A kind of contrapasso

Remember the story about the Anglican priest, Fr. Tim Jones in York, who advised poor people to ignore one of the commandments of the Decalogue and go ahead and steal?

There has been a development in Father’s life.

A reader tipped me to an article in The Guardian:

A priest who advised poor people to shoplift was showered with a bucket of pasta for making the remarks, the Church of England confirmed today.

The Rev Tim Jones, from St Lawrence and St Hilda in York, attracted harsh words earlier this month from the police and a former archbishop of Canterbury for telling his congregation it was acceptable for the needy to steal to feed their families.

But there came a very different rebuke last weekend, when a man approached the priest outside the church and threw 30 tins worth of ravioli and spaghetti on him. The contents of the bucket may well have been inspired by Jones himself, who said he would "rather that people take an 80p can of ravioli rather than turn to some of the most appalling things"[Jones’ mistake was to suggest stealing ravioli.  If he had suggested robbing a bank, maybe someone would have thrown a box of money at him!]

Martin Stot, 48, thought the priest’s comments could encourage young people to steal and decided to take action. He told York Press: "One theft could be on their record for 10 years. It would be difficult for them to get a job. I was just offended by what he said. I thought I would make my own little protest." He bought the canned pasta from Asda and hid in a phone box until the priest emerged from the regular Sunday service.

In the controversial sermon, given the week before Christmas, Jones said society had failed many needy people and it was far better that they shoplift than turn to more degrading or violent options such as prostitution, mugging or burglary.


Okay folks, get out there are start robbing banks!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Allan S. says:

    “Okay folks, get out there are start robbing banks!”

    Only if I can come you for confession. And only if my penance will not include turning myself in to police :)

  2. An American Mother says:

    Well, as Willie Sutton always said, “That’s where the money is.”

    Yet another proof of Johnson’s Law: it is impossible to parody the Anglicans/Episcopalians — they get ahead of you every time.

  3. tzard says:

    I suppose Rev. Jones should be happy the cans were opened first.

  4. irishgirl says:

    tzard-hear hear!

  5. holzi says:

    Robbing is easier when You ARE a bank! Where did those billions go? The old communist writer Berthold Brecht said once: “What is robbing a bank compared to opening a bank?” Well said, comrade!

  6. Jason Keener says:

    Some moral theologians believe that the poor can rightly take food that does not belong to them in urgent cases because when the poor go without basic things such as food, it is actually the rich who are stealing from the poor. All people have a right to share in the world’s basic goods.

    From the New Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    “2408 The seventh commandment forbids theft, that is, usurping another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner. There is NO THEFT if consent can be presumed OR if refusal is contrary to reason and the UNIVERSAL DESTINATION OF GOODS. This is the case in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing . . .) is to put at one’s disposal and use the property of others.”

  7. wanda says:

    Perhaps Rev. Jones could have offered to feed the hungry instead of telling them to violate God’s Laws. Barring that, maybe he could have listed the various helps available in the vicinity, soup-kitchens, shelters, etc.

  8. shane says:

    “Some moral theologians believe that the poor can rightly take food that does not belong to them in urgent cases because when the poor go without basic things such as food”

    Correct. I think Rev Jones was technically correct, and what he said has been distorted by the media (looking to create a good story), but he was still a bit foolish.


    Objection 1. It would seem unlawful to steal through stress of need. For penance is not imposed except on one who has sinned. Now it is stated (Extra, De furtis, Cap. Si quis): “If anyone, through stress of hunger or nakedness, steal food, clothing or beast, he shall do penance for three weeks.” Therefore it is not lawful to steal through stress of need.

    Objection 2. Further, the Philosopher says (Ethic. ii, 6) that “there are some actions whose very name implies wickedness,” and among these he reckons theft. Now that which is wicked in itself may not be done for a good end. Therefore a man cannot lawfully steal in order to remedy a need.

    Objection 3. Further, a man should love his neighbor as himself. Now, according to Augustine (Contra Mendac. vii), it is unlawful to steal in order to succor one’s neighbor by giving him an alms. Therefore neither is it lawful to steal in order to remedy one’s own needs.

    On the contrary, In cases of need all things are common property, so that there would seem to be no sin in taking another’s property, for need has made it common.

    I answer that, Things which are of human right cannot derogate from natural right or Divine right. Now according to the natural order established by Divine Providence, inferior things are ordained for the purpose of succoring man’s needs by their means. Wherefore the division and appropriation of things which are based on human law, do not preclude the fact that man’s needs have to be remedied by means of these very things. Hence whatever certain people have in superabundance is due, by natural law, to the purpose of succoring the poor. For this reason Ambrose [Loc. cit., 2, Objection 3] says, and his words are embodied in the Decretals (Dist. xlvii, can. Sicut ii): “It is the hungry man’s bread that you withhold, the naked man’s cloak that you store away, the money that you bury in the earth is the price of the poor man’s ransom and freedom.”

    Since, however, there are many who are in need, while it is impossible for all to be succored by means of the same thing, each one is entrusted with the stewardship of his own things, so that out of them he may come to the aid of those who are in need. Nevertheless, if the need be so manifest and urgent, that it is evident that the present need must be remedied by whatever means be at hand (for instance when a person is in some imminent danger, and there is no other possible remedy), then it is lawful for a man to succor his own need by means of another’sproperty, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery.

