After purchasing a new vehicle, I learned that the company I bought from supports Planned Parenthood financially. Am I responsible for promoting the abortion industry?
Christians are instructed to “turn away from evil and do good” (Ps 34:14). As we strive to pursue the good, we must consider the link between our actions that support a certain organization and the actions of that particular organization that either commits an evil act or supports another organization that commits an evil act. In this context, the question concerns “cooperation with evil.”
The Church teaches that a morally good act is dependent upon three things: the object chosen, the end in view or intentions, and the circumstances of the action (CCC 1750). A simple way to remember these conditions is to use the mnemonic “remember your ABC’s,” where: A is the “act” itself (the human act, i.e. what you are doing), B is the “because” (intention) and C is the “consequences” (what results and also includes the circumstances) of the act.
The first two components clearly determine whether an action is right or wrong. The consequences, however, only increase or diminish the rightness or wrongness of the act in question. Nonetheless, all three of these components are required to be “good” for an act to be considered morally good. This straightforward construct is an excellent guide in virtually all moral decisions even when the “good” may not be readily apparent.
Let’s analyze the example buying a car from a company that supports Planned Parenthood using this basic, Catholic model.
First, the human act of buying a car is not sinful, nor is buying a car because you want to meet a basic transportation need. The consequences resulting from the purchase of the car may be numerous—including factory and store workers keeping their jobs, providing a salesman’s commission, etc. So far, so good!
But in this example, we know that the car company will support Planned Parenthood, an organization that performs abortions (which are intrinsically evil). Even though the act of buying a car is not evil, nor is the intent of fulfilling a need for transportation evil, we know some evil may be the consequence of or supported by our purchase. We also know from experience that there are numerous considerations in determining the consequences of purchasing a car from an automaker that supports Planned Parenthood. These consequences are often competing, some good and some bad.
In this myriad web of various consequences, we can still conclude that some evil is being supported. In this case, we do not really have a clear, morally good act since all three components (ABCs) do not line up behind the good.
Given the complexities of corporate relationships and resulting consequences during regular commerce, the concept of cooperation with evil has been expounded by Catholic moral theologians. The result is a deeper application of these basic moral principles designed to assist us in gaining a deeper understanding of cooperation with evil. The definitions I will now introduce are derived directly from the published response of the Pontifical Academy for Life, dated June 9, 2005, to Mrs. Debra L. Vinnedge regarding the use of vaccines prepared from cells derived from aborted babies. In this letter, the principle of cooperation with evil is divided into two major types: formal cooperation and material cooperation.
Formal Cooperation: is carried out when the moral agent cooperates with the immoral action of another person, sharing in the latter’s evil intention.
Material Cooperation: is carried out when a moral agent cooperates with the immoral action of another person, without sharing his/her evil intention.
In this model, the types of cooperation with evil are divided by intent (or the “because”). When the intent is shared with the person committing the evil act, the cooperation is termed formal and is always illicit because we are instructed to shun evil. In the case of abortion, formal cooperation (shared intent) would include the assisting physician, an operating room nurse, a receptionist and any volunteers at the clinic that facilitate the abortion and share in the evil intention of the doctor performing the abortion. When the intent is not shared with the person committing the evil act, the cooperation is called material and may or may not be illicit.
Material cooperation (lacking the shared evil intent) is further divided into immediate (direct) and mediate (indirect) cooperation “depending on whether the cooperation is in the execution of the sinful action per se, or whether the agent acts by fulfilling the conditions—either by providing instruments or products—which make it possible to commit the immoral act.” Here, the distinction is no longer concerned with the intent, but rather the act itself. In other words, a distinction is made concerning the human act (what one is doing) committed by the person that results in cooperation with evil. Immediate material cooperation consists of a person contributing to the essential circumstances of the act. In the case of abortion, this may include an instrument repair technician that repairs a specific piece of equipment required in an abortion procedure. Here, the equipment is required and essential for the evil act to be committed. The shared intent may be absent, but the cooperation is immediate (direct) since it contributes to the evil act (abortion) itself. Mediate material cooperation involves nonessential contributions to the evil actbefore, during, or after.
