Have you ever had someone ask you to help them do something immoral? If it’s a friend or family member it can be a challenge to refuse, because you fear damaging the relationship. When it’s your boss asking you to do something immoral it can be a challenge because you fear losing your livelihood.
That was the case for a listener named John, who called in to Go Ask Your Father™ to ask about a situation in which he wasn’t sure whether or not he was cooperating in something immoral. The clinic he works in recently started performing surgeries to help transgender people transition, and he asked Msgr. Stuart Swetland if his proximity to this surgery was sinful or an innocent part of his job.
“I’m a nurse and my doctor once, twice, three times a year performs one of those surgeries and I schedule it based on the orders he gives to me,” he said. “Am I participating in evil?”
“I’m going to be blunt about it,” Msgr. Swetland responded. “Those kinds of surgeries are what we would consider both unnecessary and truly mutilations of a healthy body, and therefore are unnecessary and we would say not morally indicated. Meaning they are immoral procedures.”
“Now, the question becomes, given that this is an immoral procedure, can I cooperate with that? I don’t think you can participate directly in the procedure.”
John explained that his role would not require him to be directly involved in the surgery, but it is his job to schedule the surgeries being aware that its purpose is to assist a transgender person in transitioning. If he’s not directly involved in the surgery, is he still cooperating?
On the subject of formal and material cooperation with evil, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
– by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
– by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
– by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
– by protecting evil-doers.
Acknowledging that he couldn’t give definitive advice without more information and context, Msgr. Swetland explained that some forms of material cooperation are justifiable, while others are not.
“Famously the Lord taught us in Scripture that God sends His rain on the just and the unjust,” he said. “The famous cases that we think of is the electric company provides electricity to everybody. Some people misuse the electricity in various ways, but the electric company isn’t responsible for that. And similarly, the postal carrier just brings the mail around, and some of that mail is immoral. It can have extortion threats, blackmail threats, pornography, and other things. But the mailman just delivers the mail. That sometimes is justifiable, but your case isn’t as clear-cut as that.”
Msgr. Swetland told John that he would consult other resources regarding his situation, but advised him in the meantime to search for jobs in his field in which he could use his gifts and skills without compromising his beliefs. No job is worth your soul, but when a decision would impact your livelihood it is important to seek counsel in order to make a decision that is moral and prudent.
“My gut reaction is that you’re too close to it,” Msgr. Swetland said. “And this is something you should recuse yourself from, if you can. But I don’t want to force that upon your conscience without further reflection. … Just like in medical procedures we often get a second opinion to make sure our first opinion is correct. I want to do that with this case. This is a great example of a difficult case in moral theology on material and formal cooperation. … It’s a complicated thing to start a Monday off with, but that’s what we do here.”