Does Penance Require Restitution?

Simple question.

I have always thought that if I stole X part of my penance, whether the priest told me to or not, was that I return X to its rightful owner.

Is restitution not an implied prerequisite for penance?

I think you need to ask a priest or a spiritual director when and if you are ever obliged to make restitution.

If you have something unjustly that belongs to someone else, I’d return it ASAP.

In the meantime if you’ve stolen something that cannot be returned, I’d pray for those you’ve harmed.

That’s a matter to take up w/the priest you are making your confession to–he can tell you whether or not restitution needs to be made.

If it’s something you can return to the rightful owner, do it, and proceed to confession.

So the gist of the two responses so far seems to be that restitution is not a prerequisite.

That doesn’t make sense to me.

Why would it NOT be said prerequisite?

A couple of reasons. First, do you have any family that could be hurt by you possibly being arrested and going to jail? Could it have a substantial effect on your career choices that could harm your loved ones? Could returning it cause pain to the person you stole from? Basically if the negative consequences for innocent parties or even future innocent parties outweighs the good from making restitution then often times restitution is not required.

Couldn’t restitution be made anonymously?

And thank you for the response. They have all been very interesting and thought provoking.

If restitution is possible, yes it is required. It is expressed as a requirement of justice, rather than with regard to penance - which is to say, even if the priest does not spell it out in the penance assigned, restitution may still be owed.

eg if I steal some money from someone, and I confess it and father assigns a few “Our Fathers” but does not comment on the need to return the money, justice requires that I return the money regardless.

From the Catechism:

2412 In virtue of commutative justice, reparation for injustice committed requires the restitution of stolen goods to their owner:

Jesus blesses Zacchaeus for his pledge: "If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold."193 Those who, directly or indirectly, have taken possession of the goods of another, are obliged to make restitution of them, or to return the equivalent in kind or in money, if the goods have disappeared, as well as the profit or advantages their owner would have legitimately obtained from them. Likewise, all who in some manner have taken part in a theft or who have knowingly benefited from it - for example, those who ordered it, assisted in it, or received the stolen goods - are obliged to make restitution in proportion to their responsibility and to their share of what was stolen.


1459 Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused.62 Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is also called “penance.”

1460 The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, "provided we suffer with him."63

The grey areas of course are with regard to whether it is or is not possible, or when the satisfaction is not quite as straightforward as giving back something stolen, or when as Seraphim73 notes the act of making restitution may carry other negative effects - especially if they are dispropirtionate to the sin committed.

Yes–the requirements of justice include the need to restore the stolen property, where reasonably possible without undue harm to others. Where this is not possible directly, you may need to take other steps, such as an equivalent charitable donation, to ensure that you did not unjustly profit from your sin.

This is, as was mentioned, a matter of justice rather than penance.

Yes, it is implied. Your sins would not be forgiven if you were to refuse making restitution. God bless you.

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