, because the child would not know what you really meant by the words.

    I very strongly recommend looking up Edward Feser’s blog, where he talks about lying and mental reservations. He has some seriously helpful material on this.

  4. oldCatholigirl says:

    Not being in my right mind, as any of my friends could tell you, sometimes I really do read (well, skim) those myriad pages– when I’m installing something on my phone, say. I gather that “they” take no responsibility for anything and can change their terms, or discontinue their service at any time–or something to that effect.
    Sometimes it really is a good idea to read that boring stuff. My bank has been warning me for months that it is going to merge with another bank (4th or 5th name change since we first went to the nearest bank on moving to Michigan 49 years ago). They recently mailed me a packet, and way in the middle there’s something about changing my account to a Senior Account with a minimum balance of $10,000–or I pay a monthly fee. There is an option to switch to a free account, I gather–not available until the merger is complete next month. I’m going to inquire about that–but I might not have known, at least at first. That’s not the sort of thing they boast about in the glossy promos.

  5. iamlucky13 says:

    This question also has been on my mind occasionally.

    I’m pretty sure I ruined the afternoon plans of my realtor, the mortgage broker, and the underwriter when I spent something like 2 hours reading the entire mortgage contract for my home. I got the distinct impression they had never seen anyone do that before, and didn’t like it. I’m usually not so diligent about reading contracts.

    However, in addition to genuinely wanting to know what I was committing a six-figure sum and years of future earnings to, the very last line was something like, “I have read, understand, and agree with all the terms and conditions specified above.”

    The guest priest and lawyer only briefly examines the question of “I agree to be bound by the above.” Few agreements limit their verbiage to this generally far more reasonable statement.

    If I say “I have read and understand” something I factually have not read, that is a lie. I can’t see a way to call stating something I know to be false not a lie any more than I can say 2+2 = 5.

    I certainly maintain that the gravity of the lie is very low due to the limited consequences of it, and what amounts to a lack deliberate will, due to the fact that in our current time we are presented with a clearly burdensome volume of such contracts.

    With all that considered, I regret my numerous decisions not to read all the trivial contracts I have agreed to without reading even though they include that “read and understand” part. Unfortunately, I don’t think my regrets are perfectly contrite, nor can I claim a firm purpose of amendment.

    That bothers me, but it is not a source of stress like it is to the friend of the person asking the question above, because again, I am very confident the gravity of the lie is very low. Perhaps this shortcoming will be perfected in me in purgatory, but I certainly don’t see it being a reason to despair of hell over.

  6. Titus says:

    courts will render unenforceable excessive clauses for lack of a “meeting of the minds” with such contracts.

    People should not rely on obtaining this kind of relief. It is very difficult to obtain from a court and things like “nobody is expected to read that” don’t go very far (though they do go some distance in certain cases). The terms usually have to be so oppressive or unreasonable that a court can assume that nobody in his right mind would agree to them, which, given the range of bad deals the law will enforce, is a pretty high standard.

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