Noncompliance with government regulations


#1

Hi all,

I’m involved in a food distribution program that serves the marginalised in our local city centre. It is by far the largest operation of its kind in our area; however it operates outside of recognised institutions and is not registered as a charity. We therefore are technically in breach of numerous government regulations, and have been warned (unofficially) by the authorities.

The expense of registering as an Incorporated Charitable Institution and paying for innumerable permits, would cripple service provision; therefore the program operates “outside of the law”.

Considering The Church’s requirement that Catholics obey the law of the land, are those people involved in the program committing a sin?


#2

Following is some language from the Catechism passages dealing with the duties of citizens of a state:

"*The duties of citizens

2238 Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God, who has made them stewards of his gifts:43 "Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. . . . Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God."44 Their loyal collaboration includes the right, and at times the duty, to voice their just criticisms of that which seems harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community.

2239 It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community.

2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country:

Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.45

[Christians] reside in their own nations, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners. . . . They obey the established laws and their way of life surpasses the laws. . . . So noble is the position to which God has assigned them that they are not allowed to desert it.46 

The Apostle exhorts us to offer prayers and thanksgiving for kings and all who exercise authority, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way."47

43 Cf. Rom 13:1-2.
44 1 Pet 2:13,16.
45 Rom 13:7.
46 Ad Diognetum 5,5 and 10; 6,10:PG 2,1173 and 1176.
47 1 Tim 2:2."*

The CCC goes on to explain the very limited circumstances in which disobedience of civil authorities can be justified:

*"2242 The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s."48 “We must obey God rather than men”:49

When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the Law of the Gospel.50 

48 Mt 22:21.
49 Acts 5:29.
50 GS 74 § 5."
*

In the US, the status of a non-profit entity is necessary to be exempted from income taxes. I am assuming the same is generally true of the status as an “Incorporated Charitable Institution” in Australia. Payment for permits, etc. is essentially a form of taxation. So it seems likely that there is some degree of sin present in your firm’s failure to take the necessary steps to become an Incorporated Charitable Institution, as I don’t believe this type of law is “contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel.”

However, I would consult with a local attorney or other expert to be sure there are no exceptions or other legal ways your group could avoid having to go through this process. If in fact you determine you are required by law to become an I.C.I., then I suggest you should consult with your priest or spiritual advisor about the situation. Someone with pastoral experience and full knowledge of all the facts and circumstances is best qualified to help you decide what to do here. May God abundantly bless you and your ministry!

  • “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.” --G.K. Chesterton*

#3

I would run this by a priest. My impression is that there is such a thing as too much government regulation, and it’s kind of hard to go wrong with charity.


#4

Exactly! There are times when the government is in the wrong. In my opinion, I can’t imagine God punishing you for feeding the hungry.

I watched The Courageous Heart of Irene Sendler today, and she saved Jewish children when it was illegal to help them. Different situation but same idea of breaking the law for the greater good.

I wonder if God gets frustrated at all the paperwork and fine lines.


#5

I agree 100%. If you are bothered again by some bureaucrat, inform them that you will be taking up this whole situation with both the local newspapers and TV stations. Then watch out how fast they back away.
If they don’t, then contact not just the local media, but the national news services.
The one thing that slimey bureaucrats cannot stand if publicity. They run from it like cockroaches flee from light at night!


#6

He would if you fed them spoiled food because you thought it was “too much trouble” to follow regulations that ensured the food was not spoiled.


#7

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