Catholic Decision Making in the D&P Abortion Scandal

Below you will read a very useful and practical guide to Catholic moral decision making. It was sent to me by Fr. Pierre Ingram, a systematic theologian.  His exposition is important because sometimes those in authority like to wield their authority like some kind of magic sword, dismissing any criticism of their decisions (or denials as the case may be) by appealing (and grossly abusing) their episcopal authority.  Yet, just like you and me, bishops are still bound by Catholic moral teaching. They must conform their pastoral directives to Catholic moral principles. 

So far, I have been explaining why supporting D&P is immoral by simply appealing to common sense, but Fr. Pierre’s contribution posted below helps put some bone on the meat; it allows us to judge based on a universal moral framework that is relevant for not only Catholics but all people of good will.  Fr. Pierre makes many of the same points I have made, including the two most important ones:  trusting your partners and the availability of moral alternatives in the context of fungibility.   This controversy would be a lot more problematic if Catholics could trust D&P’s partners and if there were no moral alternatives available to their partners’ work.  Then and only then, could there be a legitimate debate…but even then, it could still have gone against Development & Peace

Nevertheless, that is not the situation we find in this abortion scandal. First of all, because of the very evil nature of abortion, what coherent pro-lifer is going to trust groups who virulently advocate for the most heinous crime and whose tactics have always been reprehensible?  And what useful idiot is going to trust partners who, when busted, pull the incriminating evidence off of their website?  Moreover, there are many moral alternatives provided by legitimate aid agencies who have nothing at all to do with “reproductive rights” and other feminist agendas to destroy the family.  The question for Development & Peace is very simple, why not just cut out the rot in their funding practices and fund only groups which respect Catholic teaching?  What is Development & Peace hiding?

Finally, I would like to point out something that is particularly disturbing.  If Development & Peace and the CCCB were to have simply admitted the facts, we could have all sat down and worked through the morality of the funding practices according to the Catholic principles elucidated below.  This whole scandal could have been averted with little bruising, provided of course, the conclusion reached was strongly supported by the facts.  But that’s not what happened here. All we have heard is denial of the facts.  When you don’t concede the facts, you can’t participate in the moral framework because you need the facts to apply them to.  Maybe that’s why D&P doesn’t want to admit the facts.  If they admit the facts and apply it to the moral principles, they’d lose.

One final point, at the end of his remarks, Fr. Pierre says this [bracketed portion mine]:  “Secondly, the donor [D&P] must be doing everything that is reasonably possible to oppose those evil ends, including the attempt to prudently persuade the evildoer [D&P’s partner] to desist.”  If D&P were to put a condition on their funding practices for any partner to avoid advocating for abortion, what good would come of that?  In my opinion, much good could come. If the partner was only an incidental advocate for abortion and this advocacy was only a secondary or minor part of their mandate, they might stop the practice altogether if it meant losing substantial funding. If this happened, D&P would actually be a force for good in defending the unborn, instead of being an enabler of the abortion pimps.  On the other hand, if the pro-abortion partner was so entrenched in their position that it constituted a major part of their mandate, one must ask the very basic and pointed question:  do the Catholic Bishops of Canada really want to be associated with such an organization?

Dear John,

As a priest and theologian, I’d like to address the question of whether it is morally permissible, according to Catholic moral doctrine, to financially support organizations that endorse the killing of innocent human life through abortion, or other objectionable policies (such as the promotion of contraception). Archbishop Weisgerber along with the Committee of Inquiry certainly believe that this is permissible, so long as there is no direct use of the donated money for the purpose of promoting abortion. “The leadership of the Catholic Church wants the Church involved with other people, even people who don’t agree with us, provided that the disagreement that they have with us not be supported in any way or be given umbrage by our presence there. So it’s always kind of a prudential thing” (Salt & Light TV interview, 19 June 2009). Weisgerber even believes that working with groups opposed to Church teaching is something praiseworthy and in conformity with the wishes of the Second Vatican Council: “It is also very clear from the direction given by Pope John XXIII and by the [Second Vatican] Council that the church is to work with other people—but not, in a sense, blindly” (Catholic Register Interview, 25 June 2009).

