Is Bishop Howard Hubbard Cooperating In Evil

Formal cooperation in another’s evil act (that is, undertaking to help expressly another to perform an act known to be evil) is itself evil. Davis, Moral and Pastoral Theology (1938), I: 341-342. There are no exceptions to this rule; no supervening circumstances can ever render formal cooperation in evil good.

The use of [illegal] drugs “inflicts very grave damage on human health and life [and] . . . is a grave offense. Clandestine production and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.” CCC 2291, my emphasis. See also Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, “Charter for Health Care Workers” (1995), n. 94.

I think that one who supplies, without a physician’s prescription, needles/syringes (nb: devices with only one practical use) to people whom one reasonably believes will use those devices to inject illegal drugs into their own bodies and/or the bodies of others, encourages those people to practices that are gravely contrary to the moral law, rendering thereby, it seems to me, direct assistance to their commission of an objectively gravely evil act while intending precisely to help them accomplish that act. This conclusion is not contingent on whether the needles are clean, or are merely exchanged, or on any other accidental aspect of the program.* The only question is whether giving a syringe to a drug abuser abets his or her injection of illegal drugs. If it does, then giving a drug user a needle formally cooperates with the specific evil of his or her taking those illegal drugs.

Thus, when, Bp. Hubbard of Albany authorized his Catholic Charities office to distribute syringes to apparent drug abusers, in my opinion, he began formally** cooperating in the grave evil of drug abuse in his diocese.

Now, I can’t imagine that any of these observations come as a surprise to the Albany administrators who spent, what? five years? developing this proposal. But the official inadvertence to some pretty obvious objections (at least in the materials I located in this matter so far) is disquieting. Perhaps the powers-that-be will share their analysis more fully, or at least cite us to some experts who are willing to stand behind this program?

In any event, if my moral analysis is correct (and I invite interested persons to carefully investigate the tradition for themselves), then there is an obvious concern for the scandal (in the classical sense of that word, that is, conduct that has the effect of diminishing others’ sense of sin and/or encouraging others to commit sin) that is given when, not simply Catholics, but Catholic bishops approve the public distribution, under Catholic auspices, of injection devices to users of illegal drugs.

Indeed, if a bishop, who is to be “an example in holiness and charity” (1983 CIC 387; CCC 893), uses his offices to achieve the distribution of needles to illegal drug users, is he not abusing ecclesiastical power or function and/or placing acts of ecclesiastical power, ministry or functions with harm to others, contrary to Canon 1389? If such actions are undertaken by one who “has been established in some dignity or . . . position of authority or office” (1983 CIC 1326.1.2), does that not make the immediate reversal, or at least suspension and reconsideration, of such a decision all the more urgent? + + +


* To be clear, under Catholic moral analysis, there are no justifications for formal cooperation in evil, so if needle programs are formal cooperations in evil, we need not comment on the various justifications alleged by proponents of needles-for-illegal-drug-users programs. We simply cannot do evil to achieve good. One could, however, if one wishes, see some brief comments by Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., on “safe injection sites”.

** In 1999, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith directed an Australian religious hospital to cease providing an injection room for heroin addicts on the grounds that such assistance was “an extremely proximate material cooperation in the grave evil of drug abuse.” I don’t have all the facts of that case or the entire CDF letter, but it is interesting to note that CDF reproved what it considered to be “only” direct material cooperation in drug-abuse. While I argue that Bp. Hubbard’s action here seems to constitute formal cooperation in drug abuse, even if his actions were deemed to be “only” material cooperation in illicit drug use, they would still labor under weighty moral objections.

More from Religion News Service; A brief discussion over at Catholic Answers on-line forum.