In other words, the evil act may be committed with or without mediate material cooperation. An example involving abortion might be a janitor in a hospital cleaning the operating rooms.
Another applicable distinction involves cooperation that is proximate or remote, depending upon the “distance” (be it in terms of temporal space or material connection) between the act of cooperation and the sinful act committed by someone else.” All immediate (direct) material cooperation is proximate, while mediate (indirect) material cooperation can be either proximate or remote. The response from the Pontifical Academy for Life also includes a discussion about classifying cooperation as either active (positive) or passive (negative). This distinction here is made between positive acts in cooperation with evil versus acts of omission.
With this framework in mind, let us return to the specific scenario of purchasing a car. First, we need to look at our intent in purchasing the car and determine we do not share the intent of supporting abortion committed by Planned Parenthood. Since we do not share the same intent, we would classify our cooperation as material instead of formal. Second, we need to look at the act itself, in this case, the act of buying a car and how it relates to the evil act of abortion. Since buying a car is not essential to the act of abortion, it would be considered mediate (indirect) instead of immediate (direct). Next, we would look at the proximity of our action to the evil act. Being that there are several layers of organizations between us, the customer, and the manufacturer of the car that is contributing to Planned Parenthood, we would classify this as remote rather than proximate. Therefore, we would classify our cooperation as mediate, material, remote cooperation.
Now, by using the response from the Pontifical Academy for Life concerning vaccine use derived from aborted babies, we find that it states formal cooperation is always considered morally illicit “because it represents a form of direct and intentional participation in the sinful act of another person.” In other words, the evil intent is shared. The Pontifical Academy for Life response also states immediate material cooperation that concerns “grave attacks on human life,” are “always to be considered illicit, given the precious nature of the value in question.” Here, the focus is on the act itself being connected to a grave attack on human life. The response also instructs us that even passive (omissive) cooperation can be formal or material, immediate or mediate, proximate or remote. We are told that “every type of formal passive cooperation is to be considered illicit, but even passive material cooperation should generally be avoided” although some allowance is provided when avoidance results in excessive hardship.
What this means is that our scenario involving mediate material remote cooperation is not in and of itself illicit since the evil intent and evil act are not shared. However, since we are talking about a connection involving a “grave attack on human life,” we should pay heed to the admonition from the Pontifical Academy for Life and avoid any support when possible. In the response to Mrs. Vinnedge, the Academy advised seeking alternative vaccines not derived from aborted babies. In our scenario however, the remoteness (distance) of the car purchase to abortion is more remote than use of a vaccine derived from aborted babies. Nonetheless, the rationale to seek alternatives is still applicable given the link to a “grave attack on human life.” After all, pursuing a competitor’s car that did not support abortion would be more likely to contribute to the “greater good,” all other things being equal.
One last consideration involves an allowance for a grave inconvenience. In the case of mediate material remote cooperation, it is not always obligatory to refrain given there exists a grave proportional reason. In the case involving vaccines, a grave proportional reason might include risk to the child and the population as in the case of German measles and no other vaccine choice. In the scenario of the vehicle purchase however, an example of grave proportional reason is difficult to justify since one can always purchase a used vehicle from a private party. Nonetheless, we as Christians are still obligated to always seek the good and shun evil. In our effort to seek the good, we need to also consider our witness of the faith and avoid scandal. Scandal in this sense refers to the occasion we compromise our Christian witness, or as St. Paul states, “cause your brother to stumble” (1 Cor 8:13, Rom 14:21). Our actions should never give the false impression that abortion is licit and not an issue of grave concern.
In matters regarding moral issues, Christians are counted upon as being the “salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13). As a result, we must flavor and preserve the society of which we are an integral part. A well-formed conscience should guide our moral choices.
Indeed, our conscience compels us to seek the most good and avoid evil as much as possible.