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“Ask a Priest: How Can I Be a Conscientious Consumer?”
Q: I have been wondering and trying to research about the role that Catholics play in consumerism. Is it wrong to purchase morally good or neutral items from companies and stores that sell morally egregious items? Is it OK to buy morally good or neutral items from companies like the following examples: Amazon, which sells books that support pedophilia; Target and Walmart, which sell the morning-after pill; or major chocolate companies whose resources for cocoa beans might sometimes come from forced child labor? It seems that every company has something wrong with it, and for me, it gets overwhelming sometimes (especially because I can be a tad scrupulous). It would be a great help to have your input. -C.U.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Thanks for your note and for your desire to make decisions in accord with moral principles.
A quick clarification if I may: You mention consumerism, which can be problematic in itself. Strictly speaking, no one should give in to consumerism, understood as an exaggerated desire for material goods, especially unnecessary goods.
The rest of your question touches on the notion of material cooperation with evil. It is virtually impossible to avoid such cooperation in our day. Somewhere, somehow, our money goes to governments or companies that directly or indirectly support something objectionable. For the sake of public order, Jesus didn’t outright forbid rendering unto Caesar what was Caesar’s (see Mark 12:17), though presumably some of the money Caesar collected was used to keep subject peoples in line.
Remote material cooperation with evil wouldn’t be sinful so long as there are no practical alternatives and your intention is not to support the evil.
So the ideal is that we try to distance ourselves as much as possible from evil. If we can find alternative and ethically good ways to procure goods, we should pursue those options. If, for instance, you can buy a book from a good Catholic publisher instead of from a source that seems dicey, then try to go to with the alternative.
You can also write to companies and let them know that you disagree with some of their policies. This gives companies something to think about and keeps the issue alive.
In the meantime you might want to delve deeper into Church social teaching. A good place to start is with the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. I hope this helps. God bless.
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