God gave us minds and the power to make good choices. He put us on the earth, in the rough-and-tumble of this time in history, in all the particular circumstances of our particular lives. He put us here for one reason: so that we can grow into the saints He made us to be. We grow by learning and by making choices—learning the truth and choosing good over evil.
We human beings have a wonderful power: we have the power to act. Not “act” as in Charleton Heston, Eddie Murphy, Colin Firth, and Meryl Streep. I mean “act” as in: to do something, like shaking someone’s hand or making a pizza.
We do have an audience: God. He sees it all, and He knows all. He pulls for us always to do what is right. He sends us countless helps to avoid doing evil. He longs to reward us in the end for serving Him faithfully. But He respects our freedom enough that He will let us destroy ourselves forever by sin—if we so choose.
So we do not act alone: God sees, helps, loves. Also, we generally do not act alone as individual human beings, either. We participate in undertakings that involve groups large and small. Undertakings like: choosing friends in school, or working for a company, or supporting a candidate for public office, or investing our money.
This means that we bear ultimate responsibility not just for what we do individually, but also for what we choose to co-operate with.
Now, there is co-operation, and there is co-operation. There’s making friends with a group of fellas that I know like to rob banks. If they want me to drive them around town—while they are wearing masks and carrying guns…Well, then I am closely co-operating in their crimes.
On the other hand, all of us adults co-operate in the acts of the U.S. government by paying taxes. But that doesn’t mean that I even know everything that the government does.
So: we co-operate in some things “proximately” and in other things “remotely.”
And there is co-operation by choice and co-operation by circumstance. If I drive a truck, I closely co-operate in the delivery of everything I carry from Point A to Point B. But if I deliver a car to a dealer, and someone buys that car and proceeds to waste a lot of gas by driving in first gear only—he never shifts gears; he just keeps it in first, all the time…Well, I closely co-operated in allowing that to happen, but I never chose it myself. I “materially” co-operated, but I did not “formally” co-operate.
If I intentionally choose to co-operate in a sin, then I, too, sin. My intentions are what determine my guilt. If I vote for a senior-class president who I know will organize a prank, and I vote for him because I want to see the prank happen—even if I do not myself personally take part in any of the hijinks, I am still guilty of it. I voted so that it would happen.
What if someone with whom I co-operate does evil that I neither choose nor condone? It could be that I know that my boss skims something off the top. Must I risk losing my job to try to stop it? It depends on the particulars: How closely am I associated with his theft? If I am not very closely associated with it, what are my prospects for making a living and providing for my family if I do lose my job?
Sometimes, we need to seek a good counselor for moral advice in difficult cases.
Now, what’s my point? This is Part II of my four homilies on the one sentence: We cannot co-operate with evil, even if the civil law stipulates that we must.
We Catholics act in unison through all the Church’s institutions. We have institutions like parish churches, for example. But we also have institutions like hospitals, schools, counseling centers, clinics, adoption agencies, etc.
Every Catholic co-operates with every Catholic institution simply by virtue of being Catholic. Of course we offer financial support; we participate by volunteer efforts—or even by working for a Catholic institution full-time. But it is not just these discrete acts of giving or participating that constitutes Catholic co-operation. It is the unity of the Church Herself, operating in great acts of spiritual and moral solidarity, in the fulfillment of the mission we all share together. We are all part of it, part of every Catholic institution, by virtue of being Catholic.
We, the Church—in all our institutions, in all our works, in all our ways of acting in the world as the Church—we cannot intentionally co-operate with evil.
We freely acknowledge that each of us is a sinner who individually does evil by acts or omissions. But the witness of the Church, considered as a whole, is what teaches us the difference between good and evil. The Church, our mother and teacher, must operate according to divine law.