The marriage of Joseph and Mary

Super Flumina
Babylonis

under the patronage of St Joseph and St Dominic

By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept, remembering Zion;
on the poplars that grew there we hung up our harps. . . Ps 136

St Dominic

Home

Philosophy behind this website

Professor Solomon's Introduction to Philosophy

For young readers:

Myall Lakes Adventure


© 2006 Website by Netvantage

 

COMMENTARY ON OPINION OF FR A. SÉLÉGNY

Download this document as a Link to PDF PDF

 

   On the SSPX website in the United States, Fr Arnaud Sélégny has provided an opinion on the question of the moral licitness of taking vaccines designed to protect participants from the effects of the Corona virus where such vaccines are tainted with elements (in their content or their testing) derived from the bodies of aborted children.[1]  The opinion was published by the SSPX on November 10th, 2020 and re-published with revisions on December 4th following.  It would appear to represent the official position of the Society.  It has excited a deal of criticism. 

 

We have set out below the by-line and content from the website and Fr Sélégny’s opinion, and have added comments in bold sans serif type.  At the end, we have set out an analysis of Father’s approach.

 

Michael Baker

May 17th, 2021—St Pascal Baylon

­­­­­­­­­­­­_______________________________

 

Is it Morally Permissible to Use the Covid-19 Vaccine?

 

As several manufacturers announce the imminent development of a vaccine against Covid-19, many rumors circulate about those vaccines that suggest a moral impossibility to use them.

The pharmaceutical situation is extremely complex and evolving. To date, there are no less than 32 different vaccines under development, using 4 distinct production methods.

The present article is concerned exclusively with the answer to this moral question: on the concrete basis of how a vaccine works and how it is prepared, may such vaccine be used without committing a sin?

Everyone is free to have their opinion on the origin of Covid-19, on the way in which it has been managed in various places, on the vaccination policy of a particular country, on vaccination in general; but all these elements do not alter the moral conclusion given here.

This article has three parts, each necessary to understand the moral judgment made.

 

OVERVIEW OF VACCINATION

 

Father Arnaud Sélégny

 

The Vaccine Idea

The idea of preparing the body against the harmful effects of poisons or infectious agents is not new.  It could date back to king Mithridates (132 - 63 BC), who was said to have taken small amounts of different poisons in order to get used to them.  This idea can be found today in desensitization, which aims to reduce inappropriate reactions in allergic subjects.  The subject is brought into contact with increasing amounts of the elements to which he is sensitive, in order to ultimately suppress the allergic reaction to these elements.

 

In vaccination, the mechanism is different.  It involves administering all or part of an infectious agent, sometimes only its products, to cause the body to react and allow it to acquire immunity against this agent.

 

A first important conclusion must be drawn.  Vaccination is only using a property of the human or animal body: the so-called “immune capacity” of the body to actively oppose foreign agents that attack it.  Thus, if a subject is infected with Koch's bacillus, the agent of tuberculosis, and recovers, he will be immune to a new infection: this is natural immunity.  If another subject is vaccinated with BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin), which comes from a Koch bacillus rendered harmless, he also develops immunity, produced by vaccination: it is an induced immunity, effective against the Koch bacillus.

 

But it is obvious that this induced immunity is also natural: the only difference is in the way in which it is produced.  This induced immunity is often less lasting because the required reaction is less significant than during an illness.

 

The Various Types of Vaccines

Until now, vaccines could be classified into two categories: live attenuated vaccines and inactivated vaccines.

 

In the first case, before being administered, the infectious agent is modified in order to render it harmless, but while retaining its antigenic power, that is to say its ability to provoke an immune reaction.  The case of BCG is characteristic of this method.  [Bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccine against TB]  The immune system attacks the vaccine agent and will remember its response: it will then be able to defend itself against a future attack from the infectious agent.

 

However, this type of vaccination is contraindicated for immune-compromised subjects – those whose immune system is deficient – because then there is risk of a true infection.  It happened with the smallpox vaccination, causing many tragedies.

 

In the case of inactivated vaccines, the infectious agent is dead; it can be administered whole or in part.  Among this sort of vaccines, the tetanus vaccine is a particular case: it does not use the infectious agent, but the toxin it produces, which is dangerous and even fatal.  This toxin is detoxified before it is administered so that it is no longer dangerous, but retains its antigenic power.

