Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cooperation and Scandal: Can the Minister of Holy Communion Ignore the Worthiness of the Recipient without Risk of Sin?

In the writings of the moral authors as well as canonists the issues of scandal and cooperation were discussed and analyzed proximately because both principles treat of involvement of one person in another’s sin. The noted canonist and moralist, Dominic Prummer, OP, distinguishes the two, saying, “Co-operation differs from scandal is so far as the latter causes the evil will of the sinner (by advice, command, or example), whereas co-operation presupposes the evil will of the sinner and is a means of bringing this evil will to completion in an external act.” (Dominic M. Prummer, OP, Handbook of Moral Theology, trans., Gerald W. Shelton [Cork: Mercier, 1956] 103). There are good reasons why commentaries on canon law (and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well) should emphasize scandal, in general. Scandal is a bit of a trump card in the moral arena. An otherwise moral action can become immoral if it causes scandal, or, in other words, leads another into sin. Scandal can be a particular concern for those in authority since a person in authority has a responsibility to lead and instruct. This analysis will turn to the issue of scandal later but cooperation will be addressed first.

Given the statement from Prummer it is easy to see why moral theology needs to look at the morality of cooperation of the minister in the administration of sacraments. In charity, after love of God, the first responsibility of the minister is to the good of his own soul. Immoral cooperation follows on the evil will of the person with whom he cooperates. If the participation in the other person’s sin is immoral, then, the cooperator commits sin which can be grave. Moreover, to act prudently and with a certain conscience, which is morally required, the cooperator must consider the moral meaning of his act of cooperation. If the cooperator is unsure about the moral goodness of the action or simply dismisses the involvement in the other person’s sin as unimportant, he can still be responsible for the sin of immoral cooperation. This is so because no one is permitted to act with a doubtful conscience and all reasonable efforts should be exhausted to resolve doubts. Ignorance is not necessarily a justification for acting in an evil fashion, either. For as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1791, teaches, “Ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man ‘takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is blinded through the habit of committing sin. [Gaudium et spes, 16] In such cases the person is culpable for the evil he commits.” This result flows out of the serious duty each of us has to avoid evil.

In the case of the minister of Holy Communion who allows a recipient to receive the sacrament even when that one is notoriously a serious sinner, according to moral principles, the morality of the minister’s cooperation in the sin of sacrilege must be analyzed. The minister's failure to consider this moral issue does not make, in the end, the minister’s action less subject to moral evaluation. This outcome ought be obvious to anyone who has even a basic knowledge of morality. In fact, failure to consider one’s potential cooperation in another’s sin may suggest a blindness to sin that the Catechism (1791) cautions against.

(Third post of series begun Nov. 13, 2008)

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