See also NCCB/USCC, “A Response to the HIV/AIDS Crisis” (1990), wherein: “Education and treatment aimed at changing behavior are the best way to control the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users and to prevent passage of the virus to their sexual partners and to children in the womb. Although some argue that distribution of sterile needles should be promoted, we question this approach for both moral and practical reasons: More drug use might result while fewer intravenous drug users might seek treatment; Poor monitoring could lead to the increased spread of HIV infection through the use of contaminated needles; Distribution of sterile needles and syringes would send message that intravenous drug use can be made safe. But IV drug users mutilate and destroy their veins, introduce infection through contaminated skin, inject substances that often contain lethal impurities, and risk death from overdoses.” My emphasis.

By Doctor Edward PetersThis article originally appeared in the blog, In the Light of the Law, on February 2, 2010 A.D.  Reproduced with permission.

21 Responses to Is Bishop Howard Hubbard Cooperating In Evil

  1. Paul says:

    I really don’t think Peters’ argument is sufficient to conclude that there has been formal cooperation. I’ve addressed this further on my blog.

  2. Al says:

    On the other hand, I agree with Dr. peters ananlysis.

  3. Here I think you’re correct — this is a foolish and disgraceful thing for a diocese to get itself involved in.

  4. Jerry Rivers says:

    Hubbard is big with the homosexual agenda and with recruiting homosexuals for the priesthood.

  5. kathleen M. fiffe says:

    The secular church has been enjoying political power and we should be very wary of the social programs that have been initiated by this bishop. Many of our local politicians got their political careers launched through Catholic charities and some of them with openly homosexual agendas. Remember the Henchmen that were sent out to the critics of howard hubbard, Jessie Jackson, and Al Sharpton all in the name of the Lord. I remember how Catholic charities paid Mary Jo White millions to defend Howard Hubbard. She was in charge of overseeing over 800 N.Y.S. lawyers. These social programs were placed here by Catholic Charities. All on taxpayers money. Oh and by the way, when the government gives up money, any talk of religion is forbidden. Shame on Catholic Charities and the government that supports it.

  6. kathleen M. fiffe says:

    I can take any implied threat as what is to come and you know how easy it is to turn perfectly normal children into drug addicts. All I am saying is that there are ways to get children on drugs and howard knows this. He also knows that without God we are helpless. I take the distribution of needles as an implied threat that will be carried out. prepare for a generation of children on hard drugs. anything for his agenda. Hey Howard why be a coward show us the nightmare you have already imposed on your critics and drop the phoney show. You aint no govenor and you aint no rock star but I know how jealous you are of your betters. Wanna have a public talk with me? Ill make the people hear by the power of God. signed rose above the agony in albany.

  7. kathleen M. fiffe says:

    For all you critics opposed to needle exchange, how do you expect heretics to support themselves if they close his beloved hope house and all the stupid programs he started by stealing money from the true church? How can he continue when he depends on mental health and other government funds because he has sifted all the good will he can out of all of your communities. He works for the government now. No need for any true faith. He can not allow your children to know the truth and the only flock he has consist of homosexual drug users and he wants to allow this for your chidren. Separation of church and state is his biggest fear. He is not interested in the advancement of normal children. The Pope should be arrested for not defrocking Howard J. Hubbard. Respond!!!!! I should sue this man and many catholic families should do the same. he is a shepard but not a good one but he has placed many in positions of political power and I want to be there for his meeting with the Lord.

  8. Mike Petrik says:

    I read Paul’s argument. The gist of it seems to be that material cooperation is avoided by the acceptance of an old needle in exchange for the new one, the theory being that one could prudentially conclude that such an exchange reduces a health risk while otherwise not increasing the risk that the evil of drug abuse would occur. Next he will tell us that it is morally acceptable to pay for a hospital abortion as long as one can prudentially conclude that the mother would otherwise have a more dangerous so-called back alley abortion, since a health risk is averted presumably without increasing the risk of the evil of abortion.

  9. Paul says:

    Mike Petrik: “I read Paul’s argument. The gist of it seems to be that material cooperation is avoided by the acceptance of an old needle in exchange for the new one, the theory being that one could prudentially conclude that such an exchange reduces a health risk while otherwise not increasing the risk that the evil of drug abuse would occur.

