In 1998, the Bishops of Alberta issued a statement entitled The False Eden of Gambling. The document addressed the growing phenomenon of legalized gambling in this province, and signaled the concern of the bishops regarding the seriously adverse effects of this practice on individuals and families, especially the poor.
In it the bishops called upon Christians to examine their consciences with respect to gambling practices and the harm being caused to our fellow citizens and our society.
The bishops of St. Paul and Calgary have offered teaching to assist in this examination of conscience. Bishop Bouchard has demonstrated statistically how we can now legitimately speak of a "gambling culture" in Alberta that brings disproportionate harm to the poor, and has clarified the principal elements of our Catholic social doctrine that must guide our response (cf. Pastoral Letter to the Faithful of the Diocese of St. Paul on Gambling, Feb. 21, 2007).
He has also offered a catechesis in response to frequently asked questions (cf. A Little Catechism on Gambling, June 27, 2008).
Bishop Henry has recalled the principle that a Catholic institution must never cooperate formally in an industry that exploits the weak and vulnerable, as well as the tenet that we must not do what is wrong in order that good may come of it (the ends do not justify the means) (cf. Decision Time, June 20, 2006).
He has also recently drawn attention to the growing and alarming effect of gambling, particularly through its presence in the Internet, upon our youth (cf. Entertainment, Needing Money, Wanting to Win, May 4, 2007).
The Archdiocese of Edmonton is now establishing its own policy pertaining to gambling and the reception of revenues derived from this activity. This will help our parishes, schools and other institutions respond to this phenomenon in accord with Catholic moral principles.
In Alberta, Catholic public and separate schools have been part of the fabric of publicly funded education since before the entry of Alberta into Confederation. As a result, Catholic school jurisdictions receive funding from the provincial Government on an equitable basis with public school jurisdictions.
Over the last number of years such funding has increasingly come from monies raised through harmful gambling activities, particularly casinos. Casino dollars were once used to fund what at one time were considered "extras."
Now, however, we increasingly realize that what were once thought of as extras are presently in fact considered necessities in communities. These include breakfast and/or lunch programs, safety and security systems, and technology requirements to name but three. They should be funded through the funding framework directly and not through having to petition government for supplemental revenues derived from gambling.
From the Catholic perspective, the current funding situation has placed schools in a position of benefiting from a morally problematic activity in order to maintain the standards of programming that parents, students and even the government expect.
To what degree can this be justified? Where does our Catholic moral teaching require us to draw the line and refuse funding from some sources? The following considerations form the basis of our response to these questions.
When a school is recognized and designated as Catholic, its essential mission is immediately brought into focus. That mission is to form students to become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ.
Naturally we strive to give them an education which is both comprehensive and excellent, in order to form them as individuals and prepare them to be engaged and active citizens.
Woven through all that we do is the goal that unites our efforts and gives them their ultimate meaning: helping our students to know, love and follow the Lord, as members of his Body, the Church.
For the purposes of this catechesis this means two things. First, both the activities and the environment of the school must be clearly centred upon the person of Christ. Jesus must be the centre and foundation of all that we do; there must be frequent references to his teachings as recorded in the Gospels and as developed and handed on in the Tradition of the Church.
Second, to designate a school as Catholic is to recognize that it participates in the life and mission of the Church. As such, it is subject to the authority of the local bishop as regards its fidelity to the Church's doctrine on faith and morals.
This means that, in Alberta, our Catholic schools have a dual accountability. On the one hand, they have a responsibility to follow the civil law of the province and the policies of the Ministry of Education.
On the other, they are also accountable to the Church, represented in the person of the bishop, and are therefore expected to follow canon law and to hand on the faith in both its entirety and integrity to our students.
Indeed, a school can only be designated Catholic with the approval of the local bishop. This latter accountability explains why the Bishops of Alberta have spoken a number of times with respect to the use of gambling revenues in our schools.
