More On the Morality of Funding

More On the Morality of Funding February 5, 2009

Here is the basic question: should Catholics oppose all collective funding of activities that are deemed immoral? I use the term collective funding rather than public funding to take into account things like privately-provided health insurance which is typically paid for by an implicit tax on earnings. In a previous post, a commentor argued that Catholics should oppose the provision of non-abortion contraceptive funding through either public or private insurance, on the grounds that the funded activities are intrinsically evil. I don’t intend this post to focus on contraception, but rather to use this example as a springboard toward some broader questions, such as whether such a maximalist approach is justified and why there is not a greater element of consistency.

For sure, there are certain funding decisions that we should oppose. And yes, abortion is one of them. There are others too in this category, but I’ll get to that. But for now: what about benefits provided to same-sex couples, for example? I do not see any obligation to oppose this, under certain conditions, and indeed, the church has tacitly accepted this solution since then-archbishop Levada’s agreement with the City of San Francisco in the mid-1990s. In his landmark decision, Levada declared his willingness to allow Catholic organizations pay such benefits, as long as they were not deemed same-sex benefits, and could encompass any person living at the same address as the beneficiary. Note that we are not just talking about mere tacit acceptance of public funding here– in this particular case, the Church was undoubtedly paying same-sex benefits to some people. But it was a valid compromise.

A similar argument could probably be made in relation to contraception, appealing to John Courtney Murray’s masterly reasoning. In particular, Murray argued that the coercive function of law should be restricted to narrow circumstances, and should focus exclusively on safeguarding “public peace, public morality, and justice”, addressing threats that “seriously undermine the foundations of society or gravely threaten the moral life of the community”.  He argued against using coercive law to deal with issues of private morality, and be placed artificial contraceptive technology in this category. While it may have public consequences, he felt that these consequences would be difficult to control by law, and anyway, using coercive law might backfire and cause other social ills. He also appealed to the notion of religious liberty, noting in particular that it would be difficult for Catholics to oppose it when many religious leaders saw it as morally right. Even people like George Weigel seem to accept this reasoning, stressing the difference between the fifth commandment status of abortion and the sixth commandment status of contraceptive use (“conjugal morality”). For sure, there is a difference between decriminalization and active collective funding, but I think the same arguments can be employed. And if not, are not the debates over the Mexico City policy moot? For if we are to oppose all non-abortion contraceptive funding, does that not pretty much rule out most family planning services?

But there are other collective funding decisions that are far more important, even up there with abortion, and I believe these should also be opposed. American Catholics tend not to talk too loudly about these issues. I’m talking largely about the enormous military budget. In a recent post, I criticized the differing reaction to US funds going to aid agencies abroad that cooperate in abortion and US funds going to the Israel military to commit war crimes in Gaza. Outrage over one, silence (worse, even tacit approval) over the other. Now, the church does allow for a legitimate defense, but not if these funds are used (or intended to be used) in ways that are intrinsically evil, which the direct targeting of civilians.

Let me focus on a huge elephant in the room: the continued possession and funding of nuclear weapons. As noted by a triumvirate of esteemed moral theologians, all highly orthodox natural law theorists– John Finnis, Joseph Boyle and Germain Grisez — nuclear deterrence is morally unjustifiable, as it is based on the credible threat that these weapons will be used to kill innocents. If nuclear deterrence is morally unjustifiable, then public funding must also be so. There is a small wrinkle: the church (including Pope John Paul) taught that holding a nuclear deterrent could be morally justifiable only as an interim measure on a path toward disarmament. This condition has clearly not been met. Why do American Catholics not speak out more about this subject, especially since many take maximalist positions on funding immoral activities in other areas?

Let me finish with this very issue of consistency. The real problem I have is that while many Catholics take a maximalist stance on some issues (typically related to sexual morality), they take a minimalist stance on other issues of justice, including war and violence. The stereotype in the secular culture is that Catholics and other Christians are obsessed with sex, and nothing else. It’s not true: we oppose abortion because it is a life issue, not a sexual morality issue (Weigel’s distinction between fifth and sixth commandment morality). And yet, when all Catholics get excited about besides abortion is gays and condoms, well, it’s difficult to disabuse the secular culture of its preconceptions. This feeds into an issue I keep bringing up: if we are to persuade the “moderate middle” (who do not believe that abortion is a “good” and hence to be supported in unlimited quantities) of the virtues of imposing legal restrictions on abortion, that can only be done if we are consistent in our approach to life. In other words, if we give more emphasis to the really important life issues, and not so much to the secondary sexual ones.

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