Turn a Priestly Eye

In the local newspaper today there are two stories involving priests and money. One focuses on a British priest, the other on an American priest. The story on page 6 states that a priest in England is receiving harsh criticism for having stated in sermon that the desperately poor are morally justified in shoplifting to survive. He added that this should only apply to large chain stores and not small, family-run businesses. On page 11 is the story of an American priest who won $100,000 in a televised poker tournament. Since the money is being given to the parish it is a light-hearted human-interest story.

What I find disturbing in all of this is the larger message. Yes, priests need to be involved in the financial affairs of the world — we’ve created a culture so focused on money that it is impossible to avoid it. Yet the distinct tone of the news stories is telling. The priest advocating shoplifting to save the poor is suspect since he challenges modern mores of property ownership. The Bible advocates landowners leaving some of their hard-earned crops for the destitute to glean. The priest who won an enormous pot playing a game is simply a creative individual raising church funds in new ways. The Bible states nothing about gambling for money. Somehow I can’t reconcile the two stories.

Everyone feels the economic pinch in hard times, but few in our society really know what it means to experience true deprivation. Would it not be better if the church could devise a system that ensured fair allocations of resources without having to advise petty theft or playing one’s cards close to the clerical collar?

3 thoughts on “Turn a Priestly Eye

  1. Pingback: Turn a Priestly Eye

  2. I’m no great fan of Thomas Aquinas, but:

    Summa, Secunda Secundae
    Question Lxvi.: of Theft and Robbery.

    Article VII.—Is it lawful to steal on the plea of necessity?

    R. The institutions of human law cannot derogate from natural law or divine law. But according to the natural order established by Divine Providence, inferior things are ordained to the end that out of them the needs of men may be relieved. And therefore the division and appropriation of goods, that proceeds from human law, cannot come in the way of a man’s need being relieved out of such goods. And therefore the things that some men have in superabundance, are claimed by natural law for the support of the poor. Hence Ambrose says: “It is the bread of the hungry that you hold back: the clothing of the naked that you keep in store: the ransom and deliverance of the unfortunate is contained in the money that you bury in the earth.” But because there are many sufferers in need, and all cannot be relieved out of the same goods, there is entrusted to the discretion of every proprietor the disbursement of his own substance, that out of it he may relieve the needy. If however a need be so plain and pressing, that clearly the urgent necessity has to be relieved from whatever comes to hand, as when danger is threatening a person and there is no other means of succouring him, then the man may lawfully relieve his distress out of the property of another, taking it either openly or secretly; nor does this proceeding properly bear the stamp of either theft or robbery.1

    § 2. To use the property of another, taking it secretly, in a case of extreme need, cannot properly speaking be characterized as theft, because what one takes for the support of his life is made his by such necessity.

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  3. Pingback: Turn-a-Priestly-Eye : Sysmaya

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