Restitution Question

When I was younger (high school/college), I had a few bad habits that I’m not sure would constitute outright theft, but also certainly not in line with the seventh commandment such as asking for a (free) water cup and getting soda at fast food restaurants or munching on a negligible amount of food from bulk bins while grocery shopping (both immature, inconsiderate, and entitled, I know). Did not think much of it at the time, haven’t done it in ages, and until recently, had not even really thought about it in quite a while.

Wondering what kinda restitution would be in order though. The value was minimal so it’s really no skin off my bones to make some sort of reimbursement. What leaves me scratching my head is the practicality of doing so given the amount of time elapsed, difficulty of calculating cost, and the fact that there’s probably some sort of corporate accounting policy that’d make it difficult to walk up to a manager and hand off some cash and call it a day.

Having poked around on here as well as the CCC, sounds like restitution’s sort of a no exceptions kinda deal…unless I’m misreading/misunderstanding something

And a quick post-script: This is coming from a curious/interested non-Catholic so talking/confessing to a priest is not (yet?) on the table

Yes, you are misunderstanding.

Restitution is not an absolute obligation. We should try to make restitution to the extent we are able. Restitution also need not be to the specific person/place if it is not practical, would reveal our sin and harm our reputation, etc.

I suggest you make a donation to Catholic Charities as restitution. Give what you can perhaps what you would consider a “generous” donation.

I’ve struggled with similar questions. I have, for instance, a small book from high school that I never returned. Likewise, a soccer ball from when I played JV. And a few other things.

Here’s the scrupulous answer: I have to give it all back, or ELSE! I have taken what belongs to another, it was wrong, commutative justice, all that stuff… Even though so little care was taken to ensure that property didn’t go missing, was returned, etc.

Let’s imagine that you run a $92.5 billion company called McDonald’s. One of your VP’s rushes into your office to alert you to the disturbing fact that a kid sorta stole a soda 10 years ago… Just how interested are you in getting that $1.50 back? You would probably fire that VP. Even on the franchise level it is negligible.

That is NOT to say that doing this is okay, but it is to say that restitution in these cases is simply not obligatory. By all means, do it if you feel like, but you’ll just get some weird looks.

Despite what our legal system says, in moral theology corporations are not the same as people. If you stole my car and crashed it, you would be bound to give me restitution. Sneaking a gummy worm at Giant? Nah. But what you could do, if you are really bent on it and also don’t want to be weird about it is buy a cup for soda and don’t use it, for instance.

Use your conscience. (And join your local RCIA program! :smiley: )

I’ve always seen the exact opposite being stated.

Do you have a source to back your assertion up?

Perhaps I worded that poorly, thanks for pointing that out. What I meant was, restitution to that exact entity isn’t strictly obligatory. For example, the OP got soda from restaurants he may not remember exactly where, or they may no longer be in business, and as he said it was years ago. Making a donation to a charity is fine as restitution.

In other cases direct restitution could put us in danger or harm a person’s reputation or reveal their sin. In such cases it could be done anonymously if that was possible.

Also, although commutative justice requires paying debts, for example, the Church does not teach that it is intrinsically immoral to file bankruptcy if one finds oneself *unable *to pay debts due to circumstances beyond our control (I’m not talking about bankruptcy as a way to get out of paying debts that you *could *pay, I’m talking about when people find themselves unable to pay).

So, while it’s commutative justice demands it, I would say it’s not absolute.

Anyone can talk to a priest, not just Catholics. In any case, instead of worrying about restitution for the theft of a few cents, I would focus on developing your relationship with Christ. That would mean joining the Church He left for us.

You could give money to charity as another poster suggested or you could also find a grocery store with a box for a food bank in the front and buy a couple of cans of soup or something similar. God will not expect you to do the impossible, so it’s all right if you can’t remember the exact value of the things you took. If you really feel as if you ought to make restitution, make a good estimate, but don’t think too hard on it. You could talk to a priest if you have any more questions; a good priest will be glad to help no matter where you are.

Also, constantly scrutinizing your past and trying to remember anything you did wrong and the exact amount of wrong you did can result in developing a disorder called scrupulosity, in which you feel as if you have sinned when you haven’t and you generally over-focus on your sins while disregarding all else. Talking to a priest and/or a counselor can help with this. I am not necessarily trying to tell you that you have this; I’m only saying that you should watch out for these kinds of thought patterns.

Here’s a resource on that:

I’m going to ask you to refer your question to a priest, But in the meantime, what BookCat said makes general sense.

You could also offer restitution in the form of prayer. You said you’re not Catholic, but you could still say a certain number of prayers for the intentions of anyone you may have harmed by your transgressions.

Hey DefaultUsername,

I understand where you’re coming from. I too am guilty of having committed a certain sin against the 7th commandment in high school that weighed on my heart and conscience for a long time. Last year I inquired with a priest about how I could make reparation for what I had done. This is what he said to me:

He advised me not to make monetary reparation to the company as it would put me at risk for arrest. In turn, he said that I had to *truly *help someone in need and that the help could not be monetary. He said it was not enough to simply give someone money.

So what did I do? I’m glad you asked. :slight_smile:

Well a few weeks later as I was leaving Mass, I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to take a bulletin. When I opened it, I saw an ad posted seeking a volunteer to help a disabled man get to Mass. I called and volunteered.

The moral of the story is, if you earnestly seek to make reparation for your sins, God will lead you towards those opportunities.

As far as making reparation for your sins goes, if you’re uncomfortable with speaking to a priest I would say pray about it. Ask the Holy Spirit what He would have you do.

I hope this helps. God bless,


Sorry to bring back a dead thread - had this on my mind again recently and did a bit more poking around for how folks have handled similar situations…found an interesting solution on Reddit of all places…

Someone offered up the idea of simply buying a gift card and then cutting it up…assuming anonymous reparation is acceptable, this seems like a painfully simple and obvious answer to a lot of overthought anxiety.


Seems pointless to me. Why not buy a card for a grocery or drug store then give it to someone who needs the help? A homeless person or a struggling family – and if you don’t know one ask a priest or minister to pass it on. The company will still make a profit and someone in need will also benefit.

They might still make a profit but they’d still be handing something over (besides a piece of plastic) in return if the card were actually used. That’s certainly a respectable gesture, but when the goal is reimbursing someone that’s been wronged, I’m not sure if passing it along succeeds in balancing the scales…

I think that is pointless and wasteful.

not to belabor the conversation but I’m still failing to see why that’s pointless…wouldn’t buying the card and then not using it restore what’s owed without getting anything in return? Seems just as legitimate as the suggestion to pay for a soda cup and then not use it

I think that suggestion is also pointless and wasteful.

If you want to make financial restitution, give money to a good cause where it can be used for the corporal and spiritual works of charity.

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