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Appendix 2: Formal and Material Cooperation in Others’ Wrongdoing

Appendix 1 treats the genesis and structure of human acts, and the conditions for sound moral judgments. What has been said about those matters will be presupposed here. As in appendix 1, the analysis will be from the point of view of the agent—that is, the acting person—not that of an outside observer. The latter perspective can be appropriate for law; but the cooperation treated here must be distinguished from legally defined ways of being involved in another’s action, such as being an accessory to a crime.

Formal and material cooperation were treated briefly in both previous volumes (see CMP, 300–303; LCL, 440–44), but the present, fuller treatment will not presuppose those earlier ones. It will include all their main points, add others, and amend some of their details.

Catholic moral theologians and documents of the magisterium use the expressions formal cooperation and material cooperation to refer to agents’ involvement in others’ objectively immoral actions. This technical use of cooperation may be confusing, because the word usually refers to working together for a common good. Rather than being morally questionable or wrong, it is good and often obligatory to do that; it both serves the common end in view and initiates or promotes community among the cooperators. But insofar as doing anything facilitates or contributes to another’s wrongdoing, it cannot serve an authentic common good. If one is unjustifiably involved in another’s wrongdoing, one is doing evil, and that cannot serve good or build up genuine community even with a wrongdoer; if one is justifiably involved in another’s wrongdoing, community is prevented or damaged insofar as the other’s bad will and one’s good will are opposed, at least with respect to that matter. So, though I use cooperation in the technical sense both here and in the Analysis paragraphs of questions regarding involvement in others’ wrongdoing, I avoid the term in proposed responses except when the questioner used it.

Accurately understanding cooperation and being able to analyze instances of it are important for moral advisers. Many difficult moral questions—not only in books of moral theology but in conscientious Christians’ lives—concern cooperation. Many people, and even many moral advisers, wrongly assume that only formal cooperation is a serious problem. But the contribution made by one’s otherwise good act to another’s wrongdoing is a bad side effect, and accepting a bad side effect can be seriously wrong.

Some unreflective and/or unsophisticated people imagine problems regarding cooperation can (and perhaps should) be avoided by altogether avoiding cooperation. That, however, is virtually impossible and sometimes inconsistent with doing one’s duty. Grocers materially cooperate with gluttonous eating, letter carriers with the use of pornography, and so on; and in many cases such people need their jobs to support themselves and their families. And though taxpayers materially cooperate with nuclear deterrence and other evils, paying taxes is morally obligatory (see LCL, 894–97; q. 169, above). Moreover, in God’s absolutely good act of sustaining the creatures he has chosen to create, he accepts as side effects all the wrongdoing and other evil in the universe (see CCC, 310–12); and Jesus teaches us to be like our heavenly Father, who sustains both sinners and upright people (see Mt 5.44–45). So, good people sometimes may and even should cooperate in others’ wrongdoing, and cases involving cooperation require careful analysis and judgment.

I shall begin by explaining formal cooperation and material cooperation, dealing with what is proper to formal cooperation, and distinguishing it from cases in which a cooperator’s act, though wrong in itself, is not formal cooperation. Accepting bad side effects always aggravates the wrongness of formal cooperation, and sometimes makes material cooperation wrong. So, I shall carefully examine the possible side effects of involvement in another’s or others’ wrongdoing, identify factors that should be taken into account in judging whether to accept them, and indicate how to make that judgment. Finally, I shall explain how my treatment of cooperation relates to that of other Catholic theologians and point out certain problems in an appendix to a document of the U.S. bishops.

What is meant by formal cooperation and material cooperation

In the technical language of moral theology, cooperator does not refer to everyone involved in another’s wrongdoing.  (1) Cooperation is distinguished from leading others into sin—which is what is meant by scandal in its strict, theological sense (see LCL, 232–39).457 So, cooperator refers, not to someone who instigates another’s wrongdoing, but to someone involved in wrongdoing initiated by another.  (2) Formal cooperation usually is distinguished from the full involvement of two or more people in the same wrongful action—for example, a couple’s joining in fornication or a gang’s collaboration in robbing a bank.458 So, cooperator is used to refer to someone involved in another’s wrongdoing by an act more or less distinct from it.  (3) Since cooperation is an action, cooperator is not used to refer to those thought of as only passively involved in wrongdoing—for example, citizens who avoid participating actively in an unjust war their country is fighting. (Still, omissions are actions, and one can wrongly cooperate by an omission.)  (4) Problems about cooperation usually do not arise if the action is recognized as sinful even apart from the agent’s involvement in another’s wrongdoing. So, cooperator usually refers to someone whose act seems morally acceptable in itself—though, as will be explained, the formal co~operator’s act, when accurately analyzed, turns out to be wrong, and often gravely so, in itself.

With these four restrictions in mind, one sees how questions regarding cooperation arise. Aware that what one might do would facilitate or contribute to some action or actions of another or others that one considers seriously wrong, one wonders whether that is a symptom of something seriously wrong with one’s own prospective action.459

Using cooperation in this sense, one can draw a precise distinction between formal and material cooperation in another’s wrongdoing. After considering previous attempts to define the two, St. Alphonsus Liguori put the matter this way:

That [cooperation] is formal which concurs in the bad will of the other, and it cannot be without sin; that [cooperation] is material which concurs only in the bad action of the other, apart from the cooperator’s intention.460
This way of distinguishing between formal and material cooperation was followed by virtually all subsequent manualists—that is, the authors of the moral theology textbooks used in all Catholic seminaries until around the time of Vatican II. It should be presupposed in interpreting teachings of the magisterium referring to cooperation. So, Alphonsus’s succinct formula warrants the effort required to understand it as well as possible.

What, exactly, is meant by formal here? It refers to the form of the two acts that constitute the cooperation—that is, the elements of those acts that make them be the moral acts they are. Using intending in the broad sense, which includes both willing precisely what is chosen and willing the end in view, human acts are the moral acts they are primarily by virtue of the intending they involve. Thus, contributing to another’s wrongdoing is formal cooperation if, and only if, the act by which one contributes agrees in bad intending with the wrongful act with which one cooperates.

Any other way of being involved is not involvement in another’s wrongdoing precisely as wrongdoing. So, material in this context refers to that about a cooperator’s act which involves him or her in a wrongdoer’s act in such a way that the two acts share no bad intending in common. Whatever is badly willed by the wrongdoer is at most only an accepted side effect, foreseen but not intended, of the material cooperator’s act.

Alphonsus’s definitions make clear the fundamental moral difference between formal and material cooperation. Formal cooperation always is morally unacceptable, because, by definition, it involves bad intending. But intending is bad only if it is at odds with reason. So, formal cooperation involves intending at odds with reason, and any act by which one formally cooperates in wrongdoing is morally wrong in itself. By contrast, the material cooperator’s act, if not wrong for some other reason, is wrong if, and only if, he or she should not accept the bad side effects of contributing to another’s wrongdoing.

Alphonsus’s definitions also make it clear that sometimes the moral act carried out by a certain outward behavior can be either formal or material cooperation, depending on what the cooperator intends. For example, two police officers, George and Jane, are assigned to prevent prolife workers from talking with women approaching an abortion clinic. George, who has invested money in the clinic and hopes it will maximize its profits, carries out the assignment so that the women coming to the clinic will get their abortions and not be dissuaded; Jane, a prolife feminist, carries out the assignment solely because she is afraid of losing her job if she refuses. George formally cooperates in abortion; Jane cooperates only materially.

The sharing in bad willing that constitutes formal cooperation

The intending involved in a human act often is complex. Choosing to do anything is intending, as a proximate end, the carrying out of the choice. But usually an agent also intends one or more ends distinct from that proximate end, and one end in view can be a means to another.

If the intending involved in a wrongdoer’s act is complex and two or more of its elements are bad willing, does someone formally cooperate only by sharing all the elements of bad willing? No.

Angela, the boss of a criminal syndicate, wishes to burn down a rival gang’s warehouse as an act of revenge. Tony, an employee of the rival gang, cooperates with her by providing information about the delivery date of some highly flammable goods. He has no interest in revenge but obtains perverse gratification from being present at large fires. So, Tony does not share all the bad willing that vitiates Angela’s act—her end in view is revenge while his is perverse gratification. Still, his cooperation is formal, for he shares with Angela the bad intention of burning the warehouse.

Note that the shared element of bad will does not play the same role in the two agent’s actions. Burning the warehouse is Angela’s proximate end, her means to revenge. The proximate end of Tony’s choice is providing the information; his intermediate end is Angela’s arson, and that, in turn, is his means to perverse gratification, which is his ultimate end in view.

