Ask Father: Since the State of Illinois officially promotes abortion, transgenderism, LGBT Pride and other immoral practices as a matter of policy, should Catholics avoid State employment or seek other employment if they currently work for the state?
Your question is one that is very timely, and one that will become more pressing as more government agencies and corporations officially promote practices that are contrary to our faith. Bear with me as I give a brief summary of moral theology. As the Catechism teaches, “Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them” (CCC 1868). Sounds simple, right? However, cooperating in sin can be quite a complicated process. There are different levels of cooperation in evil, some of which are unavoidable.
The first kind of cooperation in evil is called formal cooperation, and this is always immoral. Formal cooperation means that a person approves of an action, advises others to do an action, or praises an evil action. Even if the person is not involved in the action, this approval is an offense against God and our faith. The second category of cooperation is called material cooperation – when a person contributes something to a process, whether or not he intends the evil to happen. Material cooperation is sometimes sinful and sometimes allowable, based on how close this cooperation is to the event itself. To the extent that it is possible, we should do our best to contribute to good actions and not bad actions. However, society is a tangled web of cause and effect, and it is impossible to completely free ourselves from material cooperation in evil.
We pay taxes to federal, state, and local governments. As you said in your question, our government officially endorses and practices many things that are contrary to our faith. Thus, our tax dollars are sometimes being used for evil. However, that is something that is (mostly) out of our control. We can’t control when our government unjustly wastes billions of dollars or buys condoms or guns for groups around the world. Similarly, the workers at the local power plant can’t control the fact that the abortion facility runs on power that they produce. This is all material cooperation, but a cooperation that is unavoidable and not sinful for us as taxpayers, although it certainly is sinful for those with the authority make these spending decisions.
Now, there are also times when our cooperation in evil is avoidable and should be avoided, even at great personal cost. It can be helpful to ask the question, “How closely associated am I with this evil action?” and “how essential is my cooperation to this evil which is happening?” The closer one is (morally, not just geographically) to evil, the higher the chance that such participation becomes sinful.
Based on these principles, it is morally permissible for Catholics to be employed by the state in good conscience. In fact, the Church encourages her members to be involved with their governments as much as possible to help contribute to a just society. There are certain things that Catholics certainly cannot partake in. If a Catholic works for the state as an accountant, and they are assigned the task of processing all of the state-funded abortions, I would advise them to ask for another position and explain to their superior why they cannot do that job for the state. In this situation, the participation is closely tied to the evil action itself. A similar scenario could be imagined in a hospital that performs abortions or sterilizations. Good Catholics could work at that hospital and contribute to the common good, but they should not be involved in the immoral procedures themselves, and do their best to express their beliefs as to why they cannot partake in these operations. It would be better to lose one’s job than be a willing participant in an abortion or sterilization procedure.
In short, we need good Catholics to be a part of our government to help turn the tide. Some government actions are immoral, and Catholics cannot willingly participate in those actions. A well-formed conscience helps us to make these judgments based on the principles of our faith. Some situations are a grey area and require research and direction from the Church. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance if you find yourself unable to determine what is right. Jesus said that we are the light of the world. If we do not stand up for what is right, then who will?