In the Baltimore Catechism I find the following regarding the 8th Commandment: “cheating in examinations is wrong because one thereby acquires unearned credits in studies. If by cheating one wins a prize, one really steals and is obliged to restitution.”
Clear and reasonable enough in itself, but I would like to solicit help in discerning its application.
In point of fact I have never, as far as I can remember, cheated on an examination. Nevertheless this passage pricks at my conscience and I will try to explain why.
Like (I think) many another student, I have lied in the course of my academic carreer. I mean making up excuses to get away with turning things in past the deadlines, and such; not plagiarism or cheating. But I think I have been guilty of doing it rather more than most people. It is, unfortunately, to some extent a habit I fell into at a young age. There are some occasions of it that seem to me rather more egregious, but I will not go into the details right away; perhaps if this thread opens a fruitful conversation I will explain more.
I have in the past confessed to occasions of doing such things–albeit, as I now think, imperfectly. I plan to include, in a fuller and more exact manner, those occasions in a general confession in the near future.
The question remains, as to whether the obligation of “restitution” can have any applicability to such a case. I am a grad student. I have already got both a BA and an MA. It seems humanly impossible, and certainly not obligatory, but I have started to wonder if I should not get in contact with certain professors and tell them that I was guilty in such a manner. The notion that pounds on my (perhaps quite unbalanced and scrupulous) conscience is “your honors are ill gained!”
I take it, in fact, that the reason one “steals” if one “wins a prize” (in the paragraph above) is that it righfully belonged to another, from whom one has stolen it. I do not think such a situation applies to the kind of dishonesty I describe. But I must try to look into this question honestly, from those who may be able to answer clearly and wisely from Catholic moral principles. After all, one may very well have to take up a cross that seems “impossible” from some ordinary standpoint.
It would be greatly appreciated if answers can have a specific foundation in authoritative Church pronouncements and/or the writings of saintly theologians and spiritual writers, as far as possible.
Thank you. In Christo.