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When Politicians Cooperate with Evil

U.S. Appeals Court Judge William Pryor (11th Circuit), a devout Catholic, wrote an interesting, short reflection last week about a judge’s duty to avoid “material cooperation” with evil. I apologize in advance for applying his explanation to a subject he was not addressing, but I do so because the subject is not just timely but perhaps urgent.

Judge Pryor’s insights should, I argue, be considered by those in positions of public trust who consider endorsing someone who is running to be our president and thus leader of the free world.

“Material cooperation occurs when the cooperator assists the actor by performing an act that is not necessarily evil,” wrote Pryor. Later: “The Catechism explains that ‘[a]nyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged.’ The Catechism also states that ‘[s]candal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.’ For judges and lawyers [and – this is Quin speaking – for public officials, too] there is a special danger of scandal, because ‘[s]candal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others.’”

In that light, an endorsement, which in itself is not an evil, becomes unacceptable “material cooperation” if it is used to teach, educate, or encourage others to do that which is not just arguably mistaken but borders on intrinsic evil.

Let’s avoid names here (although the references will be obvious), because the point is not the politics of this but the underlying, theological considerations.

It at least borders on intrinsic evil for a man to incite crowds, repeatedly, to violence – to repeatedly suggest that the crowd punch or “knock the cr**” out of," and send out "on stretchers," protesters; and to pledge, as a speaker, to provide financial means to pay the legal costs of those who might throw the punches. It borders on intrinsic evil, once punches have been thrown even against those who have not thrown punches themselves, to say that such behavior is “what we need a little bit more of.”