When restitution isn't possible?


what happens if you can’t make restitution for something? for example, if you steal money and confess it, the priest usually tells you to pay it back.

but what about a hypothetical scenario where a student was dishonest academically either in high school, university, graduate school whatever. you can’t really give your grades back. let’s say you confess it and the priest can’t really tell you to do anything except be honest in the future. would it be wrong to still use those grades for the future even if you didn’t earn them? or only partially earned them? for example high school grades are needed to apply to college, and college grades are used for graduate school and so on. would a person need to redo all the parts they didn’t do honestly? or just forego the use of those grades to apply to anything?

obviously, most sins are things you can’t repay, things done sexually can’t be taken back, murder can’t be undone. but I’m a bit confused about some things you can partially control.

what do you guys think?


I think the point is to amend your life and not commit the sin again.
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.

With regard to intellectual properties, one must give proper credit, citations, etc. on papers.
If you cheated, by copying on a test, I’m not sure what you could do to “pay back” the answers.
It would be more fruitful to “rehabilitate yourself” by making a decision to never cheat again. But you can’t give back something that didn’t directly leave the other person’s possession.
What would be accomplished by not using grades? Sometimes things are not cut and dry. Get the best education that you can, be a good person, never cheat anyone out of anything, and do good in the world. If you went to confession, you are forgiven. A person who previously cheated might tutor young children. Use your knowledge to help, instruct, teach. If God will forgive us, can we not forgive ourselves and never commit that sin again? Make amends by teaching, sharing, tutoring.


That is the definition of forgiveness. You repent of your sin, you make what reparations you can, and the rest of the debt is lifted not by what you have done but by the mercy of God.


See Article 8 of the Summa Theologia (II-II).

In particular Objection 2 and the Reply, which reads:

**Reply to Objection 2. **When one is unable to restore at once, this very inability excuses one from immediate restitution: even as a person is altogether excused from making restitution if he is altogether unable to make it. He is, however, bound either himself or through another to ask the person to whom he owes compensation to grant him a remission or a respite.


Sorry, I didn’t finish reading your entire post! :o You ask an interesting question, and I think the answer differs depending on the type of sin.

I would think that for the grades example, if the grades were obtained dishonestly, you would be obligated to repudiate them. By analogy, if a man were to divorce his lawful wife and remarry, he must repudiate his adulterous union (i.e., permanently separate) and be reconciled to his wife (generally speaking). He can’t just ask for forgiveness and stay in the adulterous union.

As noted above, the nature of the sin and thus the type of harm done changes the manner of restitution. St. Thomas also gives the example of defamation, which is instructive, especially the replies to the first 3 objections:

**Reply to Objection 1. **When it is impossible to repay the equivalent, it suffices to repay what one can, as in the case of honor due to God and our parents, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. viii, 14). Wherefore when that which has been taken cannot be restored in equivalent, compensation should be made as far as possible: for instance if one man has deprived another of a limb, he must make compensation either in money or in honor, the condition of either party being duly considered according to the judgment of a good man.

**Reply to Objection 2. **There are three ways in which one may take away another’s good name. First, by saying what is true, and this justly, as when a man reveals another’s sin, while observing the right order of so doing, and then he is not bound to restitution. Secondly, by saying what is untrue and unjustly, and then he is bound to restore that man’s good name, by confessing that he told an untruth. Thirdly, by saying what is true, but unjustly, as when a man reveals another’s sin contrarily to the right order of so doing, and then he is bound to restore his good name as far as he can, and yet without telling an untruth; for instance by saying that he spoke ill, or that he defamed him unjustly; or if he be unable to restore his good name, he must compensate him otherwise, the same as in other cases, as stated above (ad 1).

**Reply to Objection 3. **The action of the man who has defamed another cannot be undone, but it is possible, by showing him deference, to undo its effect, viz. the lowering of the other man’s personal dignity in the opinion of other men.


well if the thing in question can’t be undone. grades can 't be changed long after the fact, for instance, in my example.


Use the position you gained now for good. Give money to your college or the place you graduated from. Give your time to students, etc. We can still give talent if not money as well.

There is always something we can do for repentance. If it’s sexual sins give money to the pro-life cause and work in it, You can figure out where this goes. Go good to repair bad.


would it be a sin to use the grades to apply for another program though? even if you confessed, you can’t give the grades back, you could do some sort of restitution I guess, like you guys mentioned. but if you used the grades obtained dishonestly after that, would it still be wrong?


Look. Either you qualify for a program or you don’t. If a person cheated to the extent that they had no clue about the subject no other school would accept them into their program right?
I think they would be quickly discovered, and the would lose their spot in the program. That is punishment in and of itself.
As someone said, confess, do penance, choose to do right, and move on.


yeah, not sure about that extent

the more likely scenario is that the student has studied, knows it pretty well but just wants that extra little bit, that one question they don’t know, or something along those lines


I’m must be missing something. You’d go to confession right?
You’d express extreme remorse and contrition right?
You would be ABSOLVED right?
What do you want God to do with you?
Ruin your academic career to make a point?
That’s the way people operate, not God.
If the priest absolves you, and suggests a penance that makes restitution in some DOABLE way, then fine. Otherwise, move on and have honest academic practices.
Being legalistic leads to scruples which leads to immense sorrow and confusion.
Don’t go there.


When restitution is possible, the priest should include it in the penance given.

When restitution is not possible, the priest will give another penance in its place.

When a person has questions about this, they should be directed to their confessor.

PS restitution is to repair injury done to another. It is not clear how your (noting this is hypothetical) cheating to get a better grade actually causes harm to the school, nor how this harm could be undone. Perhaps some other students are harmed because they have been shuffled down the curve due to your cheating, but again how could you actually repair this harm now? Thus, another penance is appropriate.

PPS it is noble to wish to do more penance than is directly assigned. We may in fact often assume an assigned penance is not entirely sufficient to remove the temporal punishment we have incurred. But it is not wise to self-impose further harsh penances. If a penance is harsh, one should seek spiritual guidance before taking it on (ie ask your confessor).


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