3/8/2012 9:00:00 AM MORAL THEOLOGY Cooperation and the health mandate
BY REV. DAVID R. LEFORT
Human persons are, by nature, both individual and social beings. We must interact with other human beings to meet basic human needs. Humans cooperate with others in order to survive.
The world in which we live and relate is filled with contraries: light and darkness, sadness and joy, good and evil. Humans can interact within the context of these - and find the challenge to cooperate well.
Some matters are simple; others, complex. Some matters fall to a person out of necessity, while others offer the freedom to choose. The latter involves a person's intention, will or desire - a motivation for choosing one thing over another.
How does one lead a good life without being tainted by a struggle between good and evil in the world? Can a person always avoid cooperating in the evil activity of others? If one cooperates in evil, or simply tolerates or accommodates evil, what's the extent of his or her culpability?
The dilemma regarding our interactions and interdependence with others becomes clear, and our response to the problem of cooperating in moral evil even more urgent.
The Catholic Church has developed the moral principle of cooperation. This recognizes the dilemma of our interdependence in society and the existence of good and evil in the world.
This principle also establishes criteria by which persons can act as moral agents, even while accepting the presence of evil in various outcomes.
The Church specifies two different categories or types of cooperation: formal cooperation and material cooperation.
St. Alphonsus Liguouri, the father of this classic formulation of moral theology, writes: "That cooperation is formal which concurs with the bad will of another."
The cooperator's will is the same as the wrongdoer's will. When this is the case, it is never morally acceptable.
He continues, "By contrast, that cooperation is material which concurs only with the bad action of the other, outside the intention of the cooperator."
In other words, the distinction between "formal" and "material" cooperation is whether the intentions of both wrongdoer and cooperator are the same.
In my estimation, the Catholic Church in the United States is being mandated to cooperate materially in the recent mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
In some cases, material cooperation is legitimate: for example, acting as a defense attorney for obviously guilty clients; paying taxes; working as a corrections officer for death row inmates; attending the wedding of a Catholic who is marrying outside the Church; casting a vote for a pro-choice candidate.
One materially cooperates in another's wrongdoing without sharing the bad will of the wrongdoer, but still secures a benefit (lawyer's salary, family cohesion and so on) or avoids a harm (unemployment, prosecution for tax evasion and so on).
In other words, one does not cooperate in order to facilitate the wrong; the wrong is unintentional.
But there's a further distinction: The closer or nearer the cooperation, the more peril exists and the more responsible the cooperator becomes.
To our current question about the recent HHS healthcare mandate and its subsequent accommodation, Marie Hilliard, an ethicist and director of bioethics and public policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, states: "There is nothing more essential to the completion of an act than the payment for the act, which would not be completed without such payment.
"Even if one did not agree with this premise...one would have to analyze the good being preserved and the grave evil to be avoided in determining whether the cooperation is licit [legal]."
The material cooperation that the Catholic Church and her people are being required to assume by governmental mandate is unacceptable according to the principle of cooperation.
Professing and living out the Catholic faith is in direct opposition to the recent healthcare mandate, including its subsequent accommodation.
The Church acknowledges the challenges of living in a world filled with contraries. The Church seeks to serve the good of all - authentic physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual health needs - while remaining faithful to our religious charter and profession of faith.
This is how the Church hopes to share authentic life with all.
(Father LeFort is a moral theologian, pastor of St. Mary's parish in Clinton Heights and a teacher at Siena College.)