 

Inactivated vaccines can be associated with so-called “protein” vaccines: the vaccine agent is composed only of proteins from the envelope of the virus, or of its entire envelope emptied of its contents.  Another variant consists in using a virus that is harmless to humans, in order to introduce the vaccine agent into its cell target (viral vector).

 

Synthetic Vaccines

A new type of vaccine has been studied for the last ten years.  It was first considered for diseases such as Ebola or Zika.  The idea was picked up for the Covid-19 vaccine.

 

Like all living things, the Covid-19 virus contains genetic material formed from ribonucleic acid (RNA).  In living things, RNA can exist in various forms: mRNA (messenger) which transmits information from the DNA of the cell nucleus to the systems that will use them; TRNA (transfer), which provides the elements to be assembled according to the mRNA code; RRNA (ribosomal) which constitutes the ribosomes, which synthetize proteins.

 

The idea of the synthetic vaccine is to copy a small part of the virus, in the form of mRNA.  The part chosen in the case of Covid-19 is the part that encodes the spicule, an element that allows the virus to enter into the cells.

 

This mRNA is administered by vaccine to the subject and enters a cell, resulting in the mRNA multiplication.  When it leaves the cell, it is identified as a foreign element and destroyed by the immune system.  As a result, the subject acquires an induced immunity which will allow him to fight against a real infection by Covid-19.

 

The advantage of this method is the speed of its development.  In fact, the two laboratories which have already announced very satisfactory results use this method.  The Russian laboratory Gamaleya produces a vaccine in a similar fashion, but uses a "vector", that is, a virus harmless to humans, to introduce the RNA fragment.  This could pose a moral problem which will be examined later.

 

Preparing Vaccines

There are three stages to preparing a vaccine: design, production, and laboratory testing.  During these three stages of development, a moral difficulty may arise due to the environment in which the vaccine is prepared.

 

It should be noted immediately that vaccines against diseases transmitted by bacteria are not included in this discussion.  Indeed, in this case, the culture medium is only a set of nutrients that the bacteria use for food: glucose, water, calcium, etc.

 

In the case of viral vaccines, the difficulty is that each of the three stages of their preparation may require a virus culture, requiring an environment composed of living cells.  In the particular case of synthetic vaccines, this is only for the testing phase.

 

However, virologists use three types of cells: (1) cells derived from human or animal organs, (2) continuous lines [1], which are often of a cancerous origin and can multiply almost indefinitely, and (3) human embryonic cells, which also multiply for a very long time.

 

Human Embryonic Lines

Among the latter, there are currently at least three lines that originated from an abortion: the HEK-293 line, from a fetus aborted in 1972 in the Netherlands; the MRC-5 line, from a fetus aborted in 1966 in England, and the line Per.C6, from an aborted fetus in the Netherlands in 1985.

 

The use of cells from aborted fetuses to produce vaccines has therefore been going on since the 1960s, and has already led to the development of various vaccines, such as those that prevent rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A and shingles.  In the development of vaccines against Covid-19, these cells are used to produce either viral vectors (adenovirus), which will transport the vaccine agent, or the protein of the coronavirus spicule, which will elicit an immune response.

 

Unfortunately, pharmaceutical laboratories prefer to use cells obtained from fetuses rather than adult cells, which age faster and stop dividing.  Fetal cells are also less likely to be infected with viruses or bacteria, or to have undergone genetic mutations.

 

MORAL PROBLEMS POSED BY THE USE OF LINES FROM ABORTED FETUSES

The question is whether one can – or, in some cases, must – use a vaccine that has been grown on cells obtained from abortion.

 

The crime of abortion is so abominable and so prevalent today that at first glance this question may seem unnecessary; spontaneously, the Catholic answers: no.

 

In reality, the problem may turn out to be extremely delicate, for it happens that in certain very particular circumstances one can be confronted with duties so serious that it could lead to a real moral dilemma.  In such daunting cases of conscience, the support of moral theology is essential to examine the situation in depth, in order to discern the good to be accomplished.

 

Preliminary Remarks

It is necessary to note that there are no fetal cells injected when the vaccine is received, as some believe: they are used only for the culture of the viruses, and are moreover destroyed by the viruses, as are the infected cells in a patient.  But this does not change the moral problem.

 

It should also be noted that it is not the use of the fetal cells themselves that is to blame, because they could have been obtained lawfully: in the event of spontaneous abortion or miscarriage.  It is the fact that they were obtained by an evil act, an abortion.

