Finding the Real Heart of the D&P Controversy
The serious charge that the Catholic bishops seem to have been using a non-catholic ethic can only be proved (at least from the evidence we have) by first presenting the traditional catholic way of solving moral problems. Then we will look to what is actually being done by the bishops and D&P and show that these two methods –the traditional catholic ethic and the one being used— do not concord.
First off, however, a little background is necessary in order to understand how D&P operates. Development and Peace was founded in 1967, at a time when bishops around the world, fresh out of the epoch-making meetings at Vatican II (1962-1965), were intent upon modernizing the Church so as to render it more apt to spread the Gospel in an age of Mass media and democracy. The liturgy and certain teachings were given a facelift (some would say they were disfigured) and so was the way in which the Church did "corporal works of mercy" or charity. Very roughly speaking, the Church decided that it would be best to stop merely handing out food, offering lodging and caring for the sick of the Third World. Instead, it would teach Third-World peoples to “fish” for themselves, as the saying goes. The bottom line for our purposes is this: in line with this new approach to charity, D&P does not engage in actual work “on the ground”. What it does is fund “partner groups” located in various Third World countries which act in various ways, often through advocacy, to bring about the social change necessary for prosperity to take root. Setting aside for the time being whether this new approach to charity is desirable (indeed, this may be another point of contention between D&P and its critics), the ethical question that I argue is at the heart of the real debate concerning D&P, the question that LifeSite and the bishops answer differently, is this: what criteria ought to be used when picking a Third World group to partner with and fund?
Now on to the meat: what are the correct, catholic criteria for morally good actions? What makes an act blameworthy or praiseworthy?
What makes an act Good
There’s a simple way of answering this question, and a more complex way. From a catholic perspective, the simple way to answer the question “what makes an act good?” is the answer Jesus gave to the rich young man when the latter asked “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” Jesus replied to him “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matt 19, 16-17) In short, a Catholic and any human being for that matter is to respect the laws of God as set forth in the Decalogue: Never worship false gods, never murder, never lie, never cheat on your spouse, etc. These are the basic rules of life as set forth by God for all humanity. If every human is bound to them, perforce so is Development and Peace. But now the question becomes more complex: supposing that a good act, in accordance with the Commandments, has an unwanted but predictable bad side-effect? Does that make the original act bad?
The Principle of Double-Effect
The “Principle of Double-Effect”
is a classic catholic ethical principle that has been elaborated to deal with precisely this kind of situation. And, I wish to add, this is exactly the type of situation that D&P deals with almost every time it sets out to “partner” with a Third-World group.
The principle, which can be traced back at least to Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (II-II, Qu. 64, Art.7) and most certainly much further back, is stated in the form of a list of criteria that all acts must respect if they are to be moral. The criteria are as follows:
1) The intent of the act and the act itself (the act per se) must be good or morally neutral.
2) If there is a bad side-effect caused by the act, then :
a. The side-effect, though predictable, must be unwanted or unintended
b. the good intended must never be caused by the bad effect (the side-effect must only permitted, never directly caused)
c. The good intended must greatly outweigh the bad permitted.
d. If an equivalent alternative to the act can be found which has no bad side-effect or has less of a bad side-effect, then that alternative should be pursued instead.
The first criterion speaks to the act itself. It must be either a good act (say, feeding a hungry baby) or a neutral act (handing someone money). The act must also be “well-intended”: If, for example, one feeds a baby in order for the baby to remain healthy, it can be a good act. But if one does the same thing with the purpose of, say, making someone jealous (a woman chooses to feed her baby in front of a friend who is infertile in order to make the friend jealous) then the act cannot be good. Now so far, nothing here should be controversial. The second criterion –the most important for our purposes—is where we deal with the possibility that an unwanted though predictable bad side-effect occurs as a result of an act. This second criterion states that in order for an act which predictably has a bad side-effect to be good, the side-effect must :
a. be unintended. If you want the bad side-effect to happen, then your original act is bad (for example, if a fertilizer salesman sells fertilizer to someone (an act that is neutral or good in itself), but sells the product with the hope that the customer use the product to produce a bomb (the bad side-effect), then the salesman has acted badly, given that the side-effect (the bomb-making), though uncaused by him, was intended by him.
b. never be directly caused by the act (If I kill a terrorist’s 2-year-old baby, knowing that the terrorist will rush out of his hiding place to be with his dying child, enabling me to capture the terrorist, I have engaged in a bad act, since the bad side-effect (the death of an innocent child) was directly rather than indirectly caused by me)
c. be greatly outweighed by the good intended. The bad side-effect permitted must be of little consequence as compared to the good intended by the act itself. If the badness of the side-effect is anywhere near equivalent to the goodness intended by the original act, then the original act cannot be deemed “good”.
d. be minimized or eliminated altogether. For an act with a bad side-effect to be good, one must have searched for an alternative act which could do an equivalent amount of good but with less of a bad side-effect or without the bad side-effect. (For example, the above-mentioned terrorist could have been lured out by, say, a suit-case full of money instead of being lured-out by the killing of his son).