    Right. The prudential discernment lies in deciding whether or not the drug-taker is encouraged in drug-taking by the exchange of needles. It might be so, but not necessarily so (and Edward Peters’ argument relied on the flawed assumption that it necessarily furthered drug-taking.)

    Mike Petrik: “Next he will tell us that it is morally acceptable to pay for a hospital abortion as long as one can prudentially conclude that the mother would otherwise have a more dangerous so-called back alley abortion, since a health risk is averted presumably without increasing the risk of the evil of abortion.

    I won’t tell you that, because it’s plainly wrong. One cannot directly participate in an abortion (which is what choosing to pay for it is) for any reason whatsoever. Abortion is an intrinsic evil (something known with certainty to be evil), whereas the physical exchange of needles isn’t.

  10. Mike Petrik says:

    Paul, I’m afraid I disagree with your application of the analogy. The abortion is the analog to the drug abuse. The provision of the needle is the analog to the provision of money, neither one of which is an intrinsic evil. In each case the provider must reasonably assume that the recipient will use what he has been given to commit an evil act. Also in each case one can assume that the evil act would be committed anyway, which is what invites the donor’s rationalization that he causes no harm. In neither case does that last assumption and its attendant rationalization rescue the provider from his material cooperation problem.

  11. Paul says:

    Mike Petrik: “The provision of the needle…

    No. In a needle exchange there is no provision of a needle (in the usual sense of the word “provision”). The drug addict already has a needle, ready to be used. What’s being provided is a removal of dirt and potential infection. (The moral situation would be equivalent if what was provided was a service to clean the addicts’ own needles.)

    Mike Petrik: “The provision of the needle is the analog to the provision of money, neither one of which is an intrinsic evil.

    If the money is intended to enable the abortion to take place, then that means there is a direct share in the evil of the abortion — so it’s something known to be wrong, regardless of any reasons for the abortion.

    The same is not true for the cleaning of a needle.

    In one case:
    – someone is paying for an abortion, SO THAT the abortion can take place.

    In the other case:
    – someone is cleaning a needle, SO THAT the addict won’t become ill from it.

    The intentions are dramatically different. In the first case, there is a direct share in an intrinsic evil. In the second, there is the intention to help the addict.

    (The prudential decision is then whether providing the needle encourages the addict to keep taking drugs. It might be so, but not necessarily so.)

  12. Mike Petrik says:

    Paul, volunteering to clean the needle of a drug abuser so that it may be used to abuse drugs more safely is no different than volunteering to clean the surgical instruments of an abortion provider so that they may be used to perform an abortion more safely. Either way, a cooperation with evil problem is present.
    This problem may or may not be formal cooperation depending on the intention of the cooperator, but it certainly is material cooperation. Your better argument is that while it is material cooperation, it is mediate rather than immediate and is furthermore contingent, in which case it can be morally justified with sufficient reason. I encourage you to explore that because the reasoning in your blog is deficient.

  13. Mike Petrik says:

    Furthermore, I do not think Catholic moral teaching reduces “sufficient reason” to an ordinary prudential calculus.

  14. Paul says:

    In the case of needle exchange there are three distinct ways in which material cooperation with evil might take be taking place:

    (1) In the exchange of the physical needle itself.
    (2) In the absence of dirt and infection in the exchanged needle.
    (3) In increasing the likelihood that the drug addict uses the clean needle, rather than his own.

    I reject (1) as a material cooperation because — provided the exchanged needle is equivalent — there is not the slightest change in the physical properties of the needle itself.

    I reject (2) because the absence of dirt and infection — in itself — does nothing to accomplish the act of drug-taking, which can take place entirely independently of the cleanliness or otherwise. The cleanliness of the needle is, in itself, irrelevant to the accomplishment of drug-taking. (And thus, because it is irrelevant, it cannot comprise a material cooperation).