Formal cooperators also can intend in common only a bad end. Another gang’s head, Sylvester, who shares Angela’s desire for revenge against their common rival, does not care for her plan to burn the warehouse—the place is insured, and people in it are likely to escape the fire. His plan, to gun down the rival gang leader’s aged mother, seems to Angela too risky. But to implement either plan, its proponent needs information the other has. So, Sylvester and Angela agree to disagree, exchange information, and proceed in their chosen ways to pursue the revenge they both desire. Though neither intends the other’s chosen means, the shared bad end for which they supply each other with information makes their mutual help—his with her act of arson and hers with his act of murder—formal cooperation in wrongdoing.

People can formally cooperate, especially in some subtle fashion, in an action they abhor. Universal Appliance (UA) wishes to contract with Dependable Interim Employees (DIE), a supplier of temporary workers. Christine manages DIE and wants the contract, but is told that workers of one of the kinds she must have available—“hostesses”—will be expected to provide sexual services, and she wants nothing to do with prostitution. The UA executive she is dealing with suggests a solution: DIE need only arrange with a reliable “escort” service to supply hostesses, and UA will contact the latter directly when a call girl is required. All DIE need do is act as a laundering go-between for the escort service’s bills and UA’s payments; the contract between UA and DIE will not even mention hostesses, and Christine never will be called on to supply one. Feeling that this solution will distance her sufficiently from the prostitution, Christine contracts with UA and makes the necessary arrangement with Cadillac Escorts. In doing this, however, she intends that Cadillac Escorts undertake and carry out its part of the arrangement—that is, meet UA’s requirements for hostesses who will provide sexual services. So, she formally cooperates in prostitution. Of course, Christine does not intend the activities of the call girls in the same way some UA executives and their guests do. She disapproves; she finds them utterly repugnant. She intends them only as a means to obtain UA’s contract and the legitimate business it will provide for DIE.

Without any overt involvement in wrongdoing, many people in positions of authority—including administrators of nonprofit organizations, managers of businesses, and public officials—sometimes formally cooperate with wrongdoing they personally deplore and perhaps even make serious efforts to prevent or end. Like Christine, they may do this by reluctantly using the wrongdoing as a way to obtain needed cooperation by others or as a means to protect goods for which they are responsible. People in authority also can be drawn into formal cooperation with morally unacceptable activities for whose execution they are given unwanted responsibility (see LCL, 441).

However, unless cooperative actions share at least some bad willing with the wrongdoing to which they contribute, even acts wrong in themselves that significantly contribute to others’ wrongdoing constitute only material cooperation. For example, Cindy, not knowing that her employer, Dan, is homosexual, hopes to initiate an intimate relationship with him. She gets him to go hiking on a lovely afternoon in May, leads him to a swimming hole at an abandoned quarry, where they seem to be alone, and proposes that they skinny-dip. He refuses. She becomes angry and shoves him. He falls into the water, hits his head on a rock ledge, and is knocked out. Though Cindy is a good swimmer and is confident she could pull Dan out, she simply stands by and watches him drown. Though she tells no one what happened, the body is soon found. Traces of a scuffle the couple left at the swimming hole’s edge, together with other circumstantial evidence, lead the authorities to suspect Dan’s former companion, Jack, of homicide. Police question many people, including Cindy. Hoping Dan’s death will be blamed on Jack, she supports the case against him by telling a completely fictitious but credible story about Dan’s activities and confidences. Largely due to her testimony, Jack is indicted and put on trial for second degree murder. Teddy, a boy of thirteen, watches the television coverage of Cindy’s testimony with considerable anguish. He was approaching the swimming hole just as Cindy and Dan arrived there, and had kept out of their sight but seen everything; however, because he was playing hooky and had been strictly forbidden by his parents ever to swim in the abandoned quarry, he has told no one. Police questioned every youngster in the area who was absent from school that day, but Teddy lied, saying he went to a shopping mall. The boy realizes he should tell what he knows but decides not to. Both Teddy’s lying to the police and his decision to keep silent about what he knows are wrong. These bad acts significantly contribute to Cindy’s effort to have her wrongdoing attributed to Jack. But Teddy does not choose or otherwise intend anything Cindy does, while she, not even knowing that he exists, in no way wills his acts. Thus, none of their bad willing coincides, and Teddy only materially cooperates with Cindy’s wrongdoing.

The conditions for morally acceptable material cooperation

Immediately after distinguishing, as quoted above, between formal and material cooperation, St. Alphonsus goes on to state conditions under which material cooperation is morally acceptable. Since that statement should be read in its context, I quote both sentences:

That [cooperation] is formal which concurs in the bad will of the other, and it cannot be without sin; that [cooperation] is material which concurs only in the bad action of the other, apart from the cooperator’s intention. But the latter [material cooperation] is licit when the action is good or indifferent in itself; and when one has a reason for doing it that is both just and proportioned to the gravity of the other’s sin and to the closeness of the assistance which is [thereby] given to the carrying out of that sin.461
The first condition for the moral acceptability of material cooperation is that the cooperator’s act be “good or indifferent in itself”—that it not be evil independently of its constituting cooperation. The second condition is that the cooperator have in view as his or her end a reason that is “just”—that is, have a reason that is morally acceptable in itself. The third condition is that the morally acceptable end in view that is the cooperator’s reason for acting be proportioned to two things: the gravity of the wrongdoing to which his or her action contributes and the proximity of that contribution to the wrongful deed—in other words, how closely the cooperator’s outward behavior involves him or her in the outward behavior that carries out the wrongdoer’s bad choice.

The first two conditions are clear and plainly necessary, and subsequent manu-alists followed Alphonsus in requiring them. They also followed him in requiring a proportionate reason for cooperating, but found it difficult to explain what a proportionate reason is and how it can be identified. Alphonsus’s formula provides a starting point inadequate in four ways for investigating these questions.

First, the reason that must be proportionate, if material cooperation is to be morally acceptable, is the reason for doing the act, one of whose side effects is some contribution to another’s wrongdoing.462 To what must this reason be proportionate? According to Alphonsus, to two things: the gravity of the wrong-doing and how closely the cooperator’s behavior involves him or her in the wrongdoer’s behavior. However, the real question about the reason’s proportionateness is whether one can reasonably prefer to do the act for that reason rather than forgo it so as not to contribute to the other’s wrongdoing. To answer, the conscientious person wondering whether to choose to do what would constitute material cooperation must compare the reason for making the choice with the reasons for not making it. So, if material cooperation is to be morally acceptable, the reason for choosing to do the act that constitutes it must be proportionate to the reasons for not making that choice. Some of the latter reasons are grounded in the intelligible goods vitiated by the wrongdoing to which the act will contribute, and Alphonsus’s formula rightly suggests that the reasons to forgo the act will be more or less strong partly in proportion to how grave the wrongdoing is and how closely the act will involve one in it. But it is to the reasons for not doing the act rather than to the gravity of the wrongdoing and how closely the act will involve one in it that one’s reason for doing it must be proportionate if material cooperation is to be morally acceptable.

Second, only some of the reasons for not doing the act that constitutes material cooperation are grounded in the intelligible goods adversely affected by the wrongdoing to which the act will contribute. Almost never are the contributions material cooperation makes to the wrongdoing and its results the cooperation’s only bad side effects, and sometimes, perhaps often, they are not its most serious ones. Further consequences always flow from knowingly doing what constitutes material cooperation in wrongdoing and accepting those basic bad side effects. In part, these secondary consequences are psychological effects on oneself and effects on one’s future options; in part, they are effects on the wrongdoer and one’s relationship with him or her; and in part, they are effects on third parties and one’s relationships with them. Usually some of these further consequences are bad, and often one foresees and accepts them; if one does not foresee them, one may be morally responsible for failing to do so. Thus, Alphonsus’s formula is inadequate insofar as it overlooks many possible reasons for forgoing acts that would constitute material cooperation—namely, all the reasons grounded in the intelligible goods that may be adversely affected by secondary bad consequences.463

Third, when one is considering doing something that would constitute material cooperation in another’s wrongdoing, how grave the wrongdoing is and how closely one’s act will involve one in it are not the only factors that can affect the strength of reasons to forgo the act. Alphonsus himself briefly alludes to two others: the possibility that forgoing the act would prevent the wrongdoing and how much right one has to do the act.464 But the magnitude of the various bad side effects, how likely they are to occur, and how much confidence the cooperator has in his or her own judgments also can affect the strength of the reasons to forgo an act that would constitute material cooperation.

The preceding inadequacies in Alphonsus’s formula requiring a proportionate reason to justify material cooperation aggravate the problem posed by its fourth inadequacy, namely, its lack of guidance about how to judge whether the reason is proportionate. To be proportionate, the reason to do the act must be sufficiently strong that doing it is reasonable despite the more or less strong reasons to forgo it. But, having ascertained that a possible act is not wrong even apart from its constituting cooperation and that one’s reason for choosing to do it would be morally acceptable, how does one compare the strength of that reason with the strength of the reasons, grounded in expected bad side effects, for forgoing it?