 

Distinctions to be Made

The principle that guides our reflection in this situation is that of cooperation in evil.  The general question is: is it permissible to cooperate in the evil or the sin of others?  Moral theology has given the necessary explanations.

 

Helping a sinner to commit his sin is called "cooperation in evil", regardless of the kind of help given.  For such cooperation to exist, the action of the co-operator must have a real influence on the evil act, through the help given to produce it.

 

To be able to judge, the cooperation must be properly analyzed.  This is crucial. Those who neglect these details may not judge properly the morality of cooperation.

 

Cooperation is said to be immediate when the co-operator performs the sinful act together with the sinner, for example if he helps the thief to take away the booty and hide it.  This is also the case of the surgical assistant that performs parts of an abortion together with the abortionist.

 

Cooperation is said to be mediate when the co-operator provides what will help the sinner—material, necessary action, means—to commit the sin, or which will allow him to do it more easily.  Such is he who holds the ladder for the thief, or the nurse who assists the abortionist.

This mediate cooperation, finally, can be more or less “close” or “remote”, according to whether the help given has more or less influence on the sin committed, or has a more or less close connection with it.  So, to sell an idol to a pagan so that he can worship it is close cooperation.  But selling the wood from which an idol will be made is a matter of remote cooperation.

 

Moreover, depending on the intention, we distinguish a formal cooperation, when the co-operator voluntarily consents to the sin in which he is involved.  Thus, whoever helps a burglar by keeping watch, for example, while approving of this sin, formally cooperates in the theft.  Civil law will also call him an "accomplice".

 

Cooperation is material when the co-operator does not want to sin, but acts while foreseeing that the sinner will abuse the help offered in order to commit the sin.  Thus, the bar owner who, only for the money, agrees to provide a few drinks to an already tipsy customer, participates in the sin of drunkenness but does not formally cooperate with the intentions of the drunkard.

 

Principles

Formal cooperation is always illicit and forbidden, because the agent takes upon himself the sin with which he cooperates.  The co-operator himself intends the sin.

 

Immediate cooperation, even only material, is illicit, because it is an evil deed, and most of the time a sin identical to that of the principal sinner.  For example, a surgeon's assistant who participates in sterilization – tubal ligation or vasectomy – commits the same sin as the surgeon.  This is not material, but formal, cooperation.  For his action directly influences the sinful act which could not be committed without him, or at least with much more difficulty.

 

Mediate cooperation may be licit or illicit.  Most of the time, and usually, it is illicit because one should always seek to avoid evil actions or to avoid cooperating with them.

 

However, for a real utility or a serious necessity, one can sometimes be required to perform an act which, although good in itself, will be a mediate cooperation with a bad action.

 

The usefulness or necessity in question can be so compelling that one is then excused from the obligation to avoid cooperation in evil.  Not if the cooperation is formal.  In this case, it is said that there is a “proportionately grave reason” for cooperating licitly. [2]   A ‘proportionately grave reason’ will not avail if the co-operator intends the same end as the agent.

 

Let’s take a general example, by considering the various possible agents around an abortion:
-   Immediate co-operator: the surgeon's assistant who performs part of the abortion.
-   Close mediate co-operator: the assistant who helps the doctor by passing him the instruments.
-   Less close mediate co-operator: the nurse who prepares the woman for the operation.
-   Even less close mediate co-operator: he who maintains the operating room.
-   Moving further away: he who sterilizes the necessary instruments.
-   Remote co-operator: the laboratory that supplies the anaesthetic products and dilators, or the manufacturer of the surgical instruments.  In both cases, the material provided could be used for operations other than an abortion.
-   Very remote co-operator: the company delivering these products.

 

For every stage of the material cooperation, the “proximity” in relation to the sin committed is very variable.  These are not stages in material cooperation.  The first four, at least, are stages of formal cooperation; possibly also the fifth.  Six and seven are material co-operators in respect of whom, it will be observed, Father does not apply the adjective ‘mediate’.  Are we to say that each and every one of these material co-operators is absolutely required to abstain from cooperating?  No matter the cost?

 

Moral theology answers: No.  The influence of the cooperation on the evil deed is so weak—for example, for the orderly who cleans the operating room—that a reason such as keeping one's job is enough to continue doing it.