Now, assuming the criteria above are “authentically catholic,” –and it is difficult to argue that they are not, since the Cathechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) applies the Principle of double-effect to the case of self-defense which results in death for the aggressor in sections 2263-2264— let us now examine what criteria the bishops apply when choosing a partner for D&P. First off, I would like to remark that no such criteria have officially been published by the CCCB in the midst of the D&P controversy; I have never heard anyone say something like “since there is so much controversy surrounding this issue, let us clarify how it is that we come to decide upon the choice of a D&P partner.” Short of receiving clear and unambiguous guidelines, however, some statements have been made, statements which may indicate the way in which the D&P ad hoc committee will be leaning when making decisions (or when “overseeing” decisions) to fund or not certain D&P partners.
One such statement was made by Bishop Fred Henry, who is one of the members of the ad hoc committee. Last March, when asked if he believed that it was acceptable for D&P to fund groups that, say, advocated for abortion, his answer was “yes”,
in the case that the monies went towards projects that were in-line with Catholic teaching. In other words, Bishop Henry believes that if a group advocated for abortion in a given country, it would be ok to give it money, so long as it used the money to do things like building houses or feeding the sick or helping people learn to read. In short, according to Bishop Henry, it should be ok to a give money to a group – whatever its ideological position, and whatever it does or says – so long as the D&P money itself is used for good deeds. Let us for a moment assume that his words reflect the position of the ad hoc committee, and that this position in turn will guide the work of D&P. Is this a position in line with Catholic ethics? My answer is no; to see why, let’s take a close look at a given hypothetical D&P funding decision that closely resembles many of the past funding decisions contested by LifeSite and others.
Example: Funding a Honduran Group
Say D&P were faced with the decision whether or not to fund a group in Honduras that helped women who worked in textile mills to form unions. Let’s also say that this group, while doing the good work of helping women in factories form unions, also does some bad work, namely advocating for free and legal abortion in Honduras. According to Bishop Henry, D&P should be given the green light to fund this group, in the case that the money D&P sends be spent doing unionizing work rather than abortion advocacy. The latter (the abortion advocacy work) would only be an unwanted side-effect of the funding of this group, and as such of no moral consequence, or so Bishop Henry seems to say. But is this true? Let’s now go through the relevant criteria to see whether, according to traditional catholic morality, this act of funding this group is indeed moral.
First criterion: is the act itself moral or neutral? Answer: yes, the act of handing money over to a group is neutral. It is neither bad nor good; it simply consists in handing over a cheque with writing on it to another person. Next, is the purpose or intent of the act good? The goal is to help Honduran women working in textile mills to unionize, so as to allow them to gain better working conditions. This goal is laudable, therefore, yes, the intent of the act is good.
Onto criterion 2: is there an unintended but foreseen bad side-effect? Yes, there is: by handing money over to this group, D&P is also indirectly funding advocacy for abortion in Honduras, for the simple reason that by funding a group to do work, you are giving the group the financial means to be active in other areas. Now, the fact that the funding of a group has bad side-effects does not necessarily disqualify the act, so long as criteria 2a, 2b, 2c and 2d are respected. But are they?
Let us look at 2a. Is the bad side-effect of abortion advocacy using D&P funds intended or not? Let us be charitable and assume that it is not. Criterion 2a is therefore respected. Now, is the good effect (the unionization of women) caused by the bad side-effect (the advocacy work for abortion)? No, helping people unionize does not necessarily cause the legalization of abortion. So criterion 2b is respected. It is only when we turn to 2c and, probably, 2d that we hit major snags. Criterion 2c asks whether advocating for the unionization of women greatly outweighs in its goodness the badness caused by advocating for legalization of abortion. Admittedly there is some room for interpretation here. But again, what is the interpretive key for determining whether the act of unionizing is much more good than the act of legalizing abortion is bad?