    In relation to (3), there are three ways in which the likelihood of drug-taking is changed. Either (a) it makes no difference at all (e.g. because the addict is hopelessly addicted). Or (b) it makes the drug-taking less likely to occur (e.g. because the drug-addict is so impressed with the care taken over him that he reevaluates his life). Or (c) the drug addict becomes more likely to take the drug (e.g. because there is one less dangerous obstacle in the way).

    Distinguishing between (a), (b), and (c) is necessarily a matter of prudence, and opinions might differ.

    So, I see no material cooperation in (1) or (2), and no necessary material cooperation in (3).

  15. Mike Petrik says:

    Paul, the cooperation need not increase the likelyhood of the evil act to still be cooperation, just as in my abortion example which you ignore and which your reasoning would permit. The cooperation is the provision of the needle, and that is true even if one recasts the provision as simply the cleaning of the needle. The fact that properties don’t change is not relevant to material cooperation just as is the fact that the abortionist’s instruments properties don’t change. As I said, your better argument is that the material cooperation is mediate and contingent and therefore can be morally justified, but to say that there is no material cooperation simply misunderstands the concept. The following is from Fr. Hardon, but there are many more meaty explanations available.

  16. Paul says:

    Mike Petrik: “The cooperation is the provision of the needle, and that is true even if one recasts the provision as simply the cleaning of the needle. The fact that properties don’t change is not relevant to material cooperation…

    You assert this, but with insufficient argument for me to understand why you say that. For material cooperation to occur, the cooperation has to be actually specified.

    If I have a dollar bill, and you have a dollar bill, and we exchange these dollar bills, what will you be able to buy after the exchange that you could not buy before? Nothing whatsoever. The exchange does nothing to help you accomplish any act, and so (by itself) it cannot possibly be an act of cooperation. Now it might be that the exchange somehow alters your thinking — and if I can anticipate that, then on that basis there might well be some kind of cooperation.

    As far as I can tell, you disagree with something about the argument in the preceding paragraph. But I don’t know what.

  17. kathy says:

    Will you please explain to me what any of this has to do with church business or don’t any of you know?

  18. Tito Edwards says:

    This is inside Church politics so to speak.

    Are you familiar with Canon Law?

  19. kathy says:

    I am aware of theology and I woulld like to know why you think you can ignor it. Jesus instructed us completely on these matters. he said a thing or two about luring little ones into sinful behavior and giving out condoms to unmarried children and needles to drug adicts could well lure them into sinful lifesyles that could cause them to live horrilble lives. But they should not despair because Jesus will come after the ones that are teaching them that its O.K. today. Hey when do you think the church will be able to openly disuss race in this country? I seem to remember lots of children sent out by drug dealing nasty pimps. Could this have been a form of racism or do ya think those nasty drug dealing pimps were loving those children? Again what is your argument? Should we just go along with this abuse of power and let these agendas continue to slaughter the spirits and bodies of children? Save lives without honor? The church is supposed to be a sanctuary and we will get that back for the the sake of all Gods children. I think this Bishop needs to get out of the political business and get back to the job he was suppose to do, such as the true teaching of the one true faith. Its ok for children to hold these nasty homos and drug dealers accoutable for the crimes. And its ok for parents to say homosexuals have no business near children. Do you know that children have a right not to agree with the homosexual agenda? Why should it be force upon them in schools.

  20. Lisa Cuddy says:

    Hey guys, long time lurker here so thought I would finally post. I’m a little shy because I’m a girl and it seems there are mostly guys here but I wanted to know why it seems you guys don’t have lives. Are the guys with very high post counts really better posters than the ones with less?

  21. kathy says:

    hey Lisa, some people are seeking everlasting life. I children are expected to keep up the perverted lifestyles of the people making obsene moral judgments then the children are going to need to be self medicating and hubbard is right. Need to get a decent life for the sake of the children.

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