Questions Answered


On the question of state required immunizations at a Catholic School

Question: The Catechism says: “Each and every sexual act in a marriage needs to be open to the possibility of conceiving a child.” Many elderly couples, as well as couples in which the man suffers from ED, believe that this teaching prohibits them from any sexual expression of love for each other. Since arousal can never result in the completion of the act due to age or illness, they must discipline themselves to basically live as celibates. As one person said, “Since I cannot penetrate my wife, our days of marital love are over.” How does one address this?

Answer: The actions and pleasures which accompany the sexual act are natural and normal. There are a great variety of them. Things like kisses and caresses and their accompanying pleasures are part and parcel of the action. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (2362) that:

The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude. (Gaudium et Spes, 49,2)

Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:

The Creator himself… established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation. (Pius XII, Discourse, October 12, 1951)

As Pope Pius clarified, there are many acts and passions which accompany marriage which are good and legitimate. The requirement that one keep oneself within the limits of just moderation does not mean that pleasure experienced should be small. It means that in seeking this pleasure, the goods of marriage, of fidelity, fecundity, and friendship must be respected. In couples beyond the age of childbearing, there is no easy answer as to where to draw the line. If the man cannot experience an emission of seed, it would seem that mutual stimulation could go as far as touching. Should the man stimulate the woman after such an action, this would seem moral because it is a part of an accomplished action. However, this must be done in a human way, which means that oral and anal stimulation would not be moral. The former seems too bestial, and the latter is not only bestial, but also hygienically dangerous.

If the male can experience the emission of semen during the act, and does not have ED, then such stimulation by touching would not be moral, as it would be an action of masturbation which could be experienced apart from the action by which childbearing takes place.

The central issue here would be the actual action by which childbearing takes place. So it would be too rigorous to require all elderly couples to abstain altogether from those acts which cause pleasure provided that there can be no emission. On the other hand, mutual masturbation would be too laxist.


Question: I am a Religious Sister who is the principal of a Catholic school in California. By state law we are forced to give immunization to our students. Two of the immunizations are produced using fetal tissue from aborted babies. Can we morally require our students to take these immunizations?

Answer: The answer to your question requires reviewing the criteria for cooperation in evil. The moral universe in which people are plunged today can be very complicated. Though most Catholics know that they cannot do evil, one of the real problems in social life arises as to how much one may cooperate in the evil which others do. Your dilemma is a perfect example. To run a school, one must obey the civil law which requires using vaccinations, some of which could be produced with aborted fetal tissue.

The Church has traditionally made a number of distinctions regarding cooperation in the evil of another. First, the Church distinguishes between formal and material cooperation. Formal cooperation consists in consent to the evil of a deed performed. This consent may or may not involve actually participating in the material action of the evil. For example, were one to require these vaccinations wholly consenting to the abortions by which the tissue was obtained, though this action is very removed from the operation, it is still connected in some way to the abortion culture. In this case, agreeing with an evil procedure, the person who requires the vaccine would be guilty of abortion by intention. This agreement may be implicit or explicit. The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services [1994] appendix of the USCCB clarifies: “When, even though the cooperator denies intending the wrongdoer’s object, no other explanation can distinguish the cooperator’s object from the wrongdoer’s object.” This would be the case when someone requires such a vaccine knowing its origins.

Material cooperation can be either immediate or mediate. What makes this cooperation material is the fact that one is actively participating in the deed by which the evil is performed. What makes it immediate is that one actually performs the action with another. In the case of abortion, this would be a nurse who hands the doctor the implements by which the baby is killed. Immediate material cooperation is more or less the same as implicit formal cooperation. It would entail someone saying: “I am personally opposed to this action, but I supply the means.” A Catholic hospital supplying a room and staff for abortions or contraception would be an example. The “Reply of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Sterilization in Catholic Hospitals” (Quaecumque Sterilizatio), March 13, 1975, Origins 6 (1976): 33-35: “Any cooperation institutionally approved or tolerated in actions which are in themselves, that is, by their nature and condition, directed to a contraceptive end . . . is absolutely forbidden. For the official approbation of direct sterilization and, a fortiori, its management and execution in accord with hospital regulations, is a matter which, in the objective order, is by its very nature (or intrinsically) evil.” This is never permitted for any reason.

Mediate material cooperation consists in a concurrence in a sinful action of another when one’s actions are not central to the deed, or one does not agree with the evil intention of the evildoer. The action which one does must be good, or at least indifferent in object. Such would be the case again with regard to the proposed vaccinations in question when one does not agree with the procedure by which the materials to make the vaccination were obtained. As to this cooperation, the possibility of doing this deed must be judged by how necessary, or unnecessary it is, and how proximate, or remote it is.

For example, a necessary case of mediate cooperation would be the case mentioned. The pros of obeying the civil law to carry out Catholic education outweigh the cons of closing the school. This is justifiable at times because the act is good, it is not the means for the performance of the evil act, there is proportionate reason, and one does not intend it. An unnecessary example of mediate cooperation would be when one there is no civil law requiring this vaccination, and one chooses to use a company which manufactures their vaccination using aborted fetal tissue. Both of these cooperations would be proximate.

Remote cooperation refers to a deed which someone does very far removed from an evil which is done or tolerated. The example used would also be remote cooperation because the school giving the vaccination did not manufacture it, nor does the administration concur in the manner by which it was obtained. One would be justified in doing this in order to continue offering Catholic education because the deed is so remote to the actual action that it is hard to see how this directly relates to the deed. Of course, a Catholic could still refuse to make use of such a vaccination in such a situation but they are not morally obliged to do so.

Though a boycott would not be morally obligatory, the refusal to participate by someone not obliged by the civil law would be a laudable thing for a Catholic to do. One could also campaign to have the civil government change the law to protect those whose conscience compromises their participation. It would be an excellent example of Catholic action.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
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  1. So the farther the distance from the immoral act the greater the innocence; regardless of knowledge?
    I respectfully disagree. If you “know” your are required to act in the moral way. Otherwise we descend into the weeds of just how far removed is far removed.