The Unthinkability of Compliance

Dr. Janet Smith, with whose work every Catholic interested in moral theology and philosophy has good reason to be familiar, has recently arguedthat cooperation with the HHS mandate is either remote or at worst mediate material cooperation with evil rather than formal cooperation.  In doing so, she proceeds—as does much analysis—along the lines of St. Alphonsus Ligouri, who defines material cooperation as “that cooperation which concurs only with the bad action of the other, outside the intention of the cooperator.”  If we mean by this intention of the end, certainly this is one way of committing formal cooperation with evil, but not the only way—one recollects here the very lucid arguments of Dr. Michael Pakaluk on this point—because the object of the moral act must also be good and if it is not the act is evil.  Formulations about intention leave one yet with a great measure of ambiguity, precisely because “intention” is an analogical term (it principally refers to the act of the will with respect to the end, but refers also and secondarily—owing to the prior causal role of the intention of the end—to the intention of the object, and in a third sense even to the intention of any part of the motion toward the end).  

But certainly there remains the need for the nature of the object of one’s act to be goodsince if the object is evil the act is evil. Thomas Aquinas teaches that for the moral act to be good it must not only have a good end, but a good object (and, for that matter, good circumstances), and if the object is morally evil, then the act is morally evil.  So, the insistence that if only the cooperator does not intend the same end as the wrongdoer he is not guilty of formal cooperation with evil, implicitly treats the object of moral action as inessential to action.  But, to the contrary, St. Thomas Aquinas unequivocally teaches that the object is essential to the moral act, and that if it is evil the action is evil. 

So: if one contracts to provide insurance covering a basket of services, knowing that included among these “services” are grave evils, in what sense is one not contracting for them?  Of course, coercion is involved.  But while coercion can limit or even remove culpability, it does not change the object of the coerced action as such.  I may be told that unless I murder some innocent party, my child will be murdered; but if I proceed to murder that innocent “someone” my culpability may be reduced by the coercion, but the object of the act is still wrongful homicide.  The question is not whether employers are being wrongfully coerced by the state, as it is manifest that they are.  The question is, may one offer insurance coverage for vice because one is being threatened otherwise with the loss of the ability to offer health insurance legally?  After all, one presumes that the Catholic institution or party offering the insurance “doesn’t want to” offer coverage for vicious action, and “doesn’t intend”—as an end—that vicious action.  If it were true that formal cooperation existed if and only if one intended the same grave evil as that being pursued by the evildoer with whom one was cooperating, then to lack that intention of the end would necessarily imply that one were not formally cooperating. However, this entirely misses the formality of choice and the essential importance of determining the nature of the object of choice.  I may not intend something as an end, but still may choose it as object for the sake of the end.  If what is chosen is gravely evil, what ensues is a gravely evil action.

What is being argued today is largely that since the Catholic institution only intends providing genuine health insurance as an end, and the mandatory extension of this insurance to vice is not willed as an end by the Catholic institution, it is free to choose to offer an insurance package that covers vicious activities.  I say “choose” because although it is under duress, the Catholic institution/employer is still free not to offer benefits at all.  And as a matter of unequivocal fact it is the whole package of “services” that the Catholic institution provides access to by providing insurance coverage not only for health services but for vice.  It is not only those services that are genuinely ordered to healthcare, but also those that are ordered to abortifacient contraception, to which the insurance provided by the institution gives access.  This is a matter of fact.  These will be made available through the employer’s health insurance if and only if the employer’s health insurance covers them; and if the employer offers no health insurance, this means that the employer will not make the access to the vicious pseudo-services available through its insurance policy.  So:  may the Catholic institution/employer offer insurance coverage for health care together with insurance coverage for vice?  

If the government mandated that at Halloween mothers must provide one piece of rat poison or one candy bar with a razor blade inside for every three normal pieces of candy, could the mother reason that she is under coercion, and then provide the candy combined with the poison?  Would that be only mediate or remote material cooperation?  No, because although (hypothetically) she would not will the eating of the poisoned candy as an end, she would nonetheless—under coercion—have chosen to provide it rather than to cease giving candy altogether. 