 

On the other hand, the stronger the influence exerted, the more serious the reason to continue must be.  And when the closeness is too great, no reason can excuse.  Not on account of its ‘closeness’ but because the co-operator intends the same end as the agent.  One must refuse, even if it means finding another job.  One must refuse even if one cannot find another job!

 

Application to Vaccines Prepared With Cells Obtained From Abortion

It is now a question of analyzing the cooperation of those involved in the preparation or use of a vaccine prepared with cells obtained from an abortion.  We only speak here of material cooperation, because formal cooperation is always illicit.

 

Whoever makes or markets this vaccine is cooperating with the sin of abortion in a way that, although it cannot be called close, can be viewed as immoral.  Culpability varies, however, depending on the role played.  Maker and marketer derive the ‘product’ from the abortion.  They must do so with knowledge of its provenance and, therefore, are at least in the position of accessories after the fact, if not principals.  It matters not whether they do so directly or indirectly; it matters not whether they ‘close’ or ‘distant’; they are culpable because they intend the same end—they are cooperating formally, not materially.

 

Whoever runs a pharmaceutical company profiting from a past abortion bears a greater responsibility.  First, because he could have chosen not to make this vaccine; second, because he should stop using the cell lines in question and choose other lines that do not pose a moral problem, even if this has its drawbacks.

 

The researcher who chooses which cell lines to work on finds himself in a similar situation: he is profiting from a past crime.  More accurately, both pharmaceutical company and researcher are profiting from a present and continuing evil which consists of using elements derived from the body of a murdered child.

 

But the lab technician who is just one executor, or the truck driver delivering the vaccine, have only distant cooperation, so it is acceptable, especially for the second.

 

The doctor who vaccinates a patient, or the patient who is vaccinated, has only distant cooperation, for these acts only encourage and promote the sin of abortion in a very remote and very slight way.  The evil in which they are complicit is not the past sin of abortion: it is the use of a chemical (the vaccine), in the present, dependent for its efficacy on elements deriving from that sin.  In accepting that it is reasonable to use a vaccine tainted in this way, doctor and patient manifest complacency over the enormity of the evil of the murder of the unborn.  They sin against the common good of society.  For sufficient health reasons, such acts could therefore be morally permitted.  That is the question.  There is a problem with proportionality.  See my next comment. 

 

A young woman who is to get married can thus receive the rubella vaccine, although such a vaccine is almost always prepared on fetal cells obtained by abortion.  The reason is the danger for the child: if a woman contracts rubella during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester, the risk of birth defects—eye, hearing or heart—are significant.  These malformations are permanent.

 

I beg to differ.  The condition of proportionality in the Principle of the Double Effect requires that the good lost by the evil effect should not outweigh the good of the good effect.  In the situation posited, one might aver that the life of one child must outweigh the health of the other.  But it is not the life of the aborted child that is in issue, since the child is already dead.  Rather, the good lost is the harm to the common good that results from the use of elements of the body of the murdered child.[2]

 

Now, health is a temporal good not an absolute one, and the common good of society is a higher good than the temporal good of any of its members.  It follows that harm to the common good involves loss of a good greater than the good of the health of any of its members.[3]

 

The proportion required by the Principle of the Double Effect being absent, Fr Sélégny’s conclusion of licitness is defective.

 

However, if there exists a vaccine derived from cells not obtained from an abortion, and it is available, it is the one that must be used.

 

APPLICATION TO THE CASE OF THE VACCINE AGAINST COVID-19

Here we are only interested in the moral aspect of the use of an anti-Covid vaccine, in reference to its preparation or manufacture.

 

 

Lines Used as Part of the Vaccine against Covid-19

The complete list of vaccines in preparation is given in the document annexed to this article. This document specifies the responsible company and the eventual use of cells from an aborted fetus in any of the phases of the preparation: design, production and testing.

 [List of vaccines currently in preparation]

 

Moral Judgment according to the Principles Laid Down

Since some of the proposed vaccines were not prepared illicitly, they do not pose a moral problem for use from this point of view.  They should therefore be preferred over others.

 

Those that have used a morally illicit preparation should be avoided as much as possible.

 

But what if, in a particular case, a person finds it necessary to be vaccinated and is unable to obtain a "licit" vaccine, having only an "illicit" vaccine available?  This may occur for health reasons (vulnerable elderly person), or because of the professional situation (exposed medical personnel) or for professional reasons, such as traveling by plane.  There is already at least one airline—Qantas in this case—which has warned that, as soon as vaccines are available, it will require vaccination to accept a passenger.  It is very likely that this requirement will be quickly taken up by many airlines.  In which event, principle may dictate that our movements by air will be limited.