Nothing more need be said to remedy the first inadequacy. But the second calls for a fuller consideration of possible bad side effects of cooperation, which could ground reasons for forgoing acts that constitute material cooperation. Similarly, the third calls for a fuller consideration of factors that can affect the strength of the reasons to forgo an act that would constitute material cooperation. And the fourth calls for some consideration of the steps a conscientious person can take in trying to judge rightly whether the reason to do the act is proportionate—that is, strong enough to make it reasonable to prefer doing the act to forgoing it. I shall take up these three needed considerations in the order in which I have just stated them.

Note, though, that the first two of these considerations also are relevant to cases in which other factors morally exclude cooperation—cases in which it would be formal or in which the act that would constitute it would be wrong even apart from its constituting cooperation or, if morally acceptable, done with a bad end in view. Because those factors already constitute morally decisive reasons, theologians have paid little attention to the bad side effects of cooperating in such cases. But bad side effects ground additional reasons for avoiding cooperation that should be excluded on other grounds, and they often make it much worse than it otherwise would be. Thus, these additional reasons provide additional motives to resist temptations to cooperate wrongfully and to repent doing so, and attention to bad side effects also may be necessary for judging whether restitution is required and how much it should be. Moreover, sometimes reasons against cooperating grounded in bad side effects are perspicuous and persuasive for people who do not grasp the decisive reasons against it grounded in the act itself.

Various sorts of possible bad side effects of material cooperation

Actions often have bad side effects having nothing to do with cooperation. For example, a man’s stressful job may contribute to his high blood pressure; and if carrying out some of his duties also constitutes material cooperation in wrongdoing, he surely ought to take into account not only the bad side effects of the cooperation but all the bad side effects of continuing to do the job in judging whether the reason for continuing is proportionate. For simplicity’s sake, however, having made this point, I shall not mention it again.

The basic bad side effect of material cooperation is that one’s action makes some unintended contribution to another’s wrongdoing. That wrongdoing itself always has bad effects, and these often have further bad effects. The sorts of bad effects that flow directly from wrongdoing vary with different kinds and instances of wrongdoing. If one foresees the bad effects of wrongdoing in which one materially cooperates, one also accepts them insofar as one is aware that one’s action contributes to them. Thus, one may accept irreverence toward God by materially cooperating in an act of sacrilege and one may accept injury to people by materially cooperating in injustices of various sorts. Since wrongly accepting another’s irreverence would itself be irreverent and wrongly accepting another’s injustice would itself be unfair to its victims, such bad effects and others flowing directly from the wrongdoing are not likely to be overlooked by conscientious people considering reasons against doing something that would constitute material cooperation.

Less obvious and more likely to be overlooked are possible consequences of one’s own act that are bad or made worse precisely because it constitutes material cooperation in another’s wrongdoing. In considering these secondary bad consequences, one should not focus exclusively on isolated acts. If material cooperation is ongoing or becomes a regular practice, it is likely to have more and graver such consequences than would an isolated act.

The secondary bad consequences of materially cooperating can flow from several things: (1) one’s very accepting of the primary bad side effects of coop~erating, (2) one’s carrying out the act that constitutes material cooperation, and (3) the wrongdoer’s and/or others’ awareness and evaluation of the fact that one is materially cooperating.

(1) In materially cooperating, one’s very accepting of the action’s primary bad side effects—its contribution to another’s wrongdoing and that wrongdoing’s bad effects—can have bad effects on oneself. One’s feelings can be adversely affected. Pedro, a large grocery chain’s purchasing agent, buys produce from growers who mistreat their migrant workers. Merely doing his job, Pedro makes his purchasing decisions solely on the basis of quality and price; he does not intend, but only accepts, the contribution that buying from these growers makes to their injustice and its many bad effects on the workers and their families. Still, accepting these primary bad side effects of doing his job affects his feelings, so that the injustice seems to him less important and less repugnant than it otherwise would. Moreover, his disposition toward the migrant workers may be affected in a way that will impede good relationships with them. Suppose members of his extended family are among the exploited workers. If his material cooperation is not morally acceptable, it is a betrayal. But even if what Pedro is doing is justified, his willingness to do his job and accept its contribution to the growers’ injustice hardly disposes him toward solidarity with his exploited relatives.

(2) The preceding sorts of bad effects can be intensified by carrying out an act that constitutes material cooperation. Moreover, actually materially cooperating, especially by an ongoing activity or regular practice, has additional bad effects. Performance, especially repeated performance, tends to become habitual; interaction with wrongdoers tends to generate psychological bonds and interdependence. Thus, cooperation often leads to opportunities and temptations to engage in further cooperation. Even if the initial cooperation otherwise is morally acceptable material cooperation, the further cooperation may be formal or, though still material, morally unacceptable. In this way, material cooperation often is an occasion of grave sin.

Helen accepts a job doing secretarial work at an export-import company, initially simply taking dictation and typing letters. She learns and overhears enough to know that the letters sometimes include lies, but she types them carefully, corrects mistakes in grammar, and so on. Considered in itself, such secretarial work may be morally acceptable material cooperation in lying. But Helen’s desire to keep her job and get ahead may lead her to suggest an occasional amendment to make a letter more effective, and if that means to make a lie more credible, she begins formally cooperating with the lying. Or, having manifested her talents, she may be assigned to draft deceptive letters, so that she must intend to lie. But even if no temptation to cooperate formally arises, Helen may discover that her employer is one of the “legitimate” enterprises of a criminal syndicate, and that the lies in the letters she types are essential to a way of doing business that is marginally lawful and grossly immoral. Knowing more now about the seriousness of the wrongdoing and its bad consequences, she might well no longer have a proportionate reason to be involved; if not, the secretarial work she has been doing from the start is now wrongful material cooperation. But if Helen likes her job, is doing well in it, and has received some pay raises, she may find it hard to quit.

(3) The wrongdoer and others who observe someone doing something that constitutes material cooperation in wrongdoing often know or assume that the cooperator knows how his or her action is contributing to the wrongdoing and its bad effects. Given this knowledge or supposition, they often take the cooperator’s willingness to cooperate as significant, evaluate that willingness, and draw practical conclusions. Consequently, what a material cooperator is doing can: (3.1) have bad moral effects on the wrongdoer, (3.2) scandalize third parties, (3.3) lead to disharmony between the cooperator and the victims of the wrongdoing, (3.4) impede the cooperator from offering credible witness against the wrongdoing, and/or (3.5) impede the cooperator from carrying out his or her vocation in other respects.

(3.1) Since cooperation in another’s wrongdoing is distinct from scandal—that is, leading another into sin—one might suppose that material cooperation cannot have bad moral effects on the wrongdoer. But cooperation by “good” people reassures sinners and encourages them to be obdurate. Moreover, material cooperation contributes, sometimes decisively, to the wrongdoing’s success, and success in wrongdoing also encourages obduracy and impedes repentance. Of course, some wrongdoers lack sufficient reflection or even sincerely think what they are doing is good; they are not serious sinners. Yet even if they are not guilty of grave sin, their state of mind is bad. It falls short of moral truth and is morally vulnerable. Even for masters who thought slavery justifiable, owning slaves was an occasion of various sins, not least the sin of resisting the truth about slavery, if and when the light dawned, and then knowingly persisting in the injustice.

(3.2) Third parties can be scandalized by someone’s material cooperation. This can happen in various ways. Sometimes the fact that “good” people are involved makes wrongdoing seem not so wrong and provides material for rationalization and self-deception by people tempted to undertake the same sort of wrong. Perhaps more often the material cooperation of “good” people leads others to cooperate formally or wrongly, even if only materially. Thus, if medical residents, compelled to choose between giving up their careers and materially cooperating in morally unacceptable procedures, give in to the pressure, their example may lead other health care personnel, who could resist without great sacrifice, to cooperate materially when they should not. This bad effect might suffice to require the residents to forgo what otherwise would be morally acceptable material cooperation.

(3.3) Victims of wrongdoing often perceive at least certain sorts of material cooperators as participants in the injustice they suffer. Such a perception can lead to serious tension between victims of wrongdoing and material cooperators in it, and this tension can damage or impede the relevant community—ecclesial communion, neighborliness, friendship, familial communion. Thus, the likelihood or significant risk that involvement in an injustice will cause disharmony with its victims is an evil grounding a reason to forgo what would constitute material cooperation. Even if the cooperation otherwise would be morally acceptable, this reason could be decisive. Pedro, in an earlier example, has relatives among the migrant workers exploited by growers from whom he purchases large quantities of produce. Even if his material cooperation otherwise would be morally acceptable, family harmony might well require him to forgo it by giving up his job.

