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Material and Formal Cooperation with Evil


Should I avoid patronizing a business if I know it supports Planned Parenthood?


It’s certainly laudable, if possible, to avoid patronizing businesses that contribute to Planned Parenthood (PP), support same-sex “marriage,” and promote other intrinsic moral evils. But typically it’s not morally obligatory.

In the case of a company that donated to PP, you’d be materially supporting PP in a remote way but not formally cooperating with them as you would if you made a direct contribution to PP. Formal cooperation with morally evil endeavors is never morally justified. Unfortunately, you will likely find boycotting businesses with any supportive connection to same-sex “marriages” rather difficult, because many secular businesses accommodate such relationships in their benefit plans.

Typically, material cooperation isn’t prohibited because of the remote nature of it. And it’s often very hard to avoid, e.g., paying taxes and not being able to control how your tax monies are used by the government for “family planning” that includes contraceptives and abortions, including for Third World countries. Also, you may end up “majoring in the minors” by becoming preoccupied with self-imposed boycotts that aren’t morally necessary.

Further, it’s often hard to avoid some businesses with problematic philanthropy. For example, it’s hard these days to find a grocery store that doesn’t sell condoms and possibly abortifacient contraceptives (if they have a pharmacy), whereas it’s typically easier to avoid a particular coffee shop. If you do choose to boycott, charitably let the business owners know why you’re doing so and that you’d loved to patronize them anew.

For more information on the Church’s perspective on formal and material cooperation, see these two articles by Jimmy Akin, as well as a related question I answered regarding the boycotting of Google.

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