TOC Previous Next A+A-Print


Question 24: May one lend money to co-workers who need it to commit sins?

As a businessman who travels a good deal, I often have problems dealing with colleagues who behave differently on the road than they would at home. One kind of case that often comes up involves lending money. One evening, for example, one of the boys and I were having a nightcap in a hotel lounge when we were approached by an unusually attractive call girl. I tried to get rid of her, but he was intrigued and chatted with her. She wanted more cash than he happened to have, so he asked me for a loan. This fellow’s wife is a very decent and faithful woman, and I felt he was making a big mistake, so I did not hesitate to say no. The girl left, he was angry with me, and our relationship has not been the same since. Now, I wonder whether it would have been wrong to lend him the cash, which I might have done if I did not know his wife or had foreseen how he would take being turned down.

The problem is even worse when it involves my boss. Last month we were walking along an avenue in the best section of a large city, when an oriental bracelet in a shop window caught his eye. We went in, and he decided to buy it after working the price down to fifteen hundred dollars. I was surprised when he asked me to charge it on my credit card, even though he has ample credit of his own. The purchase was going to push my balance close to the limit, and, not wanting to do that, I hesitated. He explained that he did not want the item to show up on one of his statements, because his wife would ask about it, and he wanted the bracelet for his “friend” (with whom he has been having an affair for about a year that I’ve known about). The boss is the boss, so I charged the bracelet. He reimbursed me the day we got back to the office. Of course, I told my wife about it—otherwise, she would have been asking about that fifteen-hundred-dollar item—and she said I should not have helped the boss cheat on his wife. I see her point, but it still seems to me I had little choice.


This question concerns the moral acceptability of cooperating in wrongdoing by lending money needed to engage in it. The cooperation need not be formal, but even material cooperation often occasions the sin of formal cooperation, impedes witness to moral truth, and is unfair to wronged parties. Such cooperation should therefore be refused unless that is likely to result in grave harm to oneself or others. People are less likely to expect one’s cooperation in their wrongdoing if one’s own conduct has been exemplary and one’s relationships with them have been conducted in accord with Christian norms.

The reply could be along the following lines:

Though it usually is good to lend to someone in need, one generally should not lend money in situations like those you describe, where the loan helps the borrower to commit a sin. However, since the money in both cases was only an extrinsic means to the wrongdoing, lending it did not require you in either case to share in the sinner’s evil will. Moreover, the loan to your boss did not directly facilitate adultery, but his gift giving in the context of an adulterous relationship. Therefore, provided you did not intend the bad uses to which your loans were or would have been put, your making the one was not wrong in itself, nor would making the other have been.

Not intending the bad uses of the money, one making such loans intends something else: to accommodate a colleague or friend. For that, one may have good and even morally pressing reasons—for example, to forestall retaliation that would impede or prevent one from adequately supporting one’s family or meeting some other responsibility.

That, however, is not the end of the matter. For doing such a favor facilitates an instance of sin that cannot be carried out without your help, and your involvement in the execution of the sin may lead others into sin. Moreover, by making the loan you run the risk of being invited and tempted to become personally involved in your co-workers’ sinful escapades or, at least, of approving of what they are doing. Then too, doing as you are asked tends to undercut the witness you should give to moral truth; instead of cooperating, you ordinarily should take this kind of request for your help as an opportunity to try to dissuade others from carrying out their sinful choices and encourage them to repent. Whether or not you are acquainted with the spouse, easily avoidable complicity in adultery or an ongoing extramarital relationship is, in my judgment, gravely unfair to her. Therefore, unless your refusal to provide the wherewithal for sinning seems likely to result in grave harm to yourself or others, you should not make the requested loan, even if you foresee that your unwillingness to cooperate will be resented.

By behaving appropriately toward co-workers at other times, you may be able to forestall their pressure to become involved in their sins on out-of-town trips and perhaps can mitigate their resentment if you refuse. Make it a habit to treat others at the office kindly and be as helpful as you can. When they are anxious or sad, be sympathetic; when they are irritable, be gentle; if they wrong you, be patient and ready to forgive. Rather than demanding everything to which you think you have a right and conceding only what you think others have a right to, be as compliant and generous as possible. In short, put into practice Jesus’ teaching about how to treat others.

At the same time, even though an office is seldom the place for explicit evangelizing, be open about your faith so that everyone will come to see that it underlies your behavior. As part of this openness, let others know you are committed to traditional Christian sexual morality. One way of doing this is by being modest—avoiding dirty jokes, sexual banter, and so on—and frowning on others’ immodesty. Such a pattern of behavior will shape your relationships with co-workers and their expectations of you. If they do not mistake your decency for weakness, they will come to respect you and regard you as an agreeable person despite being rather straitlaced, and, when you are on the road together, they either will not ask you to cooperate in their sinning or will not be surprised when you say no. Moreover, your good example might well render some of your co-workers receptive to your witness and inspire them to amend their own lives.

Even in a situation involving your boss, such as the one you describe, do not take it for granted, as you apparently do, that you must do something that contributes to his wrongdoing just because he is the boss. As with your co-workers, by behaving appropriately toward him at other times, you can try to forestall his pressure and lessen his resentment. Insofar as possible, do your best to please him when what he asks of you is both morally acceptable and an appropriate part of your job. At the same time, make it clear to him that your other commitments—to your faith, your family, and so on—rule out catering to his whims outside the sphere of his managerial authority. Acting this way may well lead him to respect and value you as an employee, and thus make him less likely to make illegitimate demands on you. If he does not respond well, however, that would be a sign of something fundamentally wrong in his attitude toward you. In that case, you face a prospect of continuing mistreatment, and probably should begin looking for other employment.

Nevertheless, I agree with you that the problem is compounded when refusing to have anything to do with another’s sinning is likely to result in serious harm to you or others. That may have been so when your boss asked you to charge the bracelet on your credit card, for you may have had good reason to fear he would retaliate in a way you could not accept—for example, by discharging you from the job you need to support your family. What should you have done in that case? It seems to me that, without refusing his request, you first should have taken a minimal risk by making an effort to admonish him gently, perhaps by taking him aside and saying: “Do you really think that is right?” If he persisted in his request, unless the risk seemed excessive, you also should have borne witness to the truth about adultery by making it clear that you did not wish to be involved: “I do not want to have anything to do with this affair; please do not insist.” However, if you confronted a realistic prospect of serious harm, you could have blamelessly done what you did, since your own action and intention could have been upright even though it facilitated your boss’s carrying out a sinful choice.