I work as a cleaner and the firm I work for has just won a contract to look after several abortion clinics. If I am required to do so, could I work in those clinics? I am opposed to abortion but I don’t want to lose my job.
Many people find themselves in situations like yours where they may be asked to do something which they oppose on moral grounds.
This happens not only in the workplace, but also in other areas of life, so it is important to know the principles that help us resolve these moral dilemmas.
Your situation is what is called in moral theology cooperation in sin, where a person is asked or proposes to do something in itself moral but which in some way cooperates in the sinful behaviour of another. The question then arises as to whether he or she can cooperate in this way.
A number of distinctions need to be made which help resolve the matter. First, there is the question of whether the person agrees with the sinful behaviour of the other and is quite happy to cooperate in it, or is opposed to it.
If the person agrees with the sinful behaviour, we speak of formal cooperation and, as can be expected, this is always wrong.
For example, a person who has no objection to abortion might take a job as a receptionist or accountant in an abortion clinic, thereby cooperating in some way in the abortions.
If, however, the person is opposed to the sinful behaviour but feels compelled in some way to cooperate in it, we speak of material cooperation. There are some circumstances in which material cooperation is permissible.
To determine this we must first ask whether the proposed cooperation is closely united to the sinful act, or is only remotely connected to it.
In the first case, we speak of proximate cooperation and in the second, of remote cooperation.
Naturally, in real life there can be a whole series of degrees of proximity or remoteness.
But the moral principle that applies is that the more proximate the proposed act is to the sinful act, the stronger the reason one needs to engage in this cooperation.
And the more remote the cooperation, the easier it will be to justify it.
For example, staying in the case of abortion, a nurse or other clinical assistant in the abortion itself is cooperating very proximately, the receptionist or secretary more remotely, and the contract cleaner or gardener still more remotely.
A good Christian should never take a job as a permanent employee in an abortion clinic since they would be cooperating on a daily basis, even though remotely, in the killing of innocent human beings.
But there may be circumstances in which one could work occasionally as a cleaner or gardener. This will depend on a further distinction.
The question is asked whether if the person does not cooperate the sinful act will still go ahead or if it will not go ahead.
For example, if a particular person refuses to clean the abortion clinic, it is virtually certain that there will be many others who will do the cleaning and so the abortions will still go on.
In this case, a lesser reason is needed to justify taking the job. Or, to use another example, if the friend of a girl who is booked in for an abortion and who lives in the country refuses to drive the girl into the city for the abortion, it is quite likely that she will not be able to have the abortion.
Therefore, the girl who is asked to drive should refuse to do so since she can stop the abortion on that particular day and perhaps talk her friend out of the abortion altogether.
The final consideration in cooperation is the strength of the reason why one is considering cooperating.
If it is a matter of losing one’s job and it would be difficult to obtain another one, that can justify cooperating remotely in the case you propose.
But if it were merely a matter of earning more money, that would not justify cooperating in something as evil as abortion.
In general, one should try to avoid cooperating in sin altogether but, as we have seen, there can be circumstances which can justify at least remote material cooperation.
Life presents many different situations in which one can be faced with the decision of whether to cooperate in another’s sin.
As examples, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says 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” (CCC 1868). This gives much food for thought. For the case of whether one can attend a garden wedding of a Catholic, see my book Question Time 2, (Connor Court 2012), q 248.