Q: My wife and I have an ongoing disagreement about where we spend our money. She discovered that a couple of the stores that we frequent donate a certain percentage of their profits to Planned Parenthood and other groups that she believes contradict Catholic beliefs. She thinks that we are wrong to shop at those places. I’m not so convinced because of the relatively small amount of money that we actually spend there. What does the church teach about supporting businesses that donate to groups that contradict our Catholic beliefs?
A: To begin with, I am extremely grateful for your question because it shows that both of you are trying hard to put your faith into practice and apply it to your lives, even though you are landing on different sides. Our Catholic faith has to inform and direct the concrete nitty-gritty of our lives, and I am excited that you are trying to do just that.
It’s important to first contextualize your question. We live in a fallen world. Since our first parents’ prideful rebellion against God’s love and providence, sin and its devastating aftermath have existed in the world, manifested in both personal and corporate ways.
In this fallen world, it is virtually impossible to go a single day without participating indirectly in something contrary to Catholic beliefs in one way or another, however pure and upright our intentions might be. For example, some percentage of the taxes we pay will inevitably go toward things our church would consider morally wrong.
Your dilemma illustrates this imperfect state of affairs: By supporting a business that promotes groups or movements contrary to Catholic teaching, are we condoning them? The answer is: both yes and no. In a sense, you’re both correct.
The church provides some important moral considerations we need to be familiar with in order to judge for ourselves whether to support businesses that donate to groups not in alignment with our Catholic beliefs on abortion, euthanasia or other issues. To determine whether supporting such a business is morally permissible, we have to understand two important terms: formal cooperation and material cooperation.
Formal cooperation is the deliberate participation in another’s sinful action — for example, being an accomplice in a convenience store robbery. This sort of cooperation is always wrong because you are directly participating in a morally sinful action and internally approving of it.
Material cooperation involves assisting in another’s wrongdoing without approving of it — for example, providing information under duress. This cooperation helps someone to do something morally illicit, but the help given itself is not wrong. This sort of cooperation can be permitted in some circumstances.
By supporting the businesses you mention, you and your wife are most certainly not taking part in formal cooperation but rather in material cooperation, because you are not directly participating in or intending the sinful actions of the groups that they support. That said, both of your views are valid.
One could legitimately take the stance that boycotting these companies is the best thing to do. But if we boycotted every company in America that doesn’t fit our Catholic moral grid, we would probably have plenty of extra money as there are not many companies that square perfectly with our beliefs.
Likewise your own stance has validity. The percentage of the money you spend at these stores that actually goes to support sinful causes is minuscule, so your material cooperation is very small.
In addition to assessing where you shop, you might also consider engaging in activities that could make a bigger impact, such as participating in 40 Days for Life or making a weekly holy hour together to pray that our country become more consistently pro-life. There are many ways that we can all help to shape our culture with our Catholic faith, and our Lord certainly wants each of us to take advantage of them.
May God’s blessings be with you today and always!
Northwest Catholic - March 2017