From these statements we are to infer, then, that it doesn’t really matter what the personnel or the web sites of D&P partners in developing countries may believe or even declare publicly regarding abortion, so long as D&P money is only going to projects unrelated to abortion. In par. 1 of the “Reflections and Hopes” section of the Report is the assertion that “Development and Peace does not finance organizations, but provides assistance to specific projects.”

Let me begin by briefly recalling the moral principles that the Catholic moral tradition has elaborated in order to discern to what extent it may be permissible to cooperate in the morally evil act of another agent (person or organization).

Moralists have long recognized that under many circumstances, it would be impossible for an individual to do good in the world, without being involved to some extent in evil. Along with the principles of double effect and toleration, the principles of cooperation were developed in the Catholic moral tradition as a way of helping individuals discern how to properly avoid, limit, or distance themselves from evil (especially intrinsic evil) in order to avoid a worse evil or to achieve an important good.

A. Formal Cooperation
 I. Formal cooperation occurs when a person or organization freely participates in the action(s) of a principal agent, or shares in the agent’s intention, either for its own sake or as a means to some other goal.
 II. Implicit formal cooperation occurs when, even though the cooperator denies intending the object of the principal agent, the cooperating person or organization participates in the action directly and in such a way that it could not be done without this participation.
 III. Formal cooperation in intrinsically evil actions (such as procured abortion), either explicitly or implicitly, is morally illicit.

B. Immediate Material Cooperation
 I. Immediate material cooperation occurs when the cooperator participates in circumstances that are essential to the commission of an act, such that the act could not occur without this participation.
 II. Immediate material cooperation in intrinsically evil actions is morally illicit.

C. Mediate Material Cooperation
 I. Mediate material cooperation occurs when the cooperator participates in circumstances that are not essential to the commission of an action, such that the action could occur even without this cooperation.
 II. Mediate material cooperation in an immoral act might be justifiable under three basic conditions:
 a. If there is a proportionately serious reason for the cooperation (i.e. for the sake of protecting an important good or for avoiding a worse harm)—the graver the evil, the more serious a reason required for the cooperation;
 b. The importance of the reason for cooperation must be proportionate to the causal proximity of the cooperator’s action to the action of the principal agent (the distinction between proximate and remote);
 c. The danger of scandal (i.e., leading others into doing evil, leading others into error, or spreading confusion) must be avoided.

Applying these concepts to the D&P fiasco, I can see two distinct moral questions: (1) mediate material cooperation with evil; and (2) the appearance of formal cooperation with evil, which may cause scandal.

1. Mediate Material Cooperation with Evil

The distinction between supporting a questionable organization and supporting only some of its projects may look like hair-splitting to the average person, but in principle at least, it is possible to distinguish between the two. For example, a brutal dictator may decide to set up an orphanage for poor children; giving money to the orphanage does not necessarily constitute support for the dictatorship. In theory, then, earmarking funds donated to an organization is a morally licit way of doing good while avoiding implication with objectionable positions and practices.

In practice, however, things quickly get messy. There is no problem if donated funds are earmarked for “hard” goods like food, shelter, clothing, livestock, materials and labour costs for building a well, etc. It is easy enough to verify on the ground whether these goods were actually acquired by their intended recipients. However, if the funds are earmarked for “soft” goods like telephone service, Internet access, an employee’s salary, etc., how can the donor be sure that these things were used only for morally acceptable ends? The same employee might be distributing medicine to the elderly in the morning, and distributing condoms to teenagers in the afternoon. (Paying only half his salary does not solve the problem: the organization may not have been able to hire him at all if we hadn’t provided that portion of his salary.)

Furthermore, how can we be sure that the poor people who will be benefitting from the earmarked funds will not concurrently be exposed to objectionable propaganda? To continue with the analogy I used above, let’s suppose the orphanage was named after the dictator, had his picture in every room, required the children to sing his praises every morning before school began, and was more or less brainwashing them into thinking he was their messiah? It is not always possible to cleanly separate the good outcomes from the bad outcomes.

If D&P supports a “democracy and participation” group (26% of activities supported 2007-08) that refuses to acknowledge the right to life of every citizen, including the unborn, it should be evident that this group is imparting a deeply flawed vision of human rights—even when it is not explicitly promoting abortion. If D&P supports a “women’s empowerment” group (15% of activities supported) that believes a mother has the right to decide to terminate any unwanted pregnancy, a distorted vision of womanhood is being imparted—even when the group is not explicitly promoting abortion. These flaws and distortions might be tolerable if there were no other way of achieving any good at all in a particular country because of an absence of groups with morally acceptable principles. The dictator in my analogy may not allow any church group to run an orphanage; so the choice is between doing some good (concurrent with some evil outcomes) and doing none.

