Splinters & Logs

Our new editorial on the HHS mandate argues that the federal government is wrong to force Catholic institutions to choose between offering their employees health insurance that covers contraception and not offering their employees any insurance at all. The editorial also argues that, once forced with this bad choice, Catholic institutions should continue to offer insurance even as they campaign for a reversal of the HHS decision."

In this instance, the greater good of providing health insurance for all employees outweighs the 'evil' involved in the possible use of contraception by some. A different calculus would be employed if the funding in question were for elective abortion, which is a much graver evil." The argument here is based on the distinction between remote material cooperation with evil and other kinds of cooperation -- an important distinction in traditional Catholic moral theology and one that has featured prominently in the dotCommonweal threads devoted to the current controversy.

Whether the good of providing health care to employees really does outweigh the material cooperation with evil involved in funding coverage for contraception is of course disputable (as is the claim that all artificial contraception is evil). But I doubt that all who condemn such cooperation out of hand really understand the implications of this judgment. It is very difficult, not to say impossible, to avoid remote material cooperation with evil in a complex modern economy. I wonder how many Catholics who are outraged at the thought of a Catholic institution reluctantly offering insurance that includes contraception coverage are sure that their own health insurance does not include such coverage. If it does, that is remote material cooperation with evil. If one does business with a company that offers its employees insurance that covers contraception, that, too, is remote material cooperation with evil (though the cooperation is more remote). In fact, unless you live in a monastery that doesn't have investments, it's unlikely you are innocent of remote material cooperation with something the church condemns. Nor does the church condemn you for this; it asks only that you be as conscious of these entanglements as you can be, that you minimize them whenever possible, and that you be sure they really are offset by a greater good. Meanwhile, Catholics should avoid condemning other members of the church for failing to meet a rigorous standard of purity that the church does not in fact demand, especially if they haven't bothered to consider whether they meet it themselves. I am not asking here for a show of hands. But zealous champions of the faith must at least avoid bad-faith arguments.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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