(3.4) Materially cooperating in wrongdoing often is incompatible with bearing witness against it. The secretary who prepares letters containing lies probably will lose her job if she makes it known that her employer lies to correspondents or points out to those who draft the letters that what they are doing is wrong. Even if one is free to bear witness against the wrongdoing in which one materially cooperates, one’s involvement may detract from the credibility of the witness, since that depends on the clear correspondence between words and deeds. If Pedro sets out to campaign against the exploitation of migrant workers, he may find that nobody will take him seriously as long as he continues doing business with the growers who exploit them.

(3.5) People should shape their lives in accord with their personal vocations by making and carrying out various commitments (see CMP, 559–62, 663–64, 690–95; LCL, 113–29). Commitments bear on specific intelligible goods and generate responsibilities toward a particular person or group with whom and in whom the goods are to be realized. Material cooperation in the wrongdoing of persons and groups often impedes carrying out responsibilities flowing from vocational commitments. Tim has been drinking too much, mistreating his wife, Wendy, and neglecting their children; she of course wants him to stop drinking, but at the same time she facilitates his growing dependence on alcohol by materially cooperating: fulfilling some of his responsibilities for him, making excuses and covering up for him, and so forth. Under some conditions, Wendy’s material cooperation may be justified, at least as a temporary measure. While she engages in it, however, she will be unable to work effectively with Tim to overcome their marital problems and raise their children. Similarly, the president of a Catholic college who cooperates materially with various other administrators and faculty members in actions that tend to secularize the institution undercuts his or her own ability to work with all members of the college community for their common good as a Catholic college. Ideally, all wrongdoers and material cooperators in their wrongdoing should be working together in some sort of authentic community for common goods. But material cooperation always not only accepts a bad situation but makes it workable—and so, usually, more likely to endure and harder to overcome.

Factors that can affect the strength of reasons against cooperating materially

Because interpersonal relationships involve moral responsibilities, anyone reflecting on the possible moral acceptability of material cooperation should consider any relationship he or she has with the wrongdoer and others who may be adversely affected. The responsibilities flowing from vocational commitments not only can ground a reason against cooperating materially, as has been explained, but can affect the strength of other reasons against doing so. For instance, if one has a special responsibility to set a good example for those who might be scandalized by an action constituting material cooperation, one has a stronger reason to forgo it. By the same token, if something must be done to fulfill a responsibility flowing from a vocational commitment, there is a stronger reason to accept bad side effects in doing it than if one could forgo the activity without slighting any such responsibility. For example, if a sixty-year-old man cannot support his family unless he keeps a job that involves materially cooperating with subtly fraudulent practices of his employer, he has a stronger reason for keeping the job than he would if he could afford to take early retirement.

The preceding example points to another significant factor: whether there is a feasible and morally acceptable alternative way to pursue one’s good purpose. For example, a computer programmer whose work involves material cooperation in fraud has less reason to keep that job if he or she can easily get a satisfactory position with some morally unproblematic enterprise.

Another factor to consider is the effect forgoing the action that constitutes material cooperation would have on the wrongdoing. If forgoing the action certainly or probably would prevent the wrongdoing or impede it and greatly mitigate its bad effects, there is a stronger reason to forgo the action than if forgoing the action probably would have little or no effect on the wrongdoing.465

Alphonsus’s formula for proportionate reason takes into account that the more grave would be the wrong with which one would materially cooperate, the stronger must be the case to justify doing so. But all the bad effects of cooperating that ground reasons against doing so also can vary in magnitude—can be more or less—in diverse ways, and not all their differences in magnitude correspond to differences in gravity among various sorts of wrongdoing. For instance, the number of victims of a sin of injustice and the gravity of the sin usually are independent variables. So, the magnitude of the prospective bad effects of material cooperation also must be taken into account.

In appraising the magnitude of bad effects, one must reduce those with respect to instrumental goods (such as property) to basic human goods (such as life, health, and bodily integrity) for whose pursuit instrumental goods are means. For instance, the loss of fifty dollars is almost sure to be more detrimental to a poor person than the loss of five thousand to a billionaire.

Whenever a bad effect will be detrimental to more than one person, the greater the number of those who will be adversely affected, the stronger is the reason against cooperating and accepting the bad side effect.

In considering bad effects on substantive goods, one must take several different measures of magnitude into account. How extensive is the damage? A person is damaged more extensively by losing his or her life than by losing a leg, more extensively by losing a leg than by losing a toe. How lasting is it? Loss of a leg is more damaging than a broken leg that will heal. How greatly will the damage disrupt the person’s life? For many people, loss of an arm is more disruptive than loss of a leg.

In considering bad effects on reflexive goods, one must use other appropriate measures of magnitude. In regard to adverse effects on the cooperator’s feelings and dispositions, the extent of injury depends on the likely seriousness of their negative effect on his or her subsequent actions. In regard to moral detriment to the wrongdoer, occasions of sin for the cooperator, and scandal to third parties, the extent of injury to the person adversely affected depends on whether the sin is or would be venial or mortal, less or more grave, more or less likely to be repented. In regard to tensions with victims of wrongdoing, the bad effect can be a more or less serious impediment to a good relationship that should be more or less central to the lives of those involved. In regard to impairment of the cooperator’s witness and other obstacles to fulfilling his or her vocation, the bad effects can be a more or less serious detriment to serving goods whose service is more or less central to a person’s vocation.

Finally, in considering factors that can affect the strength of reasons against cooperating materially, one presupposes various judgments. Sometimes, the judgments presupposed are confident—sure beyond reasonable doubt. But if not, one should judge how confident one can be in these judgments, and take that assessment into account. Thus, in considering possible bad effects of cooperating, one may need to ask oneself several questions. Am I sure the prospective effect is bad, or confident it is more likely bad than good, or only unsure it is good? Am I sure the bad effect will occur, or is it more likely to occur than not, or is it only a risk, and, if so, how great a risk? Questions about the occurrence of a bad effect, especially one that depends on others’ awareness and assessment of the cooperation, often cannot be answered without asking further questions: Am I sure others will pay attention to my material cooperation, regard it as significant, and draw practical conclusions from it; or are others only more likely to do those things than not; or is their doing them only a risk, and if so, how great a risk? Moreover, in considering factors that can affect the strength of the reasons for and against cooperating, one often must make analogous judgments—for example: How likely is it that the wrongdoing will be prevented if I do not cooperate? How confident can I be that those adversely affected will be few? Greater certitude about whatever tells against the moral acceptability of cooperating, and less certitude about whatever tells for it, strengthen the case against cooperating. Conversely, greater certitude about whatever tells for the moral acceptability of cooperating, and less certitude about whatever tells against it, strengthen the case for cooperating.

Judging whether one’s reason would be proportionate and proportionalism

As has been explained, one’s reason for doing an act that would constitute material cooperation in wrongdoing must be proportionate to the reasons for not doing it, which are grounded in the intelligible evils that would be instantiated in the various anticipated bad side effects of cooperating. But how can one judge whether one’s reason would be proportionate—that is, sufficiently strong that doing the act would be reasonable despite the more or less strong reasons to forgo it?

A proportionalist might say a reason is proportionate if the goods the agent expects to realize in and by doing the action are commensurate with the expected bad side effects. In trying to supply theological support for proportionalism, proponents call ends that, on their view, justify exception making “proportionate reasons,” profess that they are merely extending the role played by proportionate reason in the traditional principles regarding material cooperation and double effect, and assume that the traditional criteria of proportionate reason establish the practicability of using so-called proportionate reasons to justify making exceptions to the disputed moral norms.466

However, proportionalism requires a way of identifying a proportionate reason that plainly cannot be followed in judging the acceptability of material cooperation and of bad side effects in general. The proportionalists’ claim assumes that the intelligible goods at stake in the available options can be measured and compared, and that, on this basis, one sometimes can rationally judge that the choice to make the exception—to practice contraception, lie, engage in adultery or sodomy, abort a baby—is justified by the prospect that the action will result in a better (or less bad) outcome, in terms of the true fulfillment of the persons involved in the situation, than carrying out any alternative one might choose.467 But simply thinking through the check lists of the two preceding sections—indicating the complex information that must be taken into account in judging proportionateness—should make clear the impossibility of measuring and comparing the intelligible goods and bads so as to use the results as premises for a rational judgment that one’s reason for cooperating would, or would not, be proportionate.

