Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cooperation with Evil: our Cultural Epidemic

Many otherwise moral people in our culture who would never think of directly committing a gravely evil sin, like abortion or sodomy, nevertheless consider it a positive virtue to approve of and cooperate in these and other depravities when committed by others. Under the mask of tolerance and compassion they take what I call the “Norfolk approach” to morality. The Duke of Norfolk, remember, in the play A Man for All Seasons, is a friend of England’s chancellor, Thomas More, who resigns after Henry VIII declares himself head of the Church in England. When the king demands More take the Oath of Supremacy which includes public affirmation that the king’s valid marriage to Catherine of Aragon was unlawful, he refuses. Norfolk, who along with most of the nobility and clergy capitulates to the king’s demand, urges Thomas to join them “for fellowship.” The saint’s reply? “And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me for fellowship?”1 Many, like Norfolk, are willing to cooperate with evil if it means protecting themselves or avoiding conflict with family or friends.

Before looking at some examples where cooperation with evil is almost epidemic, it’s necessary to know exactly what constitutes cooperation with evil. Is it ever acceptable? When is it sinful?2 The subject is complicated, but St. Alphonsus Liguori made it easier to grasp when he devised the distinction between formal and material cooperation in the 18th century. Formal cooperation, whether explicit (the nurse at the abortion mill) or implicit (the boyfriend who claims to oppose the abortion, but drives his girlfriend to the mill and pays for it), is always immoral. Read more...


  1. SUPERB post, Mary Ann. Thank you!!!!

  2. Thank you Mary Ann. I am saving this to a word document. I shared the quote from archbishop Sheen wit ha friend; she is going to end a talk she is working on with this.

  3. Glad you found it helpful, Nancy. I love Archbishop Sheen. His Life of Christ is one of the most inspiring books I've ever read. Although you can pick up just about anything and it will give you months of meditation material.