 

As cooperation is only distant, and the reason given is serious enough, it is possible in these cases to use such a vaccine.  Moreover, it remains for each individual to judge, with the help of appropriate advice, this real need.  This misunderstands what is meant by ‘distant’, or ‘remote’.  It is not a temporal, or physical, measure, but an ontological one.  ‘Remoteness’, or ‘proximity’, refer to the extent of involvement in the end of the evil act.  Moreover, the evil from which Father avers cooperation is ‘distant’ is the original abortion, but this is past and one cannot cooperate, even ‘distantly’, with an act that is past.  One can, however, cooperate in an act that profits in the present from the effects of the past sin.  That is what is at stake here.

 

It must be clearly stated that we are here in the domain of a prudent judgment, which cannot be uniform for all and in all cases. Moral theology says what is lawful or unlawful.  It gives the principles.  But it is for personal prudence to judge their application on a case-by-case basis.  Conceded; provided the moral principles are correctly understood.

 

As for the considerations outside this question of the licitude according to the source and preparation of the vaccine, they are on (sic) the order of personal opinions.  Like any opinions which cannot be absolutely proven, it is vain and impossible to want to impose them on everyone.

 

Everyone is free to have [his] opinion on the origin of Covid-19, on the way in which it has been managed in various places, on the vaccination policy of a particular country, on vaccination in general; but all these elements do not change the moral conclusion given here.

 

One last remark    It should be noted that, in addition to the case of these vaccinations that we have studied, cooperation with evil occurs in many analogous situations: the latter can be treated and resolved according to the same moral principles.  Thus:

Should we stop paying taxes because part of the money is used to reimburse abortion or assisted reproduction?

Should we agree to get supplies from a pharmacist who sells illicit products: abortifacients, condoms, contraceptives?  Wouldn't that be a form of encouragement?

Should we accept treatment from a doctor who approves of abortion and prescribes the pill?

Should we agree to go to a department store or a bookstore that sells bad magazines?

Should a cashier refuse to collect payment from a customer who is buying a bad DVD?

It is clear that the list could go on and on.  None of these instances amounts even to remote material cooperation in the evil act of another.  Father’s error results from the defectiveness of the moral principles on which he relies. 

 

A final example will be taken from the New Testament: Is it licit to eat the idolothytes, that is, meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8: 1)?  To properly situate this question, it is important to know that all the meat consumed in Antiquity necessarily passed through the temples.  Moreover, there is only one word in Greek, mageiros (used exclusively in the masculine), to designate the priest, the butcher and the cook: for those who wanted to abstain from immolated meat, there was no other meat to eat.

 

Let us add that the sin of idolatry is one of the most serious, since it attacks God himself.

St. Paul answers that it is permissible to eat these meats, unless it scandalizes the neighbor. This means that whoever consumes this meat is not participating in the sin of idolatry. Otherwise, St. Paul could not have answered thus.

 

The example is misconceived.  It was not a question of participating in the pagans’ sin.  As St Thomas says (Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 94, a. 1, ad. 3), “we must understand the saying that that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is not anything, because by being thus sacrificed the sacrificial flesh acquired neither sanctification, as the Gentiles thought, nor uncleanness, as the Jews held”.   What the pagans who did the ‘sacrificing’ thought they were doing was of no effect, but the eating of such meats might scandalise those who could not understand the distinction.

 

Likewise, anyone who is in a situation of sufficiently distant material cooperation in the use of a vaccine against Covid-19, the manufacture of which would have benefited from one of the above-mentioned cell lines, does not participate in the sin of abortion committed 35, 48 or 54 years ago.  Of course he doesn’t.  But he does participate in the continuing sin of using elements of the bodies of the children so aborted in vaccines.  It is this sin in which participants are engaged—present, proximate, material cooperation.

 

However, as has been said, one should, as far as possible, avoid cooperation in evil, even material, and if there is a choice, take the vaccine which poses no moral problem.

 

However, we must not be content with this deplorable state of affairs and do nothing. Influential Catholics must use all their power to influence the pharmaceutical industry to develop their new vaccines on cellular carriers that do not pose any moral difficulty.

