A Quick Review of Cooperation
Another person commits a sin. You are considering committing a different but related act. Under what conditions will your act be a sin due to its relationship to the act of the other person? This question is answered by the moral teachings of the Magisterium under the principles of cooperation with evil.
Pope John Paul II succinctly summarizes the three types of cooperation with evil: explicit, formal, and material.
Pope John Paul II: “Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it.” (Evangelium Vitae, n. 74.)
When an act cooperates with the sin of another person by the “very nature” of the act, the cooperation is formal and is always immoral. When an act is sinful ‘by its very nature’ such an act is intrinsically evil and always immoral. Formal cooperation with an intrinsically evil act is itself intrinsically evil because formal cooperation assist the act of the other person in attaining its evil moral object. In other words, the very nature of your act assists the very nature of the other person’s act, and their act is intrinsically evil. The Magisterium teaches that formal cooperation is never morally licit.
Pope John Paul II: “Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil.” (Evangelium Vitae, n. 74.)
When an act cooperates with the sin of another person in “the form it takes in the concrete situation”, i.e. in the circumstances of the act, then your act is material cooperation. In this case, you are not assisting an intrinsically evil act in attaining its moral object, but rather are assisting in the circumstances related, in some degree, to the sin. Material cooperation is sometimes moral and sometimes immoral. According to the three fonts of morality, material cooperation is in the third font of circumstances and so its morality depends on the moral weight of all the good and bad consequences of the act.
When either formal or material cooperation occurs along with your intention to cooperation with whatever is sinful in the other person’s act, then the cooperation is also explicit. If your cooperation lacks any intention to assist in the other person’s sin, then your cooperation is implicit. Explicit cooperation, whether formal or material, is always immoral. It is never moral to intend to do evil, nor to intend to assist another person in doing evil.
Cooperation with Direct Abortion
The eternal moral law concerns objective truths about good and evil. The Magisterium infallibly teaches that direct abortion is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. No one can justify direct abortion, nor formal cooperation with direct abortion, by presenting the matter as an open theological question, or as an unresolved moral issue, or as a matter of prudential judgment. Acts that are intrinsically evil are always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances. And so no judgment of the prudential order is needed to evaluate the particular circumstances.
Pope John Paul II: “But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the “creativity” of any contrary determination whatsoever. Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is concretely recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids.” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 67).
Neither is there any freedom of conscience when an act is determined to be intrinsically evil. For every good conscience must be formed in the light of truth. True freedom of conscience is to know and adhere to the moral truths taught by Jesus Christ in Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium.
However, some theologians today have presented various creative interpretations of intrinsic evil and the moral object, such that an intrinsically evil act of direct abortion becomes indirect and moral, in certain circumstances, with certain intentions. They put forward these claims in the public sphere, and they know that their words are in fact used to justify actual direct abortions. And yet they continue to adhere to the same position, publicly proclaiming that direct abortion is moral.
This type of action by certain theologians is formal cooperation with direct abortion. Formal cooperation includes acts that promote, encourage, or approve of an intrinsically evil act by another person. And this is exactly what some theologians are doing.
They publicly promote a version of ethics that justifies direct abortion. They know that a particular type of abortion is intrinsically evil direct abortion according to magisterial teaching. They even know of particular cases, such as the Phoenix abortion case, in which a Bishop took strong action because an abortion was direct. And yet they continue to publicly assert new ethical principles (such as virtue ethics) and various creative ways of re-defining intrinsic evil (such as the claim that moral object results from intention and circumstances).
They treat even the basic principles of ethics taught by Veritatis Splendor, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other magisterial documents, as if these were entirely open questions. They treat the infallible condemnation of abortion in Evangelium Vitae as if it were unclear and subject to greatly varying interpretations. And they realize that their words are used to justify actual cases of direct abortion.