Priest in Britain Advises Congregation to Shoplift
A priest in Britain is under fire Monday for advising his congregation to shoplift in tough economic times, the Daily Mail reports.
Father Tim Jones, a 41-year-old clergyman at St. Lawrence Church in York, England, said that shoplifting — rather than prostitution or burglary — is sometimes the best option for poor people struggling to make ends meet, according to the Web site.
“My advice as a Christian priest is to shoplift,” Jones reportedly told churchgoers during his Sunday sermon. “I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither.”
Interesting point he’s making actually–in line with Catholic moral theology if I’m not mistaken! Stealing is always wrong, but in the instance where you were starving to death, you are acting to the good where those withholding your rightful basic need are the actually in sin (I think this is right).
The Catholic Church has never encouraged anyone to steal. However, there is a principal in moral theology that stealing food because one is hungry and has no way of getting food does not carry subjective culpability.
Objectively, the act is still stealing and is morally wrong. But subjectively that individual’s freedom to choose the higher good is impaired, if no one gives him food. To be morally culpable, you must be free to choose the higher good.
This is not the same as encouraging people to steal.
[quote=Catechism of the Catholic Church]2408 The seventh commandment forbids theft, that is, usurping another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner. There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. This is the case in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing . . .) is to put at one’s disposal and use the property of others.
If you are starving, or freezing, to death and there are no other legal means to fulfill your needs (i.e. homeless shelter, church, etc.), then you may break into a building for shelter and/or steal food.
A good example of this is the story a friend told me of his time living in Alaska. His vehicle broke down on a road out in the boonies and it was sub-freezing weather (as is apt to happen in Alaska). He found a home nearby and knocked, but no one was there. He broke in, warmed up and ate food available. In this case, “consent was presumed.” When the homeowners came home, they further assisted him.
I think we have to be careful not to give the impression that you are justified to steal or break/enter, when other options are available. There are those who are poor that “don’t like” shelters or the shelter food. Too bad! If you are destitute, that is what you need to make use of. Crime is not an answer.
As far as the sinfulness of not providing food to a starving man, this is absolutely true. However, this gets complicated in the world of professional panhandlers. Not all are starving. In our area, people try to get homeless into shelters, but they refuse and prefer to stay in a tent at a park. Apparently, they don’t care for the no drinking and no shooting-up restrictions.
I think the traditional analysis turns on what constitutes stealing or theft, rather than on culpability. In other words, theft takes it moral wrongness from the act of taking that which belongs to another against his reasonable will. If the owner is unreasonable in his possession then the act of taking is not theft (objectively).
The problem with objective moral laws is that they tend to be very black and white. What I mean by problem is that they are ment to define something at a level that is universal. They were never written to measure the individual culpability, only to describe what is morally right or wrong, usually wrong. What the CCC is doing is what we in thelogy call “nuancing”. Nuance is very important and it is not the same as relativism. Thou shall not steal remains the law. But then you get into the different settings as you well describe above. When you look at the action of taking someone’s property against their well, objectively it looks like stealing. When you nuance it or get the details, then you have a different picture. That’s the subjective culpability, in which case there may be none or very mild.
I hope I explained this clearly and not made a bigger mess of it. LOL
I understand what you are trying to say, but I’m afraid I disagree a bit with the approach. What I am referring to is the moral object of the act of theft – the traditional formulation contains the element of “against the reasonable will of the owner”. This distinguishes theft from other forms of taking (“eminent domain”, taking a possible weapon from a possible attacker, punishment). When the element of “reasonable will” is absent it isn’t a theft.
It’s an important distinction I think because in the above scenarios we don’t characterize it as an “objective theft” but subjectively excused, rather we characterize it as an entirely different moral act in the first instance – i.e. a reasonable taking consistent with natural law.
I think the Catechism bears this approach out when it says “There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason”. In other words, to take against the unreasonable will of the owner doesn’t violate the Divine Command “Thou shalt not steal” in the first place, objectively.
It is surprising how many homeless and destitute people, including those under 16 years of age, there are, not just in the UK, but also in other wealthy countries. Sometimes this is through choice, sometimes it is through genuine fear of approaching agencies who could help.
It is difficult to obtain accurate figures because of the transient nature of this population, and, currently living in temporary accomodation is also classifed as homelessness.
The estimates of rough sleepers (those actually on the streets) are between 500 and 2000 every night in London alone, but it may be higher. Apparently in New York the figure is 30,000 every night!
Crisis, a UK charity, has more details on homelessness and destitution.
Maybe. I am not sure what point you are making though.
It is a news story. People are making the philosophical point that if the choice is starvation and grabbing a loaf, then it is not theft. Since this is not a philsophy thread but a current events place, the question of whether or not there is a famine in Britain today becomes relevant.
Britain like Spain and other european countries and western countries give a lot of money to africans and other poors in the world, but they would have to worry about their poors, I am not supporting the shoplift, but capitalism and all other libertarian diseases are destroying the welfare state since the Wall of Berlin was fallen.
And only Caritas and some organisations are making something but it isn´t enough.
For many people, even in the USA, the situation is desperate. I know for a fact that in the State of Florida, any person who loses their job can only receive $275.00 per week in unemployment. That’s the max. Unemployment compensation is a percentage of your salary or the $275, whichever is less, not more. If families with one income, this is not enough to pay the bills. When these families go to the Florida Dept of Children and Families, they are denied Medicaid unless they have minor children. That is the adults are not supposed to get sick or they have to pay COBRA out of what they get from unemployment. COBRA is not always cheap. The same families are denied food stamps, because they have income. To get rent assistance you must wait to have an eviction notice.
I recently tried to place a young woman who is pregnant and has a one-year old baby in a shelter for pregnant women. It’s a county run facility. They told me that I had to sign her up on their waiting list. The Office for Respect Life and the brothers had to do some fancy maneuvering to find someone to take her and her child into their home.
With all the lay-offs, the system is becoming over loaded and the states are not always using the funds that they get from the Federal Government prudently. In one poor neighborhood where we serve the county used the incentive money to plant royal palm trees along the main road instead of putting it into the system to help the poor. I don’t know what they’re doing in other states, but we have a real crisis in Florida. Our unemployment rate is in the double digits now and rising.
Many of our parishes have began to move funds into outreach budgets, have opened food pantries and are paying bills for some families. Resepct Life, which is where I am assigned is now covering not only the unborn, but also families with infants and toddlers. We’re providing food, clothing and other baby items. We’re trying to train people to do other jobs. The problem is that the jobs are not available.
I imagine that if this is the situation in a state such as Florida, which is by no means one of the poorest in our nation, it must be worse in other states such as Mississippi and Alabama, which are very poor.