If someone remains unconvinced that the undertaking would be hopeless, he or she should try to carry out such an analysis. Since the proportion of goods to bads could be determined only by comparing measurements, and since measurements can be compared only if made by a common standard, the first step would be to find a single standard by which to measure all the intelligible goods and bads at stake. But in considering any two or more options available for choice, one has no single standard for measuring different prospective instantiations and privations of even the same sort of good. Moreover, this is inevitably so. The prospective instantiations of intelligible goods and bads are benefits and detriments to the true fulfillment of the persons involved, and the true fulfillment (or its opposite) of persons is not a sensible or imaginable state of affairs—not a set of concrete entities whose values and disvalues can be measured and commensurated.

Experience in thinking through problems of material cooperation points to the only practicable alternative to this impossible procedure. Sometimes, carefully taking note of the diverse reasons for and against doing the act that would constitute material cooperation and the many factors that affect the strength of those diverse reasons, one clearly sees that one of the two sets of reasons, considered as a whole, constitutes a stronger argument than the other. But if one cannot measure and compare the goods at stake, how does one make the judgment about the comparative strength of the arguments for and against doing an act that would constitute material cooperation? Ideally, it would be the work of prudence, appraising the two arguments by the only relevant principle that includes all their grounds: the first principle of morality. By this appraisal, the judgment compares doing the action and forgoing it with the end of all morally good actions—what St. Thomas calls “the whole of living-in-a-good-way” or “the common end of the whole of human life,”468 and what I call “integral human fulfillment.” Since that ideal comprises the directiveness of all the principles of practical reason working together in concert, the prudent judgment about the comparative strength of the two arguments applies the principles of practical reason to the particular case.469

This applying of the principles is not reasoning deductively from them to the particular case; rather, it is recognizing that either the argument for doing the action or the argument against doing it more adequately embodies or employs of the principles. The arguments for and against doing an act that would constitute material cooperation—and, in general, for and against accepting side effects—are instances of a kind of reasoning logicians call “inductive.” Though this kind of inductive reasoning differs from its theoretical kinds, including generalization and argument for a hypothesis, it is more like the latter than the former. However, an argument for moral acceptability presupposes the first principle of morality and evaluates possible actions, while an argument for a hypothesis presupposes the data to be explained and attempts to grasp their principle.470

From the judgment about the comparative strength of the two arguments—the judgment that one’s reason is proportionate or that it is not—another follows: either that the act is to be done or that it is not to be done, as the case may be. Since this judgment is not theoretical but practical, its truth depends on its conformity, not to some pre-existing state of affairs, but to what St. Thomas calls “right appetite”471—an upright will and feelings integrated with it. Thus, prudence presupposes the moral virtues, which rectify the will and feelings.472 Moreover, the judgment of a perfectly prudent person would not only indicate that the act should be done (or not) but efficaciously direct that it be done (or not).473

How the conscientious person can approximate prudence

Especially in this section, I shall assume that the reader already is familiar with appendix 1.

Christians who have not relinquished the grace that justifies (see DS 1528–30/799–800) enjoy an advantage in the pursuit of virtue. Love of God and neighbor adapts the will to the divine-human communion of the heavenly kingdom, which includes integral human fulfillment (see CMP, 578–86, 599–603, 814–22; LCL, 132–33); hope proposes the kingdom as the ultimate end to be intended in every choice (see LCL, 80–87); and the fundamental option of faith, together with the upright commitments of personal vocation that implement it, provide the core of the moral virtues (see CMP, 192–94, 393–96; LCL, 7–8). Yet even when we see more or less clearly that material cooperation would be (or is) wrong, we sometimes are tempted to do (or continue doing) what constitutes it. And sometimes in difficult cases after considering all the relevant information as well as we can, we remain uncertain whether material cooperation would be morally acceptable. Moreover, these symptoms of the imperfection of prudence, and so of the presupposed moral virtues as well, call into question even our confident judgments. Therefore, in making judgments, we need all the help we can get from reflective analysis, to ensure a sound foundation, and from exercises of imagination—to expand feelings to correspond to practical reason and good will.

Reflection should begin, of course, by making sure that formal cooperation is not in question and that the first two requirements for acceptable material cooperation are met—the action constituting it would be morally acceptable in itself and one’s end or ends in view in choosing it would be intelligible goods. If these fundamental conditions are not satisfied, there can be no proportionate reason for cooperating—either the act would be wrong in itself or one would lack a morally acceptable reason for doing it. At this initial stage of reflection, exceptionless moral norms and the modes of responsibility that can generate them come into play. If they do not exclude the prospective action, one does have a reason for doing it, and it is meaningful to ask about its proportionateness.

But exceptionless moral norms also contribute more subtly to the reflection. If one were willing to do what they forbid, one’s will and the feelings integrated with it would be disposed more or less unreasonably toward relevant intelligible goods and the persons or groups of persons who might be benefited or harmed in respect to them. For example, people who regularly tell lies, even if only in light matter for the sake of convenience, or who often act spitefully, can hardly expect to make a sound appraisal of the proportionateness of reasons for materially cooperating in wrongdoing when any of the reasons against doing so touch on goods or people toward whom their hearts are ill disposed. Among other things, lying violates integrity and truth, and spitefulness violates harmony with others and mercy; and a will and feelings even slightly warped by habits of these sorts are likely to obscure or distort some of the information on which the judgment about proportionateness bears. So, to judge rightly about the moral acceptability of material cooperation—and, for that matter, about anything not settled by the hard-edged norms prescribing strict duties and forbidding kinds of acts that are always wrong—a conscientious Christian must repent and firmly intend to avoid not only mortal sins but deliberate venial ones. Therefore, when starting the process of reflection that prepares for such a judgment, one needs not only to make sure that the act contemplated is morally acceptable in itself but to examine one’s conscience, repent sins, and make a firm purpose of amendment in respect to all of them, so that one can say to oneself, honestly and confidently: “If this act were not morally acceptable in itself—even if it were only, say, a ‘harmless’ lie or a petty act of spite—there would be no question of accepting its bad side effects, since I simply would not do it.”

The next step in reflection is to develop the arguments for and against doing the action that would constitute material cooperation. One must consider the reason for doing the action and all its bad side effects, which ground the reasons for forgoing it, as well as the many factors that might affect the strength of the reasons. While doing this, one also should try to think of an acceptable alternative way of serving one’s good purpose. But even if one finds none, gathering the relevant information and considering the case for doing the act and the case against may clarify the question and settle it.

If not, one should go on to look for mixed motives—that is, emotional motives not integrated with reasons. A woman wonders if she must give up a job that involves materially cooperating in her employer’s serious and constant wrong~doing in his personal life. She needs a job to support herself and her aged mother, but she also is attached to her present job because she enjoys congenial relationships with two fellow employees, whose jobs do not involve them in the wrongdoing. Becoming aware of this emotional motive, she asks herself whether those relationships constitute a reason for keeping the job and concludes that they do not. On the one hand, the three already regularly spend time together apart from work, and their friendship can continue even if she goes to work elsewhere; on the other hand, she gets on well with most people and generally has no trouble making new friends. Having clarified the matter, she sees that she should look for a new job.

Mixed motives also can affect reasons against materially cooperating. A conscientious young man goes to work as a letter carrier. Though he dislikes handling pornographic magazines, he has no qualms about delivering those edited for heterosexual men. But he wonders whether he may deliver those for homosexuals. Considering the reasons against, he finds that they tell as strongly against delivering anything he recognizes as pornography, and he also realizes that he has a far stronger antipathy toward sodomy than toward fornication or even adultery. Having clarified the problem, he sees its solution. He may deliver the indecent magazines if the postal service’s rules require it, and if the rules are not clear, he may follow the judgment of his superiors.

But suppose that self-examination uncovers no mixed motives or that clarifying those motives one finds leaves the moral acceptability of material cooperation unclear? Then one should focus on the different ways in which one’s material cooperation would adversely affect various persons or groups—or, at least, prevent one from benefiting them as one might. Considering separately each such person or group affected in a distinctive way, one should then apply the Golden Rule. Doing that, of course, presupposes that one rightly loves oneself and would not wish anyone to do anything adversely affecting oneself in respect to any intelligible good. Moreover, in applying the Golden Rule, one must bear in mind that, having been freed from evil and enriched with many goods by God’s mercy in Jesus, one never should be willing to relinquish these blessings, and so always must be ready to share them with others, not least with the wrongdoer and any third party who will be worse off morally and spiritually if one cooperates rather than forgoes the act that would constitute material cooperation.

In many difficult cases of material cooperation, careful application of the Golden Rule will result in a clear judgment. If not, one can go on to the imaginative exercises that implement the other three modes of responsibility—the modes that articulate the normativity of the basic goods when emotional motivation falls short in respect to some of them or some of their aspects as intelligible goods, in respect to some of their instances, or in respect to the solid and enduring reality of intelligible human goods.