Gambling and its effects upon people's lives, especially on the poor and vulnerable, is an important moral issue. Schools must take care, then, to ensure that their practices pertaining to this issue are in keeping with the moral teaching of the Church.
The Catechism addresses the morality of personal involvement in gambling (cf. CCC 2413). Personal participation in a game of chance is per se morally neutral, but becomes unacceptable if it leads to addiction, deprives others of what is their due, or involves cheating and lack of fairness.
The Catechism does not, however, address the question that faces the Church in Alberta, namely, what is the appropriate Catholic response to gambling when it has become such an integral part of our culture that one cannot help but be touched by it?
For guidance we turn to the social doctrine of the Church as well as to the distinction in our moral tradition between formal and material cooperation.
This document summarizes the great treasury of the Church's social teaching. From it Bishop Bouchard highlights four principles that are relevant for guiding our response to the gambling culture:
This principle of our moral tradition acknowledges that circumstances may at times compel or justify some level of cooperation in an activity that is deemed morally unacceptable.
In Alberta, the gambling culture is so pervasive, and is used so extensively by the provincial government for the funding of services, that its residents are often in a situation of seemingly cooperating with what is a morally unacceptable action.
Citizens who do not agree with the gambling industry nevertheless have no choice but to use the roads, hospitals, and schools financed with gambling revenues that have been combined with other sources of funds. In fact, this is not cooperation per se in an unacceptable activity and given the absolute lack of choice, there is no culpability on the part of citizens.
Formal cooperation describes the situation in which one freely and with full agreement cooperates in a morally unacceptable action. This is never permissible. When one cooperates in a morally unacceptable action, but without agreement and for some justifiable motive, the cooperation is material.
Our moral tradition makes distinctions among different levels of material cooperation, but for our catechesis it suffices to say that material cooperation can be considered legitimate in some situations where one's moral choices are seriously compromised.
An example often used to illustrate the distinction between formal and material cooperation is the case of a car driver who helps a bank robber escape from the scene of a robbery. If the driver is an accomplice who agrees with the robbery and who freely chooses to drive the robber away in his car, then his cooperation with the evil action is formal.
If, however, he is an innocent bystander who happens to be parked outside the bank at the time of the robbery, and who is forced by the robber at gunpoint to help him escape by driving him away, the cooperation of the driver is material, and he is not culpable.
How does the principle of cooperation apply to our schools?
In the province of Alberta, government revenues derived from gambling are distributed in two ways. The first manner is to channel gambling revenues to the various government ministries, which combine these dollars with those received from general taxation.
This pooled revenue is used to finance such provincial services as highways, education and health care. Our schools may legitimately receive this funding because they cannot exercise control over the manner in which the government provides it. As mentioned above, it is impossible, practically speaking, for them to differentiate between gambling receipts and other revenues.
The second way of distributing funds derived from gambling is to allow groups a direct sharing in the proceeds of gambling activity, such as a casino. Groups may (a) choose to apply directly for a grant from a fund that has been sourced solely from gambling revenues, or they may (b) choose to volunteer as workers in casinos and earn a portion of the profits. Both scenarios are morally problematic; groups (a) would be complicit in an immoral activity by applying directly to a fund sourced only from harmful gambling activities, while groups (b) would be formally cooperating by direct participation in those activities.
It is not likely that the prevalence of gambling will diminish in this province anytime soon. Our province has itself become dependent upon it. As long as this situation remains, a way forward must be found that can address not only the deep concerns of those who oppose participation in gambling-based fundraising on either religious or non-religious grounds, but also the real inequity created among schools by this particular funding framework.
What is needed is a sustainable funding source that does not lead schools to have to accept funding from morally objectionable activities such as harmful gambling, and which is available and distributed to all schools with equity. All schools in Alberta should benefit equally from accessing funds for the purposes that are most critical to their individual programming needs, without having to compromise their principles or identity.