The 2013 World Series is currently underway with the Boston Red Sox leading the St Louis Cardinals 3-2. You might have seen in the news last week that Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston is involved in a wager with Archbishop Robert Carlson of St Louis. Is this wager morally licit?
From the Press Release:
In recognition of the teams again competing for the championship, the Most Rev. Robert J. Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis, has proposed a friendly wager with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, that the archbishop whose team loses the series personally make a $100 donation to the Catholic Charities of the winning team’s archdiocese.
To get an answer to this question we should turn to the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which covers the Seventh Commandment: “You shall not steal.” The Seventh Commandment, in an extended sense, governs the morality of every exchange of goods. So, Cardinal Sean’s wager is a question of justice. The Catechism defines justice thus:
Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. (1807)
The umbrella of justice includes much, but with regards to wagers we need to understand commutative justice. Commutative justice, the Catechism tells us:
regulates exchanges between persons and between institutions in accordance with a strict respect for their rights. Commutative justice obliges strictly; it requires safeguarding property rights, paying debts, and fulfilling obligations freely contracted. (2411)
Interestingly, the Catechism deals with the specific issue of wagers, like the one into which the two archbishops entered:
Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant. (2413)
In the final analysis we need to ask three questions:
Will the wager deprive someone from providing for his needs or those of others?
On the contrary, the hundred bucks will actually go the providing for the needs of others (the beneficiary is, in either Boston or St Louis, Catholic Charities). No.
Does the passion for gambling risk becoming an enslavement?
While Cardinal Sean has entered into wagers of this sort in the past, they have been limited to significant events: Boston sports teams competing for championships. No.
Is the wager fair?
Assuming that the MLB umpires maintain a fair playing field and consistent strike zones, yes.
Having answered these questions we can say that Cardinal Sean’s World Series wager is morally licit.
Remember: it is important to always consider the morality of our actions so that we can know how best please God and avoid offending him. Making an examination of conscious is an indispensable tool to keeping oneself on the road to Heaven.