I would venture to say that a good guide to answering this question would be the Catechism of the Catholic Church
(CCC), an authoritative document promulgated by Pope John-Paul II in the early 90s summarizing Catholic moral and religious beliefs. In it we read that abortion is an “abominable crime” (2271) which can never be directly intended. We also read that, considering that abortion kills what must be considered as an innocent human person, abortion ought to be kept illegal where it is disallowed, or made illegal in the countries that allow it (2273). Plainly put, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, advocating for abortion is advocating for murder. This is pretty serious stuff.
The formation of unions, on the other hand, though considered important, is a good that is relative to other considerations.
Whereas one may never kill an innocent human being, or advocate for its killing (remember those Ten Commandments…), one may, in certain circumstances, judge unions to be unnecessary or counterproductive. In other words, since the lack of a union is not an absolute wrong, but only a wrong relative to many factors, while the wrongfulness of legalizing abortion is absolute, it seems that one can never justify funding unionizing activities if these lead to, or contribute to, the legalization of abortion.
Therefore, against what Bishop Henry seems to suggest, D&P would indeed be engaging in an immoral act when it hands money over to a pro-abortion group in the hopes that it will help women unionize, since, according to Catholic teaching, the evil of legalizing abortion far, far outweighs the good of unionization. In funding such groups, D&P and the bishops clearly violate 2c. In not considering criterion 2c, the ad hoc committee’s moral reasoning in this case seems therefore to be deficient.
Let’s now assume that, instead of advocating for something as morally evil as abortion, the Honduran group under funding consideration was known for advocating something only questionable such as abolishing the country’s gun registry. Since the latter is not inherently evil but perhaps only morally questionable, let us consider criterion 2c respected, in addition to critiera 2a and 2b. Even so, the act, I argue, still fails 2d, because in all likelihood the goal of encouraging the unionization of women throughout Honduras could be attained by funding another group, one that does not advocate anything questionable whatsoever. At the very least, a new group, one which had no ulterior motives or “hidden agenda”, could be founded with the express purpose of unionizing women in Honduras. Therefore, even if the goodness of an act overwhelms the badness of its undesirable side-effect, that act is still wrong if another, similar act with no undesirable side-effects could have been done.
The Heart of the Problem : D&P doesn’t consider abortion to be a wrong similar to genocide
In what follows I want to argue that the problem with the ad hoc committee’s stance (as expressed so far), and D&P’s stance before it, is not ignorance of ethics per se (viz. ignorance of the principle of double-effect), rather, the problem seems to lie in the difference in application of ethical principles resulting in the underestimation of the wrongness of abortion and other ‘catholic wrongs’ (contraception, sodomy, etc.) In terms of the criteria listed above, the real reason why the bishops and D&P diverge from LifeSite et al. is the differing ways both apply criterion 2c (Criterion 2c: In the case of an act which has a bad side-effect, the goodness of the intended act must by far surpass the badness of the permitted effect). So whereas it could be argued that the bishops or D&P do not know the principle of double-effect, which is why they come to different conclusions about who to admit as partners for D&P, I will argue that the principle of double-effect is known, but the severity of abortion and other catholic wrongs is downplayed, which leads the bishops and D&P to come decisions at variance with LifeSite and others.
To prove that the bishops and D&P seem to be downplaying the severity of abortion and other ‘catholic wrongs’, so far as definitive ‘proof’ can be obtained, all one has to do is substitute for “abortion” any other wrong which is not only recognized as a wrong in the catholic world but in the secular world as well. Let us take for example racial segregation.
Thought Experiment : The pro-union organisation that promotes racial segregation
Imagine for a moment that the Honduran pro-union organisation mentioned above, besides being a union organiser, was also known to promote black racial segregation, proudly displaying their “white power” banners in their meeting rooms, lobbying their government and holding round-table discussions on the legalization of racial segregation in their country, etc. Now is there any doubt that D&P would never have even considered funding such an organisation, that they would have “smelled a rat” from the initial stages of their investigation into this potential partner, and that they would have without hesitation decided against giving any money to “those people”? Moreover, should it ever have been pointed out to them (say, by a website called StopRacism.com or something of the sort) that one of the groups they had partnered with were promoting racial segregation, would they have spent months and months denying the allegations and shooting the messengers? Would they not instead have been grateful to those who had discovered the problem, and righted the wrong that had been occurring without their knowledge? Would they not promptly have issued a press release apologizing for the mistake and promising changes, perhaps something along the lines of “In the past D&P has partnered with a group which engages in activities that violate universal ethical norms. We therefore have ceased our partnership with this group. We thank the concerned citizens who pointed out this problem for their vigilance, and we hope never to repeat the same mistake again, having implemented a new set of guidelines for determining partnerships. This new set of guidelines can be found at www.devp.org.”