Occasionally, none of this helps: neither the most conscientious reflective analyses, including careful clarification of possible mixed motives, nor the application of the Golden Rule and the other imaginative exercises to educate feelings results in a confident judgment. The moral acceptability of material cooperation remains unclear. Should one then regard one’s reason for cooperating as proportionate? Yes and no. In rare cases the arguments for and against may be so well balanced that the perfectly prudent person would find them equally strong, so that either course would be morally acceptable. Of course, aware that one’s prudence is imperfect, one knows that the lack of a clear result may be due to one’s imperfection. But being unable to do better, one must proceed as if one were perfectly prudent. Therefore, one may proceed on the assumption that the arguments for doing and forgoing the act are equally strong.

In that case, one should discern. Assuming that one has already gathered the necessary information and aroused one’s feelings related to faith and relevant commitments of personal vocation, this discernment will not be difficult. At this final moment, though not a moment before, the conscientious person rightly sees the indication of God’s plan and will in what his or her better, Christian self feels comfortable with.

How the preceding account of cooperation is related to other theological views

The preceding account is rooted in the common, Catholic theological tradition insofar as it distinguishes formal from material cooperation precisely as Alphonsus did and maintains, with him, both that formal cooperation in wrongdoing can never be morally acceptable and that material cooperation is acceptable only if three conditions are met: the act that constitutes it is morally acceptable in itself, one’s reason for doing that act is morally acceptable, and that reason is proportionate. But the preceding account goes beyond Alphonsus and the common theological tradition in explaining more precisely what a proportionate reason is and in providing an account of how to identify such reasons.

Some of the manualists who followed Alphonsus already developed his brief indications about proportionate reason by calling attention both to additional bad side effects that can ground reasons against cooperating and to additional factors that can affect the strength of those reasons. And some also recognized that the problem of judging whether material cooperation is acceptable is part of the general problem of judging whether bad side effects are acceptable. The present appendix takes up those lines of development and advances them. Together with the preceding appendix, it also provides two things that the manualists lacked and some of them plainly wished they had: an analysis of the structure of human acts that facilitates distinguishing in practice between formal and material cooperation, and an account of moral judgment that provides guidance for judging whether one’s reason for doing what would constitute material cooperation—or, more generally, for accepting the prospective bad side effects of any action—is proportionate to the reasons against.

The account of material cooperation offered here departs from Alphonsus and the manualists who followed him mainly in regard to the moral significance of proximity—that is, of how closely the cooperator’s outward behavior involves him or her in the wrongdoer’s outward behavior carrying out his or her bad choice. Making closeness of involvement a central criterion for judging the proportionateness of one’s reason to cooperate, the manualists distinguished immediate from mediate cooperation, and subdivided mediate cooperation into proximate and remote. Immediate cooperation referred to behavior that constituted part of the very execution of another’s bad choice; proximate cooperation and remote cooperation referred to behavior separate from the bad choice’s execution that contributed more or less directly to it. Some manualists denied that immediate cooperation can be only material and argued it necessarily is formal; many held that immediate material cooperation either always is wrong or is wrong unless only an instrumental good, rather than a basic human good, is at stake—as when bank employees, threatened by armed robbers, cooperate by opening the bank’s vault, putting the cash in bags, and so on. The manualists did not agree on precise criteria to distinguish between proximate and remote cooperation; similarly, they reached little or no consensus about the rules some of them proposed about the acceptability of kinds of material cooperation specified in terms of the distinctions regarding closeness of involvement.

By contrast, the present account does not treat the closeness of a material cooperator’s involvement as morally significant of itself. The difference is not as great as it might seem, because closeness of involvement correlates more or less well with many of the factors affecting the strength of reasons not to cooperate. For example, involvement in others’ wrongdoing usually is more likely to impede a cooperator’s witness, be an occasion of sin to him or her, have bad moral effects on the wrongdoer, and scandalize others if it is immediate material cooperation than if it is mediate, and, when mediate, if it is proximate than if it is remote. Still, closeness of involvement is morally insignificant unless correlated with some factor that affects the strength of a reason not to cooperate. For example, the secretary who types letters including lies immediately cooperates with wrongdoing in which goods of the person—integrity and truth—are at stake. Again, part of the grave injustice of the suffering and death imposed on Jesus was parading him as a criminal to Calvary, and he cooperated in that injustice by carrying his cross—immediate material cooperation in a grave injustice, with no merely instrumental good at stake.

The treatments of cooperation by some of the manualists included another confusion worth mentioning. In trying to identify those held to restitution, some medieval authors list nine specific ways of having something to do with another’s injustice: commanding it, counseling it, consenting to it, inciting it by flattery or a challenge, aiding it in some way, participating in it and/or its fruits, being silent about it beforehand, not preventing it, not reporting it. Some of these could be ways of cooperating, either formally or materially, but others—commanding and counseling—are ways of giving scandal. Moreover, when St. Thomas deals with these ways in his discussion of restitution, he does not call them “modes of cooperating.”474 In his treatise on charity, Alphonsus first treats scandal, then deals with formal and material cooperation without mentioning the nine ways.475 But in dealing with restitution, he lists them and uses the word cooperation in referring to them.476 Some subsequent manualists included the nine ways in their treatments of formal and material cooperation, and referred to them as nine “modes of cooperation”; that tended to confuse formal cooperation with scandal and to obscure the reality of formal cooperation in cases where scandal plainly is impossible.477

In recent years, many people have noted that, especially in a pluralistic society, much of what one takes to be wrong is done by people who may be in good faith, and that the consciences of wrongdoers in good faith deserve respect. From these true premises, various theologians who dissent more or less radically from Catholic moral teaching have argued that the received, common theology of cooperation should be modified to remove certain kinds of acts from the category of formal cooperation and allow them.

In developing their arguments, these theologians sometimes invoked Vatican II’s teaching on religious liberty and/or some theological theory of toleration or compromise; sometimes, too, assuming relevant norms to be either false or questionable, they said or implied that presumed wrongdoers may well be, or simply often are, not only in good faith but objectively correct in their judgments. In any case, such arguments focused on two things—the human dignity and rights of presumed wrongdoers and the importance of treating them justly and/or mercifully—and concluded that the other party’s presumably good-faith judgment about his or her action can justify cooperation that otherwise would be wrong.

For example, with his characteristic straightforwardness, Charles Curran stated the general thesis: “There can be no formal cooperation when the individual involved [the presumed wrongdoer] does not have a bad will.”478 Applying this to the case of a “doctor who believes in his own conscience that sterilization is wrong when done for contraceptive purposes but has a patient who believes it is morally and medically good,” he at once concluded that “the doctor can do such an operation without cooperating with the bad will of the patient because the patient has no bad will in this case” and then drew the further conclusion: “Without unduly sacrificing his own conscientious principles, the doctor could argue that in this case he is providing the service for which this individual person has a right even though he himself disagrees with the operation from a moral perspective.”479 This view, Curran quickly added, did not entail that cooperation would be required of the doctor or justified in every kind of case;480 acts that violate public order or injure innocent third parties (such as abortion), he held, might cause “disproportionate harm to another person or society.”481

In fact, actually doing the sterilization, the physician in Curran’s example would be not merely a cooperator in the action but a, or even the, principal agent. Curran’s conclusion could be correct only if one could rightly choose to act contrary to one’s own conscience. But the same thing also is true of formal cooperators, such as hospital administrators who, among other things, must see to it that sterilization procedures are carried out “properly”—that is, with competent techniques to ensure that patients who undergo them will not get pregnant again.482 Administrators might prefer that no sterilization be done in their hospitals, but they cannot commit themselves to ensuring that a sterilization be done properly without intending that sterility be achieved, and they cannot intend, without choosing contrary to conscience, that any sterilization be done while believing no sterilization ought to be done.

Considering in general the kind of view exemplified in Curran’s case, one sees its fundamental flaw. Religious liberty and toleration primarily are a matter of accepting others’ acts, but formal cooperation primarily is a matter of one’s own intentions. Therefore, it raises quite different moral problems. All moral agents are responsible for their own acts, and formal cooperation is absolutely excluded because it involves bad intending by the cooperator. The principal agent’s bad intending may be more obvious, but once analysis makes it clear that any of one’s own intending would be bad, one cannot rightly choose to act with such a will.

Moreover, another’s possible good faith is one thing; whether his or her act includes bad intending is another. For example, a physician who agrees to do an abortion for three hundred dollars, takes the money, and carries out the procedure as agreed plainly intends both to abort a baby and to obtain three hundred dollars; but only God knows whether this physician sins and, if so, precisely what the sin is. To be in good faith, a person must have done his or her duty in trying to find out what choice would be right, judged that an action of a certain kind with a certain end in view may be chosen or is to be chosen, and chosen in according with that judgment. But such a person’s judgment—which is his or her conscience—can be mistaken. If it is, some or all of his or her intending will be bad. While others’ judgments of conscience never are directly accessible, the intentions that shape their actions, though sometimes hidden or obscure, often are obvious—as the physician’s are in the example—from the intrinsic connection between their evident deeds and entirely credible words. Therefore, though the common teaching of the manualists on cooperation presupposed that one can recognize others’ wrongdoing by identifying their bad intentions, it did not assume that one can know anyone to be in bad faith.