The form of the choice offered to Catholic institutions essentially presents the option of choosing to cooperate—to offer insurance coverage for vice—as a condition for state permission to offer health care.  But it is immoral to provide insurance coverage for vice.  Period.  It is something that no one should do.  This is the nature of grave evil, to be something that no one should do.  That one ought not to do it is not determined by the Obama administration, nor by HHS; it is determined by the eternal law.  Providing insurance to cover vicious activity is an evil; providing access to gravely vicious activity is gravely evil, and one way that one provides access to such activity is to cover it with insurance.  Clearly this should not be done.  Any institution that cooperates in providing such insurance coverage is indeed cooperating in providing access to gravely vicious activity.  

The HHS case is different from that of driving a bank robber to rob a bank, because merely driving the robber to a bank is not specified by the robbery but only by access to the bank.  But providing insurance for grave vice, is to set up the means specifically to pursue grave vice:  so much so that the insurance policy contains this in its very letter. That is evil.  It is not accidental to the provision of insurance coverage expressly for vice that the insurance coverage provides access to: vice.  The choice to provide such coverage—even if the alternative is to provide no coverage for health insurance—is an evil choice.

The similar case would be agreeing to arrange “insurance” that covers the provision of “murder services” as a condition for being permitted to continue arranging insurance covering health care (lest one forget that abortifacients are instruments of wrongful homicide).  But one comes to full stop:  one may not agree to arrange “insurance” that covers wrongful homicide (coercion or no).  Therefore, any basket of “services” that offers this cannot be offered.  To say that “the benefits of compliance outweigh the cost” is to treat the good of the human life whose extinction one arranges to have funded by insurance a mere deficient utility compared with the cost of insurance.

Not focusing on the nature of choice, the insistence on material cooperation focuses only on intention of the end.  But when the object chosen is gravely wrong, the action is gravely wrong, irrespective the goodness of intention.  Nor does coercion change anything but the culpability of the agents.   Both the intention of the end, and the choice of the means, must be sound:  both the end and the object of the action must be good.  But it is not good to provide an insurance policy covering both genuine health needs and vicious activity.  

In Smith’s analysis, the example of “bundled” evil is given:

The example of buying groceries from a grocery store owned by an abortionist serves here as well. Some of the money we paid for cheerios might go to pay for advertising the abortion clinic but since we do not intend at all to fund abortions and since the amount of the money that goes to abortion is negligible, our shopping at the store is morally permissible.

However, in comparison to the present case, this illustration of bundling seems—and is—trivial.  The example is one of very remote material cooperation.  For all the reasons already stated, the case of the HHS mandate is a vastly different case.

Lastly, resistance to the HHS mandate is absolutely morally required, because the HHS mandate presumes unilaterally to direct Church institutions to immoral uses, to force the Church to become gravely complicit in scandal, and wholly to invert the sacred purpose that renders Catholic institutions to be Catholic institutions.  This is to say that the HHS mandate, mandates a defacing of the Church, a sacrilegious inversion of the purposes that make juridically Catholic institutions be Catholic.  For these reasons alone, it is simply impossible for any good Catholic to cooperate with the mandate at the moment when it becomes fully effective.  The HHS mandate is insufficient in reason and law to command any well-formed conscience.  Of course, it is wrong for Catholic employers as individuals—and indeed, it is wrong for any individual employer who in conscience understands the grave evil of abortifacient contraception—to cooperate with the mandate.  But the truth is that the HHS mandate is war on the Church.  Thus to be discussing institutional compliance as a plausible option is, to this author’s mind, imprudent and dangerous.  One does not cooperate with those who seek to move one through coercion to provide access to vice and to harm the Church.  The calendar of the saints is filled with illustrations of the price—and the glory—that this may exact from the conflicted human creature in via Moral theologians and philosophers must traverse a wide array of difficult and even exotic questions.  But the gravitational center of the Catholic response to the HHS Mandate should consist of one immutable syllable:  “no”.