Truth be told, racial segregation, evil as it is, is less evil than abortion. Whereas the denial of basic human rights on the basis of race is an affront to a human being’s inalienable dignity, abortion deprives an innocent human being of his life, rendering the question of dignity moot. For the thought experiment above to be more accurate, we would have had to substitute “advocating for genocide” for “promoting black racial segregation”, since advocating for genocide, that is, the killing of innocent human beings based on their membership in a certain pariah class, is more equivalent to advocating for abortion, which is the killing of innocent human beings based on their state of “unwantedness”.
Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that D&P, far from denying well-documented accusations of supporting groups that advocate genocide, far from smearing those who made the accusations, would immediately rectify the situation and thank those involved in uncovering it? But why then were they not so quick and thankful for being called out on supporting groups that advocate for abortion, an “abominable crime” similar to genocide? The problem, most probably, is that the management at D&P, much less the regular employees at D&P, DO NOT believe that abortion is anywhere near equivalent to genocide; and that, I argue, is one of the major problems which D&P must resolve if this controversy is ever to conclude in a satisfactory manner. So long as the denunciation of abortion and other wrongs is dismissed by D&P as merely “catholic idiosyncrasies” unrelated to the “real problems”, the controversy surrounding D&P will NEVER die off.
Two Simple Recommendations to Reform D&P
From what was argued above, it seems to be that the main reason why there is still a controversy surrounding D&P’s funding activities is that D&P, and to a certain degree the ad hoc committee struck to supervise it (insofar as their views have been expressed) consider abortion a relatively minor moral fault whereas LifeSite et al considers it a major fault similar to genocide. However, the above cursory reading of the Catechism shows that LifeSite is right about the severity of abortion. Therefore, wouldn’t the obvious solution be 1) to enforce the principle of double-effect as outlined above as the guideline for partner funding and 2) to purge the ranks at D&P of all decision-makers who do not agree that abortion is similar to genocide and that other acts considered wrong by Catholics (contraception, sodomy, etc.) are indeed grave moral wrongs on a par with other crimes deemed as such by “the world”?
This, in fact, seems to me to be the only real way D&P can be reformed. Moreover, last March we learned that D&P had lost about two thirds of its funding from the federal government.
Now D&P must look to the local parishes for most of its funding. The bishops, therefore, are probably in the strongest negotiating position vis-à-vis D&P that they have ever been since D&P’s inception. Wouldn’t it be easy for the bishops to demand that a purge of non-Catholic decision-making employees be done?
Not so Fast : the obstacles to reform
Unfortunately, there are more than enough obstacles to this kind of real reform of D&P. Here are a few in point form:
2) The bishops’ lack of action in the past. People would rightly ask the bishops the following question, which they would not be able to answer without humiliating themselves: “If abortion is similar to genocide, why have you not acted accordingly for the last 40-50 years? Surely were a genocide of another class of human beings to occur in Canada you would be addressing it from the pulpit every Sunday…”
3) D&P’s eligibility to receive government grants: In my opinion, it is very likely that were D&P to elaborate and publish a partnership guideline in which it were stated that groups which contravened catholic moral teaching would not receive funding, the Canadian government would cease funding D&P altogether, for the reason that D&P would be “discriminating” based on religion.
4) D&P’s charitable tax status: D&P, were it to publish and enforce funding guidelines such as the ones I mention above, would probably have its charitable tax status revoked, for a reason similar to number 3: the government would deem the organisation as being “too exclusive” because discriminatory of those who advocate for abortion, contraception, sodomy, etc.
Conclusion : A Fork in the Road
Unfortunately, though the solution to the D&P controversy seems clear enough –1) implementing the principle of double-effect as outlined above as an official partnership guideline and 2) firing non-Catholic decision-makers from their positions at D&P—the obstacles to this real reform are just as insurmountable as they are clear. The first two obstacles cited above – the union and the bishops’ humiliation – aren’t the insurmountable ones: After all, concerning firing unionized employees, D&P could be moved, say, to Ottawa, which I believe would dispel most problems at that level. As for the humiliation, this shouldn’t be too hard to overcome for the bishops, given that Our Saviour made humiliation, graciously and manfully accepted, a road to sainthood. But the last two obstacles – the risk of losing the ability to issue tax receipts and the risk of becoming ineligible to receive government funding –, related as they are to money, will be much harder to overcome. Indeed, I cannot see how D&P can become faithful to Catholic teaching without forgoing much of its present government funding. So here we are: D&P and the bishops have come to a fork in the road, and must choose between God and Money. Let us pray that D&P and the bishops choose the right path.