On this feast of St. Joseph the Worker, it is time to tone down the corporate language of cooperation in evil and instead begin to take personal, active measures towards cutting out in significant ways our own material ties to evil.
Let me say this first: I am proud of our Bishops. I am proud that they have made a statement about freedom of religion and the requirement that the government not infringe on that freedom, as I have expressed already here. The government has stuck its head into the right of religious liberty, mostly especially of Catholics and Muslims, and it is time for it to back off.
But the rhetoric of “cooperation with evil” got out of hand. Cooperation is one of those things that is very much a matter of personal discernment. There are “objective” principles to take into account, but the judging of them is highly personal and complex, and many have gotten it wrong. For example, a well known prelate, in a statement of personal opinion, explained in an interview:
It is not only a matter of what we call “material cooperation” in the sense that the employer by giving this insurance benefit is materially providing for the contraception but it is also “formal cooperation” because he is knowingly and deliberately doing this, making this available to people. There is no way to justify it. It is simply wrong.
Now, with respect to this personal opinion on the matter, this seems to me to be quite wrong. There are several categories to take into account when looking at the issue of cooperation with evil.
Formal and Material cooperation:
- Formal cooperation takes place when the one who cooperates intends the wrongful act of the principal agent in any way.
- Material cooperation refers to situations in which one foresees and permits that one’s acts be used by others for their wrongful purposes while not in any way causing the wrongful acts. One’s involvement is in the realm of providing the material means necessary.
Formal cooperation is never ok. Material cooperation may be acceptable in a variety of cases, often and especially in situations of “duress,” when one’s life or one’s job or something else of proportionate value is at stake. One may also cooperate materially in order to diminish the impact that the illicit action will have on the common good.
Immediate and Mediate cooperation:
- M. Cathleen Kaveny explains that cooperation is immediate if “the physical extension of the action of the cooperator overlaps with the wrongful action of the principal agent.” If, described from an “external perspective,” there is complete “overlap” between the action of the principal agent and the cooperator, then the cooperation is immediate.
- The cooperation is mediate if there is some “distance between the two actions.”
From a simple analysis of these two categories, it is apparent that a Catholic hospital that purchased insurance that offered contraception would neither be in formal nor immediate cooperation with the wrongful act. At best, this would represent a situation of mediate material cooperation. There is obviously no formal cooperation, since the hospital does not intend for people to use contraception. Nor is there immediate cooperation, since there is quite a bit of distance between the hospital and the person who acquires contraceptives.
Clearly the components of duress and the common good would also apply to Catholic hospitals as well if the HHS mandate were to pass. Catholic hospitals have a responsibility to the common good, and for them to shut down would severely imperil that good.
This does not mean, however, that we should drop the question of cooperation completely. What we need to do is tone down the rhetoric and increase the action.
Kaveny speaks of the great damage of material cooperation residing in the possibility of “contamination.” She breaks down contamination into two components: “seepage” and “self-deception.”
- Seepage refers to the danger that, without great care and vigilance, the “principal agent’s description of the action may ‘seep’ into the cooperator’s moral identity.” The cooperator in this case begins to see him or herself as in agreement with the action of the agent.
- Self-deception speaks to the “corrosive effects” that the wrongful action of the principal agent in which I cooperate can begin to have on my motives for doing what I do. If I work for Nike, for example, instead of seeing my own motives as primarily about raising money for my family, I may begin to align myself with Nike’s imperial policies and even begin to think that their outsourcing of labor is good for Third World countries.
The point is that, on this feast of St. Joseph the Worker, it is time to increase our works of fighting cooperation with evil, while at the same time we tone down our language of corporate cooperation. Each and every person must constantly evaluate where he buys his fruit, what kind of shoes he has and why, where his jeans are made, whether his computer is ethically assembled, what link the companies he purchases from have to abortion, etc. This is a painstaking task, but it is the only way to avoid moral seepage and self-deception.
But at the same time, the description above shows why it is so hard to mandate on cooperation questions. Can I tell someone to stop working at Foot Locker because they are selling shoes that are the product of sweat shops? That is a very personal decision that must be discussed but cannot be imposed. It is for each person and family and community to pray and discern on how they can be prophetic in their own situation.
St. Joseph the Worker, give us wisdom and courage.