An Ambiguous Instance of Theft

Take this as a theoretical case that involves only the circumstances and people mentioned: Bob is poor and he has very little to live on. Margo, who is very well off, takes away all of Bob’s money and possessions and hides them. Jane, Bob’s best friend who is also poor but braver than Bob, finds out what happened and is outraged. Jane then offers to help Bob and he accepts. Later that day Jane gets Bob’s money and things from where Margo hid them and returns them to Bob. Is Jane wrong for doing that? Is the retrieval of goods or money from a thief for the purpose of giving them back to their rightful owner considered stealing?

I figured that the thief didn’t have any legitimate claim on the objects she stole and so they did not belong to her. If something dose not belong to someone how can you steal it from them? Maybe if Jane kept the objects for herself or sold them it would be considered stealing but it would be stealing from Bob since it’s his possessions which are being withheld from him. So, since I don’t consider her to be stealing from Margo and she clearly retrieved the possesions so that she could return them to Bob it is not stealing and therefore not a sin.

[font=Arial]That is just my rationalization but I don’t know what the Church’s position would be in such a case. I can’t seem to find anything in the Catechism about it so if anyone knows what the official teaching is could they please tell me and possibly provide their source? :ehh: [/font]

About the closest I have found so far is CCC 2408:

In your scenario it was not clear whether restoration met Bob’s “immediate, essential” needs.

There are several references to the responsibility to return the stolen goods, such as CCC 2412, but it doesn’t speak of a third party taking upon himself to do the reparations.

I have not found an “official” answer to your question, but given the nature of your scenario as I see it, and I had the chance to return to a poor person goods stolen by a rich person, and didn’t feel that calling the police would get the same job done, without knowing the “true” answer I would strongly consider doing it and taking my chances before Jesus on judgment day. I’m sure there are a number of sins I could commit while doing it that are to be avoided, such as a sense of satisfaction at revenge against the rich person, or an attitude of self-righteousness as opposed to one of serving the Lord. Jesus might be much more concerned about those than with whether I did or didn’t “facilitate” restitution.


Sounds like a question on a law school exam. The quick answer would be to look at the commonly understood definition of theft:

Theft is the willful taking of an object from its rightful owner, with the intent to permanently deprive her of that object.

To recover a stolen object and return it to the rightful owner is not a theft. It would neither be a crime nor a sin. In fact, it may be an act of heroic virtue, especially in your scenario where the victim is poor.

However, a person without authority entering the home of the thief to recover the object would be breaking & entering. That is a crime, and probably a sin even in this scenario. The Church would say that the proper course of action, once you have located the stolen object, is to inform the police and let them recover it. After all, governments are instituted by God for precisely this kind of thing. (Rom 13:1 and CCC 2498)

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