In certain cases theft is not a sin




The Roman Catholic Church teaches that in certain cases theft is not a sin. Here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia says: ‘…. Thus one in danger of death from want of food, or suffering any form of extreme necessity, may lawfully take from another as much as is required to meet his present distress even though the possessor's opposition be entirely clear. Neither, therefore, would he be bound to restitution if his fortunes subsequently were notably bettered, supposing that what he had converted to his own use was perishable. The reason is that individual ownership of the goods of this world, though according to the natural law, yields to the stronger and more sacred right conferred by natural law upon every man to avail himself of such things as are necessary for his own preservation. St. Thomas (II-II: 66:7) declares that in such straits what is taken becomes, because of the dire need experienced, one's very own, and so cannot be said to be stolen. This doctrine is sometimes expressed by saying that at such a time all things become common, and thus one reduced to such utter destitution only exercises his right.’

According to this teaching, a person is allowed to help the person in need with the goods of another person. In other words, if I see a person in need, and I do not have anything to share with him, I am allowed to rob someone of something in order to help the person in need (cf. Jean-Marie Aubert, Compendio della morale cattolica [Compendium of the catholic morals], Cinisello Balsamo, Italy, 1989, page 405).




The Scripture says: “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15 – NKJV). The Scripture gives this command to the poor as well as to the rich, to the wise as well as to the unwise, to the Jews as well as to the Gentiles. Therefore, even those people who are in need are commanded not to steal and if they steal they commit a sin for sin is the transgression of the law (cf. 1 John 3:4).

Of course, the Scripture says that “people do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving” (Proverbs 6:30 – NKJV), however – pay attention to this – it does not justify him, for immediately after it says: “Yet when he is found, he must restore sevenfold; he may have to give up all the substance of his house” (Proverbs 6:31 – NKJV). That means that even the conscience of a thief who has stolen out of necessity accuses him of theft. Why must he restore sevenfold and may he have to give up all the substance of his house when he is found? Is it not because his conscience accuses him of doing an evil thing? Does Wisdom not say: “Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel” (Proverbs 20:17 – NKJV)? Therefore even those who steal some bread in order to satisfy their hunger, are accused by their conscience, for they have sinned against God and the wages of sin is death. Therefore, according to the Scripture, a man is not allowed to steal even if he is starving.

Neither is a man allowed to rob someone of something in order to help those who are in need, for the command not to steal is mandatory in all circumstances of our life. We are not allowed to rob someone of something in order to help those who are in need for the Scripture says: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28 – NIV). Note that we must meet the needs of the poor by working with our own hands and not by stealing. The apostle Paul says in another place that “if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12 – NIV) nor according to what he has stolen. In other words, if we are willing to help those who are in need, our willingness will be acceptable in the sight of God according to what we have and also according to what we have obtained honestly. If according to the law no one was allowed to bring the wages of a harlot to the house of God for it was defiled by sin (in this case by the sin of fornication), how could God take pleasure in an offering we make to the poor using money or goods we have stolen? Therefore, according to the law of God the end does not justify the means. Do you want to help your neighbour? Do it honestly, using your own goods. Do not rob anyone of his own goods, for if you do this you will break the word of God and your offering will be an abomination in the sight of God. Remember that “love does no harm to a neighbour” (Romans 13:10 – NKJV).