“Cooperation with evil” and the contraceptive debate

David Gibson of the Religion News Service has an interesting analysis of the contraception c ontroversy, from a moral theology perspective that most people have, as yet, failed to consider:

When President Obama last week bowed to political reality and changed the rules on mandated contraception coverage, the White House was trying to find an elegant solution to a political conundrum. Under the revised plan, insurance companies — not faith-based institutions — would arrange for the coverage and pay for it.

The president’s plan meant that religious employers — mainly Catholic universities, hospitals and social service agencies — would not be involved in paying for or administering something they deem sinful: contraception. At the same time, all employees would still have access to the same contraception benefit, no matter whom they work for.

Critics of the president’s plan, however, didn’t see it that way.

“Dangerous and insulting,” a group of leading Catholic bishops wrote to their fellow churchmen. “A cheap accounting trick,” Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon and several other leading culture warriors complained in an open letter that has generated more than 100 signers.

The “compromise,” said New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, “asks the parties involved to compromise their reasoning faculties and play a game of ‘let’s pretend’ instead.”

Yet that “game,” as Douthat put it, is actually a venerable tradition in Catholic moral theology that for centuries has provided a way for Christians to think about acting virtuously in a fallen world.

‘Cooperation with evil’

The category of moral reasoning is called “cooperation with evil.” The term “evil” isn’t as ominous as it sounds, but rather is shorthand used by moral theologians to describe anything sinful.

A classic example of cooperating with evil: A servant who ferries love letters to his master’s mistress is not personally culpable because he himself is not committing adultery and does not intend to promote adultery, but must keep his job to feed and raise his family.

A more contemporary example involves whether a Catholic can vote for a politician — like, say, Barack Obama — who supports abortion rights.

In 2004, a year before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told U.S. bishops that a Catholic voter would be unfit to receive Communion if he or she voted for a candidate “precisely because” of that candidate’s support of abortion or euthanasia.

But, he added: “When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

“Remote material cooperation” is also the issue in the contraception coverage debate.

There’s much more.  Read it all. 

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