 

Father Arnaud Sélégny +

SSPX USA website

 

https://sspx.org/en/news-events/news/it-morally-permissible-use-covid-19-vaccine-62290

 

_______________________________________

 

ANALYSIS

   Fr Sélégny submerges the metaphysical categories (formal and material; proximate and remote) beneath categories which reflect what is merely physical, or material.

 

Confusion of the Metaphysical with the Physical

   The Church’s moral theology reflects her adoption, since before the Council of Trent, of Aristotle’s doctrine of causality through the hands of her Common Doctor, St Thomas Aquinas.  There are four causes of every thing, as of every action a man performs: final cause (end intended), efficient cause (the agent acting), formal cause (the character that conforms the act to the end) and material cause (what is done).  We see a man in a field acting strangely, waving his arm around, and we ask ‘What is he doing?’  We know what he is doing materially.  What we want to know is what he is doing formally, which reduces to this: why he is doing what he is doing.  The material cause is what is done, what is available.  The formal cause exemplifies why it is done and determines the nature of the act. 

 

It will be plain to the reader that the terms ‘form’ and ‘matter’, and ‘formal cause’ and ‘material cause’, are not to be understood as they are used in modern speech.  They are technical terms; metaphysical terms.  It is an inevitable consequence of the immersion of teachers and students of St Thomas’s philosophy in a world accustomed to the facile categories of materialism that a true understanding of Aristotle’s doctrine will be compromised.  This is particularly the case with what metaphysics means when it speaks of the material cause.

 

The reason is that of all the causes the material cause is the hardest to understand.  This arises from the fact that prime matter, the ‘stuff’ that underlies all material things, is per se unknowable.  St Thomas says that we know God in this life by what He is like, by what He is not, and by what He is more than. (Summa Theologiae I, q. 12)  In contrast, we know prime matter only by what it is like, by what it is not, and by what it is less than.  Prime matter is like the material things in which it is found, is not any of the material things in which it is found, and is less than any of the material things in which it is found.  God is pure act: prime matter, in contrast, is pure potency, pure ‘can-be-ness’.  It can be anything.

 

When we come to speak of the material cause of an action, we are using the term ‘material’ analogously, but our usage reflects the metaphysical sense of matter as something essentially amorphous—in the sense of formless—as, in the realm of physical being, prime matter is utterly formless.  The concern of the moral theologian in the present context is the extent to which the act of one man (the co-operator) may prove to be matter for the act of another, the agent.  Take the instance of the man out in the field.  Let’s say an agent decides to use this man’s conduct as instrumental in his own malicious intent to harm an enemy.  He phones him and asks him to ring the enemy’s number on a pretext.  The agent knows (since he has contrived it) that the ringing of the phone will set off an explosion.  The act of the co-operator is matter for the agent’s act; he is co-operating materially, though quite unknowingly.

 

Consider the taxi driver carrying two women in his cab to a hospital.  One of them is intending to undergo an abortion.  The taxi driver is cooperating materially in her act, though quite unknowingly.  In the course of the journey, however, he overhears conversation between the two which reveals the reason for the journey.  He now knows that his own act is contributing materially to a most grievous evil.  Does he continue with his driving, or does he bring the cab to a halt?  All he wants is to earn a living by carrying customers.  He is not interested in other people’s actions, whether they be good or evil but he is caught up in this evil action, willy-nilly.  Is his material cooperation proximate to the evil end, or is it remote from it, so that he need not trouble his conscience over continuing to drive?  His material contribution is clearly proximate to the agent’s end it because he is delivering the victim for the abortion. 

 

Let us return to the point about a right understanding of Aristotle’s doctrine of causality.  There are two perils (at least) for modern teachers of metaphysics.  The first is that they will think that the material cause of an action is, in a measure, determinative of the effect.  It is not.  The material cause, whether in a thing or in an action, never determines.  It is only ever what is determined, as is shown in the illustrations given above.  The second peril has already been mentioned; that they may allow the categories of materialism reflected in modern speech to compromise a right understanding of the metaphysical realities in question.  Both of these shortcomings appear in Fr Sélégny’s treatment of the issues under discussion.