Though nothing can justify formal cooperation in wrongdoing, the views I have been criticizing do call attention to truths to be taken into account in judging whether one’s reason to cooperate materially is proportionate. However, bearing in mind that the consciences of people in good faith deserve respect and that the wrongdoer may be in good faith will sometimes tell against the judgment that one’s reason for cooperating would be proportionate. Just as ultimately judging others and morally condemning them require insight human persons lack, so do ultimately judging others and morally acquitting them. Wrongdoers really in good faith often will be ready to correct their mistaken consciences, and they and others will benefit greatly by their doing so. Wrongdoers not really in good faith also may be morally injured, rather than benefited, by others’ cooperation. Therefore, in either case, forgoing the act that would constitute material cooperation with objective wrongdoing can be not only compatible with respect for the dignity of another’s conscience but, precisely, an exercise of such respect.

An appendix on cooperation in a document of the U.S. bishops

At their general meeting in November 1994, the full body of Catholic bishops of the United States approved a revised and expanded text of their Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs), a document summarizing much of the Church’s moral teaching regarding health care.483 The last of the document’s six parts, which concerns acts by which Catholic health care institutions and providers form new partnerships with other health care institutions and providers, includes an introduction and four directives.484 Toward the end of the introduction, the bishops observe that “potential dangers require that new partnerships undergo systematic and objective moral analysis.” They state that the four directives are meant to help institutionally based Catholic health care services in this analysis, and that they have established an ad hoc committee for the same end. They then call attention to “An appendix at the end of the Directives [which] offers a clarification of the terms relative to the principles governing cooperation and their application to concrete situations.”485 The appendix is brief, a single page. Its title is: “The Principles Governing Cooperation.” The text:

 The principles governing cooperation differentiate the action of the wrongdoer from the action of the cooperator through two major distinctions. The first is between formal and material cooperation. If the cooperator intends the object of the wrongdoer’s activity, then the cooperation is formal and, therefore, morally wrong. Since intention is not simply an explicit act of the will, formal cooperation can also be implicit. Implicit formal cooperation is attributed when, even though the cooperator denies intending the wrongdoer’s object, no other explanation can distinguish the cooperator’s object from the wrongdoer’s object. If the cooperator does not intend the object of the wrongdoer’s activity, the cooperation is material and can be morally licit.
 The second distinction deals with the object of the action and is expressed by immediate and mediate material cooperation. Material cooperation is immediate when the object of the cooperator is the same as the object of the wrongdoer. Immediate material cooperation is wrong, except in some instances of duress. The matter of duress distinguishes immediate material cooperation from implicit formal cooperation. But immediate material cooperation—without duress—is equivalent to implicit formal cooperation and, therefore, is morally wrong. When the object of the cooperator’s action remains distinguishable from that of the wrongdoer’s, material cooperation is mediate and can be morally licit.
 Moral theologians recommend two other considerations for the proper evaluation of material cooperation. First, the object of material cooperation should be as distant as possible from the wrongdoer’s act. Second, any act of material cooperation requires a proportionately grave reason.
 Prudence guides those involved in cooperation to estimate questions of intention, duress, distance, necessity, and gravity. In making a judgment about cooperation, it is essential that the possibility of scandal should be eliminated. Appropriate consideration should also be given to the Church’s prophetic responsibility.486
This treatment of cooperation seems to me unsatisfactory in several respects.

One reasonably assumes that object is used with the same meaning throughout. But what meaning? There are two possibilities. (1) “Object of the wrongdoer’s activity” in the first paragraph might mean what John Paul II means by “object of an act which specifies the act morally,” namely, “the proximate end of a deliberate decision.”487 But if that is its meaning, the appendix’s definition of formal cooperation, though narrower than Alphonsus’s, would follow him in defining it by agreement in bad willing—one formally cooperates only in somehow intending precisely what is the proximate end of the wrongdoer’s deliberate decision. If object has that meaning in the phrases “object of the cooperator” and “object of the wrongdoer” in the appendix’s second paragraph, however, it is defining immediate material cooperation by agreement in the proximate end of a deliberate decision—which by definition constitutes formal cooperation. (2) Object in the second paragraph might refer to the behavior that carries out a choice. If that is its meaning, the appendix follows the manualists who defined immediate material cooperation by its contribution (without any bad intending) to the carrying out of the wrong-doer’s bad intention. But if object has that meaning in “object of the wrongdoer’s activity” in the first paragraph, one could formally cooperate without any agreement in bad willing—for example, the secretary who types letters containing lies would be formally cooperating in lying, and Jesus in carrying his cross would have been formally cooperating in the wrong done him.

In the first paragraph, the sentence concerning implicit cooperation is written from the perspective of an outside observer rather than of the acting person. I do not know what could be meant by explicit and implicit, used in reference to acts of the will. Since acting persons consciously intend both the objects of their acts—that is, the proximate ends of their choices—and their ends in view in making their choices, they are aware of all their own intending, though they may not reflexively focus on it, may not keep it in mind once a choice has been made, may not talk about it, and, if they do, may not speak accurately or truthfully about it. Used in reference to an intention underlying someone else’s activity, implicit apparently refers to the status of an intention denied by the cooperator but inferred from the situation and his or her outward behavior.

No matter what the appendix’s key terms mean, however, they must be used in the same sense in two of the first paragraph’s statements: “If the cooperator intends the object of the wrongdoer’s activity, then the cooperation is formal,” and: “If the cooperator does not intend the object of the wrongdoer’s activity, the cooperation is material.” Assuming no cooperator can both intend and not intend the object of the wrongdoer’s activity, it follows that no cooperation can be both formal and material. In the second paragraph, however, the statement that “immediate material cooperation—without duress—is equivalent to implicit formal cooperation” implies that some cooperation is both material and formal. Thus, the appendix’s confusions lead to self-contradiction.488

The appendix’s third and fourth paragraphs deal with the conditions for morally acceptable material cooperation and the judgment about acceptability. In my opinion, the indications regarding conditions are inadequate; many sorts of bad side effects and relevant factors are overlooked. The final sentence, referring to the Church’s prophetic responsibility, points only weakly and obliquely to the duty of Catholic individuals and institutions to bear witness to relevant moral truths and to fulfill other aspects of their personal vocations and communal missions. The last paragraph’s first sentence, concerning prudence, suggests that all the matters listed are subject to estimation—that is, approximation or rough calculation—whereas exercising prudence requires careful gathering of information, accurate analysis, and rational, though not always deductive, judgment.

The moral significance of various sorts of pressure

The suggestion in the appendix’s second paragraph that duress sometimes can justify material cooperation also calls for clarification.

Duress is used in a narrow sense, generally in legal contexts, to signify physical compulsion or restraint, or a credible threat adequate to motivate a person of ordinary good character, by which someone is unlawfully caused or motivated to do or forgo some act. In this narrow sense, the bank employees threatened by armed robbers cooperate under duress in making the bank’s money available. From the moral point of view, the significance of such duress is that it constitutes a reason for acting that ordinarily is not given, and so can be a circumstance in which outward behavior that usually carries out a morally bad choice instead carries out a good one. Thus, absent either duress or some bad intention, the employees would not turn over the bank’s money to anyone not entitled to it; but under duress, their opening the safe, putting the money into bags, and so on carry out choices, not to defraud the bank or do any other wrong, but simply to behave outwardly as the robbers demand in order to—a good intention—avoid being hurt or killed.

Of course, duress often is used less strictly to refer to various sorts of pressures leading people to act differently than they otherwise would. The significance of such duress varies greatly from the moral point of view.

In some cases, individuals or groups under great pressure panic or erupt, and are paralyzed or behave irrationally without deliberation and choice; they have no moral responsibility for what they do or fail to do under that duress, though they may be responsible for being in the situation or for being unprepared for it. In some cases, persons and groups choose under some pressure to do what otherwise would be unreasonable because it is contrary to their own legitimate interests—for instance, to yield some good to which they are entitled in order to forestall greater losses. They do no wrong if, under that duress, they choose reasonably what they otherwise would reject. In some cases, persons and groups choose under some pressure to do something with bad side effects that they otherwise would not accept. They do no wrong if the duress grounds a sound and decisive reason for accepting those side effects. But in some cases, individuals, families, nations, businesses, and other organizations choose under pressure as they should not. Either they yield to the pressure and accept bad side effects without a proportionate reason for doing so or they choose under pressure to do something evil in itself—for example, commit perjury, abort an unwanted baby, torture prisoners, cheat customers, arrange for others to provide morally unacceptable services they do not wish to provide. Those who do such things under duress do the wrong they choose to do; but their guilt in doing it may be mitigated, and if they avoid self-deception and rationalization, that guilt might well give way to the grace of repentance.