The most fundamental question of all, though, is whether the recipient organization can be trusted to use the earmarked funds only for their designated purpose. The dictator may say thank you for the money we donate to the orphanage, and use it to buy weapons for his secret police. When a group such as Red Todos los Derechos para Todos removes pro-abortion statements from their website, after news of the scandal breaks (as reported here), this does not exactly encourage us to trust in their integrity and good intentions. Only an independent, professional audit (the “rubber glove treatment”) could give us some assurance of finding out what was really done with the monies donated by millions of well-intentioned Canadian Catholics.

So while it may be acceptable in theory, earmarking funds (also known as “negative designation”) is not always a morally satisfactory option, because in practice there may be no guarantees that the donor is not cooperating with evil. Conscientious individuals and organizations have withdrawn support from many United Way and UNICEF campaigns over the years for this very reason.

2. The Appearance of Formal Cooperation with Evil (–> Scandal)

Even if it is absolutely clear that there is no mediate material cooperation with evil, in this case that our funds are not in any way helping organizations in the Global South to promote abortion, the donor still needs to be concerned about the appearance of formal cooperation, which may be a source of scandal. To avoid scandal, the donor’s opposition to the evil ends being pursued by the organization must be a matter of public record. Secondly, the donor must be doing everything that is reasonably possible to oppose those evil ends, including the attempt to prudently persuade the evildoer to desist.

I hope the above considerations will be of some help to your readers in sorting out the confusing situation.

Fr G. Pierre Ingram, CC


3 thoughts on “Catholic Decision Making in the D&P Abortion Scandal

  1. Thank you so much for explaining this mess, Fr. Pierre. Even if we strongly disagree with what the CCCB is doing, at least now we can see that *perhaps*, by some way of thinking that seems quite illogical to many of us, it *might* actually seem moral to *some* bishops. And so at least we can give them the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t intentionally trying to do evil.

    As for me, when I give to charity, I don’t want to just do my best to probably avoid sinning… I want to DO GOOD. If I even have to sit down and think about whether the donation to charity is a SIN, then I’ll just look for another charity. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks that way. I just wish I could give in the name of the Catholic Church without having to worry about committing SIN.

  2. A great article. Thank you Father!

    Regarding he Appearance of Formal Cooperation with Evil: just based on the widespread outrage of Catholics to the D&P revelations, it is abundantly clear that scandal has indeed occurred. On those grounds alone (even if all the evidence were false), the CCCB would have to rethink the role of D&P because the organization is causing consternation among the faithful.

    According to Fr. Pierre, “To avoid scandal, the donor’s opposition to the evil ends being pursued by the organization must be a matter of public record. Secondly, the donor must be doing everything that is reasonably possible to oppose those evil ends, including the attempt to prudently persuade the evildoer to desist.”

    This seems to be the route that the CCCB is currently taking. Having denied any mediate cooperation with evil, the CCCB report proceeds to reaffirm the dignity of human life and calls for greater vigilance on the part of D&P in dealing with its partners.

    The big problem, of course, is that their starting premise is flawed, i.e. that D&P has no mediate cooperation with evil. The evidence is so compelling that even a blind man should be able to see it.

  3. With the recent exposure of the true face of Planned Parenthood in the U.S., i have repeatedly written to the Ottawa Bishop and to the Executive Director of the Catholic School Board to ask why the Catholic Schools of Ottawa aggressively support the United way Campaign every year in spite of the latter’s refusal to defund Planned Parenthood (one of the major abortion referral/providers in Canada). Seduced by the United way claim that you can “direct your donation away from PP”, the bishops and the Catholic School Board have ignored for 40 years proof that doing this makes not one iota of difference to the amount that the United way budgets for Planned Parenthood every year. The ONLY thing that would make a difference is if all the Catholics in Ottawa refused to donate until the UW retired PP as a beneficiary. With every teacher receiving a pledge form during the launch, and every school having a designated UW representative, Catholics are possibly the MAIN source of income for the UW campaign in Ottawa. Money talks. Stop donating to the UW.

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