 

He uses the term ‘material’ as if was convertible with ‘relevant’, ‘essential’ or ‘indispensable’, synonyms for that term in modern speech.  There are instances of this in the middle of his paper (at page 5 above) which attract the criticisms in my annotations.  The same problem underlies his reduction of the metaphysical categories to merely physical ones in ‘close’ and ‘distant’, and ‘mediate’ and ‘immediate’.  The distinction mediate/immediate has no place in a consideration of material contribution to some act.  It is only relevant in respect of formal cooperation because the distinction concerns means, and means have to do with the end, or final cause, of an act which establishes its formal cause: every man acts on account of an end.  Formal cooperation by one person in the act of another is always morally culpable because it intends the same end.[4]  Because he is dealing with formal cooperation, then, I agree with Fr Sélégny when he writes:

“Cooperation is said to be immediate when the co-operator performs the sinful act together with the sinner, for example if he helps the thief to take away the booty and hide it.  This is also the case of the surgical assistant that performs parts of an abortion together with the abortionist.

But I disagree with him in what he says next because he neglects to distinguish the nature of the cooperation he is addressing:

“Cooperation is said to be mediate when the co-operator provides what will help the sinner—material, necessary action, means—to commit the sin, or which will allow him to do it more easily…”

To know whether “material, necessary action, (or) means” signifies formal cooperation or material cooperation in the act of another, one must study each instance to see whether the co-operator intends the end the agent intends.  One cannot confuse them (run them together) on the basis of their ‘mediacy’.

 

Fr Sélégny goes on:

“This mediate cooperation, finally, can be more or less ‘close’ or ‘remote’, according to whether the help given has more or less influence on the sin committed, or has a more or less close connection with it.”

Let the reader note that when he uses the terms ‘close’ and ‘distant’ he does not use them convertibly with the metaphysical categories proximate and remote.  The co-operator’s act (matter for the agent’s evil end) is proximate or remote not insofar as “it has more or less influence on the sin committed”, but insofar as it contributes to the agent’s evil end.  It is not a question of ‘closeness’ to an event, but metaphysical proximity to an end: as Don Pietro Leone says in a recent article, “the term ‘remote’… [signifies] the lack of direct moral involvement in the evil concerned”.[5]  Protestors outside the premises in which an abortion is being committed on a 16 year old girl are physically close to the sin, while the girl’s mother, twenty kilometres away, who paid for the abortion, is distant.  But, morally (and metaphysically), she is proximate to the sin (and formally involved) while the protestors have no proximate involvement in it at all, even taken materially.

 

The confusion continues in the examples Fr Sélégny cites:

“Such is he who holds the ladder for the thief, or the nurse who assists the abortionist…”

The latter is clearly formally cooperating.  But, if he has no idea that the person for whom he is holding the ladder intends to steal, the former will not be, no matter how ‘close’ his connection to the sin may appear to be.

“[T]o sell an idol to a pagan so that he can worship it is close cooperation.  But selling the wood from which an idol will be made is a matter of remote cooperation.”

To sell an idol to a pagan so he can worship is not ‘close’ cooperation in the pagan’s sin; it is formal cooperation because it intends the end of idolatry.  Merely selling the wood hardly reaches the level of matter for any formality the buyer may impose on it; he might do anything with the wood thereafter.

 

Accordingly, Fr Sélégny’s elaboration of the moral principles on this important question is not conducive to the clarity of thought the subject demands.

____________________________________

 



[2]  Abortion is a fundamental breach of the common good for it allows that the life of one member of society may be forfeit for the convenience of the others.  The use of elements of the body of a child so murdered continues, and augments, this harm, scandalising the innocent in the process, because it confirms implicitly, if not explicitly, that the departure from moral principle that abortion entails may be tolerated.

[3]  St Thomas teaches that no one can be good unless he is well proportioned to the common good—Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 92, a. 1, ad 3

[4]  Mediacy or immediacy relative to some evil end does not affect the culpability of the principal.  David used Joab as a means to contrive the death of Uriah the Hittite that he might have his wife.  Pope Francis used Cardinal Müller’s secretary (in 2013) as a means to interrupt the Cardinal’s celebration of Mass to meet his (the Pope’s) convenience.  The use of a medium affected the culpability of neither principal for the evils that resulted.  However, mediacy or immediacy does affect the degree of culpability of one who cooperates formally.  The nurse assisting the abortionist cooperates immediately, the attendant who prepares the surgery mediately.  Both are culpable but in differing degrees.  If, for the sake of argument, we allow that each of Joab and Cardinal Müller’s secretary intended the same end as his principal, each cooperated formally and immediately in the evil act and shared in its culpability, but not to the extent of the principal.