In general, transient episodes of unusual pressure are likely to occasion either an upright choice of behavior that otherwise would be wrongly chosen (if chosen at all), or behavior without choice, or a choice with mitigated guilt that may be repented. Permanent conditions and ongoing processes that exert constant pressure are more likely to occasion choices either to make the sacrifices necessary to escape the pressure or to achieve a modus vivendi with it. If those choices are bad, the ongoing pressure and structured accommodation with it are likely to impede repentance. Thomas More and John Fisher resisted duress; had they practiced self-deception and rationalized giving in to King Henry’s pressure, they probably would have lived well as his good servants and died unrepentant.

457. I counted one kind of scandal as a type of formal cooperation (LCL, 440), but that was a mistake.

458. I counted such cases as formal cooperation (CMP, 301), and nothing important in what follows need be changed if one wishes to regard them as perspicuous instances of formal cooperation. But they plainly are not among the problematic cases that led theologians to make cooperation a subject of special study.

459. Any account of cooperation also applies to wrongdoing that certainly is not grave matter. However, people rarely if ever raise questions about such instances of cooperation, and treatments of cooperation usually do not explicitly discuss them. Questions also can of course be asked about what one already is doing or has done, and about other people’s actions. These have been and must be discussed, but for simplicity’s sake I deal with one’s own prospective actions, which ought to be the main focus of ethical analysis.

460. St. Alphonsus Liguori, Theologia moralis, ed. L. Gaudé, 4 vols. (Rome: Ex Typographia Vaticana, 1905–12), 1:357 (lib. II, §63): “Sed melius cum aliis dicendum, illam esse formalem, quae concurrit ad malam voluntatem alterius, et nequit esse sine peccato; materialem vero illam, quae concurrit tantum ad malam actionem alterius, praeter intentionem cooperantis.”

461. Ibid., the second sentence is: “Haec autem est licita, quando per se actio est bona vel indifferens; et quando adest justa causa et proportionata ad gravitatem peccati alterius, et ad proximitatem concursus, qui praestatur ad peccati exsecutionem.”

462. A person who materially cooperates often has more than one end in view for doing the act that constitutes the cooperation. But, for simplicity’s sake, I shall speak of the reason—in the singular—for doing the act. Thus, a proportionate reason may be grounded in a complex set of goods.

463. Alphonsus treats material cooperation in the treatise on charity; but, having distinguished between scandal and material cooperation, he overlooks its possible secondary bad consequences even on the wrongdoer. Alphonsus does consider (ibid.) the possibility that, out of charity toward the wrongdoer, one should withhold material cooperation to impede the wrongdoing itself, but he sets even this aside on the ground that forgoing a “just cause” for doing the act that constitutes material cooperation would be an instance of the grave inconvenience moralists thought sufficient to undercut duties of charity (“caritas non obligat cum gravi incommodo”) that go beyond the requirements of justice. (I maintain—LCL, 360–71—that mercy is the justice of the kingdom and its requirements are not morally optional, though obligations toward others can take precedence, since one cannot be merciful to some at others’ expense.)

464. Ibid., 1:356 (lib. II, §59, 2<198> and 4<198>).

465. Many manualists recognized the significance of cooperation without which the wrongdoer could not proceed, and called such cooperation “necessary.”

466. See, e.g., Richard A. McCormick, S.J., Notes on Moral Theology: 1981 through 1984 (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1984), 63–71.

467. See, ibid., 166–71; note McCormick’s explicit admission (169) that a calculus is required: “. . . a balancing or calculus is called for in the analytic process only when elements of an action are considered abstractly, before giving them a moral definition. For example, if no calculus were required, every killing would be a murder.”

468. S.t., 2–2, q. 47, a. 2, ad 1: “totum bene vivere”; a. 13, c.: “communis finis totius humanae vitae.” Also see S.t., 1–2, q. 21, a. 2, ad 2, where Thomas contrasts the moral virtue of prudence with technical skill in achieving a sensible or imaginable state of affairs; the former is concerned with the common end of human life, while the latter is concerned with a finem particularem.

469. See S.t., 2–2, q. 47, a. 6, c. and ad 3.

470. Unable to show how to carry out the measuring and comparing their theory requires, some proportionalists have suggested that they never meant greater good and lesser evil to be taken literally, and assert that what they had in mind would not require any calculus. So, they say that a proportionalist judgment justifying an exception to a disputed moral norm also can be made by a prudent appraisal of the comparative strength of the arguments for and against the exception—see, for example, Richard A. McCormick, S.J., “Notes on Moral Theology: 1985,” Theological Studies, 47 (1986): 87–88. But in making this move, proportionalists must either maintain their principle—maximizing concrete goods and minimizing evils—or give it up. If they keep it, judging that the argument for an exception is stronger than the argument against it still will require the impossible measuring and comparing of goods and bads. But if they give up their principle, they have no plausible argument for making exceptions to the norms that protect basic human goods.

471. See S.t., 1–2, q. 57, a. 5, ad 3.

472. St. Thomas, S.t., 2–2, q. 47, a. 13, ad 2.

473. See S.t., 2–2, q. 47, a. 8; a. 13, c.

474. See In Sent., 4, d. 15, q. 1, a. 5, qu’la 3; S.t., 2–2, q. 62, a. 7.

475. St. Alphonsus Liguori, op. cit., 1:336–65 (lib. II, §§43–80).

476. Ibid., 2:58–70 (lib. III, §§557–78).

477. Roger Roy, C.Ss.R., “La coopération selon saint Alphonse de Liguori,” Studia Moralia, 6 (1968): 403–4, explains the distinction in Alphonsus between scandal and cooperation, but later (425–26) says that Alphonsus does not regard cooperation as formal unless the cooperator not only concurs in the wrongdoer’s bad intending but positively influences it—somehow incites or encourages the bad will. However, Alphonsus does not include that condition in his definition of formal cooperation. Crucial to Roy’s argument is the passage he cites in his n. 112 from Alphonsus’ treatment of restitution: “Nec verum est, quod formaliter tunc concurris ad peccatum furis: nam hoc esset, si positive tu influeres in ejus malam voluntatem” (op. cit., 2:67 [lib. III, §571, 2<>198]). But Roy overlooks the fact that Alphonsus, having distinguished two aspects of the act of theft, is focusing on sin precisely as such. One does not formally concur in the thief’s sin as such unless one intends that the thief sin, and that would involve scandal—doing something to bring about the sin. Yet one can formally cooperate in a thief’s act without doing anything to bring about the bad will it involves; one formally cooperates in theft by doing anything that involves intending that someone already determined to steal carry out the plan successfully—for example, choose to provide a tool needed to do the theft in exchange for a share in the proceeds.

478. Charles E. Curran, “Cooperation: Toward a Revision of the Concept and Its Application,” Linacre Quarterly, 41:3 (Aug. 1974): 160.

479. Ibid., 161.

480. Ibid., 161–62.

481. Ibid., 162.

482. Curran’s main objective in his article appears to have been to defend the cooperation of administrators who were authorizing sterilizations in their hospitals (see ibid., 162–64).

483. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1995).

484. Ibid., 25–27.

485. Ibid., 26.

486. Ibid., 29.

487. John Paul II, Veritatis splendor, 78, AAS 85 (1993) 1196, OR, 6 Oct. 1993, xii.

488. Taken by itself, the second paragraph’s statement, “Immediate material cooperation is wrong, except in some instances of duress,” is coherent and, as I explained earlier, was the view of some manualists, while others regarded all immediate cooperation as formal. However, neither group identified immediate material cooperation with implicit formal cooperation. For example, John A. McHugh, O.P., and Charles J. Callan, O.P., Moral Theology: A Complete Course, rev. Edward P. Farrell, O.P., vol. 1 (New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1958), begin by too narrowly defining formal cooperation in terms of intending the sin of the other party (§1508) and then, to broaden the category, introduce the concept of implicit formal cooperation, which they define in terms of intending the bad end of the wrongdoer’s external act (§1511) and/or cooperating by an act evil in itself (§1517). But McHugh and Callan nowhere say or imply that immediate material cooperation constituted by an act that is morally acceptable in itself is equivalent to implicit formal cooperation; in fact, they give several examples (in §§1521–23) of cases they regard as immediate material cooperation that they consider morally acceptable, and some of these cases involve no duress.