Sin, Cooperation in

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Cooperation is an action or operation carried out jointly with another or others. Cooperation in sin consists in being a cause with another of a sinful action. A cooperator in sin gives aid to the sinful action of another. Cooperation in sin is not the same thing as giving scandal, for scandal does not give aid to the sinful action of another but rather merely influences his will, moving him to will something sinful (see scandal). A scandalized person makes up his mind to sin only after scandal has been given; cooperation is given to one who has already decided to commit sin.

Cooperation in sin, then, is the action of aiding another in carrying out his sinful purpose. It presupposes the other's evil will and helps him to put it into execution. When the cooperation is in the sinful act itself of another, it is immediate cooperation. If the cooperation merely provides aid through other acts or objects not so immediately connected with the sin of another, the cooperation is said to be mediate. Mediate cooperation can be either proximate or remote. It is proximate when the action or aid given to the sinful action of another is intimately connected with that action, as is the help given by an anesthetist to a doctor performing a sinful operation. When the action is not so closely connected with the sin committed, it is remote cooperation. Thus, for example, the cooperation of a nurse who prepares the instruments to be used in the surgery is remote.

Moral theologians consider it important to distinguish also between formal and material cooperation. Cooperation is formal when the cooperator shares in some way in the intention and purpose of the sinner whom he assists. He can do this either by wanting the evil act performed and doing something to help bring it about or by making an unambiguous contribution to the performance of the act, that is, by contributing help that of its nature has no other purpose than to make the sin possible or to facilitate its commission, for example, to fetch and set up a ladder when a burglar asks this help in order to gain entrance to a house. In this case the cooperator cannot reasonably disavow a part in the intention of the thief.

Cooperation is material when it avoids participation in the evil intention of the sinner. The material cooperator does not want the sinful action to take place, and there is an ambiguity about what he actually does. His assistance may in fact contribute to the sin, but it is not of its nature or in the circumstances exclusively ordained to the commission of the sin. To sell a bottle of whiskey may contribute to the drunkenness of the one who buys it; but whiskey has other than sinful uses, and the shopkeeper does not necessarily enter into the intentions of his customers who want to intoxicate themselves.

Formal cooperation in the sin of another is always sinful because it involves, virtually at least, a sharing in a sinful purpose. Material cooperation, on the other hand, is considered permissible under certain conditions, namely, that the action of the material cooperator is not evil in itself, that his intention is good, and that he has a proportionately grave reason for doing something that may contribute in some way to the sin of another. The rendering of any aid whatever to the commission of sin is a thing to be avoided; but if the aforesaid conditions are verified, the principle of double effect is applicable, and an action can be performed even though it is foreseen that an evil effect may ensue. If it were obligatory to avoid material cooperation in such circumstances, it would be because of the duty in charity to prevent another's wrongdoing; but one is not bound to this at the cost of serious inconvenience to himself.

In estimating the proportionate gravity of the reason for cooperating materially in the sin of another, the immediacy or mediacy, the proximateness or remoteness, of the influence of the cooperation upon the sin should be taken into consideration, as well as the necessity of the cooperation to the commission of the sin. Obviously it requires a less grave reason to justify the doing of something that only mediately and remotely lends aid in the commission of sin than something that is proximately and immediately involved in the sinful act. Similarly, a form of cooperation readily available from other sources would be easier to justify than cooperation that no other could supply.

Although it is possible to justify material cooperation in sin in some circumstances, it is not always clear in concrete cases that the conditions necessary for licit cooperation are verified. The goodness of a particular action may be open to doubt, and the sufficiency of the reason that calls for cooperation may be questionable. Moreover, it sometimes requires wisdom and prudence to determine how closely the cooperation touches the sinful action, how necessary the cooperation is to the commission of the sin. Because personal interest may intervene to distort an individual's judgment upon such a matter, it is generally advisable for one who finds himself perplexed with a problem regarding cooperation to seek the advice of a prudent counselor, e.g., his confessor.

Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa Theologiae 2a2ae, 78.4. alphonsus liguori, Theologia moralis, ed. l. gaudÉ, 4 v. (new ed. Rome 190512) 2.5980. d. m. prÜmmer, Manuale theologiae moralis, ed. e. m. mÜnch, 3 v. (Freiburg-Barcelona 1955). n. noldin, Summa theologiae moralis (Innsbruck 196162) 2:116129. h. davis, Moral and Pastoral Theology (New York 1958) 1:341352. e. dublanchy, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 3.2:176270.

[f. e. klueg]