Can I Process Loan Requests From Planned Parenthood?

DIFFICULT MORAL QUESTIONS: A closer look at formal and material cooperation in sin.

Pedestrians walk past a Planned Parenthood facility on May 18, 2018, in Chicago.
Pedestrians walk past a Planned Parenthood facility on May 18, 2018, in Chicago. (photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Q. I work in the commercial lending division of a multinational bank. My job is to process — approve or deny — loan requests. I focus on nonprofits, specifically non-profit hospitals, universities and social services. I see the potential for a Planned Parenthood loan request to cross my desk. What should be my response if and when this time comes? — James, North Carolina

A. Your question concerns what moral theology refers to as moral cooperation in evildoing. Whenever I perform some act that facilitates the bad actions of another, I cooperate in their wrongdoing.

Sometimes I facilitate evildoing because I agree with the evildoer’s actions. This is called “formal cooperation” and is always wrong since in agreeing with his evildoing I share his bad will. So, for example, I vote for a pro-abortion politician because she promises to work for the defense and advancement of abortion liberties (see Catechism, 2272).

But sometimes I do not support the evildoer’s actions. I might even strongly oppose the evil, but I foresee that not-cooperating might result in harms that I wish to avoid. When I do not share the bad will but still contribute in some way to the success of the evildoer’s wrongdoing, I engage in what’s called “material cooperation.” This is sometimes morally licit.

For example, I pay taxes to a government that uses the money for — among other things — doing evil (e.g., funding unjust wars, paying for immoral services under Obamacare, promoting false and destructive understandings of gender in public schools). Since I do not agree with these evil projects, I don’t share the bad will of the primary agents; and since tax money also funds many good projects, ones that build up the common good, paying taxes usually is morally legitimate and even required. Albeit if a government became wholly corrupt, I might be obliged to refuse to pay taxes to it. 

But not all instances of material cooperation are morally licit. For example, in all but extreme circumstances, I do wrong if I attend a gay “wedding” because attending would give the impression that I support what’s going on and may lead people into falsehood and sin. (There is more to be said about this topic, I know, but we’ll leave that for another occasion.)

Your question concerns materially cooperating in the evils of Planned Parenthood. Whatever the loan is for — ongoing operations, expansion, debt repayment — the money will assist the company to remain financially viable and so continue killing large numbers of innocent people. 

I expect that most bank lenders believe that professional ethics requires them to extend lending servicing to customers whose known interests are legal even if they privately believe that what their customers plan to do with the loan is wrong. And to an extent, this is true; but only to an extent.

Banks exist to serve the common good. They do this by protecting and advancing the just interests of savers and borrowers by facilitating the flow of money between them, thus aiding the economy. 

If some borrowers’ interests are greatly destructive of the common good, then banks should refuse to extend them credit. Banks in the 18th century, for example, should have refused loans to shipping companies seeking to expand their practice of slave transport from Africa to the Americas. 

If banks refused to fund Planned Parenthood, the company’s projects would be curtailed. A similar curtailing happened in 2003 when cement suppliers, drywall installers and heating subcontractors refused to assist in the construction of a new Planned Parenthood business in Austin, Texas, and the builder finally pulled out of the job.

As a loan officer, you likely have little to say about the bank’s loan standards and are expected to implement your institution’s already-established rules. If you refuse, you may jeopardize your job. The greater wrongdoing is committed by bank executives who have authority over lending policies and so formally cooperate in Planned Parenthood’s evils when they authorize loans. But others who materially cooperate and hold positions of practical significance like yourself may also do wrong. This is for three reasons. 

First, helping your bank loan money to Planned Parenthood could be unfair to the babies who are killed with the financial support of your bank. Ask yourself whether refusing to process the loan request and making known the reasons is likely to decrease the probability that Planned Parenthood will secure its funding. If the answer is Yes, then you should refuse. This is an application of the Golden Rule (Luke 6.31): If you lived under a threat of death from Planned Parenthood, wouldn’t you want someone in your position to intervene to impede the company from securing the funding it needed to kill you?

Second, materially cooperating with Planned Parenthood can be bad for you as it threatens to erode your own moral inhibitions against abortion and those who perform it. How many decent people today have grown weary with the abortion question? They’d like it to go away, not to be forced to think about the bloody procedure. But since publicly opposing it might cause them inconvenience and suffering, they carry on as if nothing was wrong, as if the abortion business across town isn’t really a human slaughterhouse. Your refusal could enliven your own moral outrage, build courage and make you fitter to face evildoing in the future. 

Thirdly, because you are a Christian you have an obligation to live your life so that when people see you, they also see Jesus. St. Paul tells us we have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives within us (Ephesians. 2.20). 

Your Christian witness is your most precious gift to others. It is never morally legitimate to do something that knowingly undermines it. To materially cooperate with Planned Parenthood may send the message that you support what they do, are not bothered by it or at very least are content to coexist with companies that commit abominable evils. 

A logical next question is: What if my refusal would not impede the company’s ability to secure the funding it seeks, but only get me fired? And what if I am confident that cooperating with the abortion giant would not erode my own moral convictions or undermine my Christian witness? Would it then be licit to materially cooperate by processing Planned Parenthood’s loan applications?

The answer is not a simple Yes or No. But there are a few things I can say to help you come to a good judgment. 

First, the only reason good people consider materially cooperating in evildoing is to avoid harms that promise to arise from not cooperating. If there were no harms to avoid, then there’d be no reason to consider cooperating in another’s evildoing. 

If you were able to secure an exemption from processing Planned Prenthood’s loan applications, you would not be faced with this problem. Thus, before it arises, you should speak with your manager and ask if you may be exempt from such duties should they arise. And you should make known the reasons you are asking for this exemption. If you thought it would do any good, you might even try to persuade your manager to speak with the bank’s senior executives about making such a refusal a bank policy.

Second, if your manager demands such cooperation as a condition for employment, you should ask yourself if there is an acceptable job alternative available to you that would not require similar types of material cooperation. If the answer is Yes, then you should adopt the alternative. 

If there are no feasible alternatives, and if losing your job would threaten grave harm to you and your dependents, then having made known your objections to your superiors, I don’t think it would be immoral to go through the minimal motions necessary to fulfill professional responsibilities, even processing a Planned Parenthood application.

But if there really is a likelihood that this dilemma will arise at some point, you should be looking now for alternative employment. Materially cooperating in funding companies such as Planned Parenthood over time would not be licit for any Christian.

Finally, even if it could be morally licit, you may discern that God wants you to take a public stand against Planned Parenthood’s evils and endure the sufferings that ensue.

Courageously opposing evildoing and suffering for it can do a lot of good. We provide a witness to what is good and true to our colleagues, our spouses, our children and grandchildren, indeed to all who learn of our sacrifice. We embolden them to oppose evil even when it promises them harm. 

Suffering for doing good is also Christlike; it unites us uniquely with Our Lord. St. Peter admonishes us to rejoice when we share Christ’s sufferings so that we may rejoice when Jesus’s glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13). Suffering for doing God’s will is not just imitating Christ, it is sharing his own sufferings, collaborating with him in his redemptive plan for the universe, a plan which includes a lot of suffering.

Given the world as it is today, all who aspire to be and live as Christians will have to endure suffering. You face it in your professional life. Others face it in other ways. But none of us can do an end run around it. 

Thus, we should pray, pray hard for grace to assist us clearly to see our duties and confidently to know God’s will. 

The promise of the Kingdom is what keeps us going. As Peter says, we await the revelation of Jesus’ glory, a revelation that will feature the definitive overcoming of all evil and evildoing, especially the wicked crime of abortion and the glorification of those who fought against it.