    Reply to Objection 1. This decretal considers cases where there is no urgent need.

    Reply to Objection 2. It is not theft, properly speaking, to take secretly and use another’s property in a case of extreme need: because that which he takes for the support of his life becomes his own property by reason of that need.

    Reply to Objection 3. In a case of a like need a man may also take secretly another’s property in order to succor his neighbor in need.

  9. JonM says:

    I don’t know about this one.

    I’m in qualified agreement with the Anglican minister much for the reason stated by Jason K. Outright advising stealing as a matter of course is not a holy approach; I think this is where we will all agree.

    However the context is very important.

    If, say, I am in a platoon and we are out of supplies and happen upon a cache of magazines and food, I don’t think many would argue that it would be morally unacceptable to take what we found (assuming our mission is in accordance with God and Church teachings).

    Now, backing away from the extreme, if a poor woman who is effectively destitute without spousal support and has children, surely none of us would rather see her turn to prostitution than take necessary food items.

    I think that is what Rev. Jones is getting at in his statement. Prostitution (in classic form or stripping or pornography) is heinous and ensnares many women, many Catholic women. So while the ideal is for this hypothetical women to go through the proper channels, we have to realize that this might not always be accessible.

    Remotely similar to why chapel veils no longer were required (to prevent mass sin), the Church does not take a perfectly legalistic approach of ‘all appropriation is sinful.’ Mass attending women (for the most part) are not making a rebelious statement by not wearing a veil just as a poor person in the midst of abject struggle is not rebelling by procuring something necessary.

    Again, the tricky part becomes determining where ‘enough is enough’ and how long a person could rightly do this without incurring sin or at least dearth of virtue (e.g., by committing sloth).

    Plenty items in the theologically rather eccentric file for our confused Anglican brethren, but this, in my opinion, is not one such example.

  10. avecrux says:

    This is not an either OR situation – shoplift OR become a prostitute!
    This is the key line in St. Thomas’ response: “when a person is in some imminent danger, and there is no other possible remedy”.
    Certainly where I am in the United States, or where the Anglican who made these remarks is in England, there are other remedies.
    With food stamps, food banks, emergency cash available during the food stamp application process, etc – I don’t think the conditions St. Thomas underscores permitting the acquisition of food by “theft” are very common at all. As one who has frequented food banks and has had to use food stamps at different points in my life, I have never once gone hungry or been in immanent danger.

  11. avecrux: Absolutely.
    This is just insanity.
    When you are really deprived of food, you can take what you need. Otherwise, forgettaboutit.
    It’s stealing, pure and simple.
    With all the welfare agencies and abilities that people have to get sustenance, that is Liberation Theology. Nothing more, nothing less.

  12. Fr Martin Fox says:

    I think it would have been better if folks had given the cleric cans of pasta. It would have made the point, without assaulting and degrading the man; and most likely, the food would have ended up at a soup kitchen.

  13. JonM says:


    Yes, you are correct.

    Perhaps I did not emphasize the point that there has to be some imminent danger; that’s why it is imporant to qualify this kind of discussion that this cannot be a ‘matter of course’ because it is very easy to fall into the trap of taking as a normal part of life.

    On the one hand it is necessary to guard against loose interpretation of this concept – and certainly to prevent the false notion that the situation is an either or question – , but on the other we cannot be so limiting as to preclude that which is difficult to imagine.

    You are right that it is probably unlikely in a country like the US or UK that one be faced with such an imminent danger as to allow ‘taking,’ but I think this message was meant more for areas with less developed an infrastructure.

  14. JonM says:

    @ Fr Fox,

    Yes, a point I thought and forgot to mention. Even if (CoE) Rev Jones did mean this in a sort of Liberation Theology sense, it would be completely unacceptable to hurl food at him.

    I can think of a certain priest from the Diocese of Hartford CT who has a tendancy to say some really dumb things – but I certainly would be upset if someone spaghetti-ed him because such is a degradation of his office, not to mention his rightful dignity as a man.

    This just sounds like a case of a statement, perhaps not properly qualified, being taken out of context. And us Catholics should be acutely aware of how dangerous this can be!

  15. catholicmidwest says:

    I hope he took it out of the can. Or not. Ouch.

  16. Random Friar says:

    Perhaps he is in the footsteps of St. Padre Pio, who kiddingly said of those who approached him as a saint, “If they make me a saint, anyone who comes to me seeking a favor will have to bring me first of all a crate of macaroni. For each crate of macaroni, I’ll grant a favor!”

  17. Jane says:

    If people approach the St Vincent de Paul Society or similar for help I don’t think that the organisation will allow a family to starve.

    Also if a situation is bad for a family and they have no money or food remember this help:

    The Devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague

    History of the Infant of Prague devotion

    The famous statue which is known as the Infant of Prague was brought from Spain to what is now the Czech Republic in the year 1556 by Maria Manriques. Maria gave the statue to her daughter Princess Polyxena for a wedding present. The statue had been cherished by the members of the Spanish Royal family for many years. Countess Polyxena became a generous benefactress to the Carmelite Fathers when they were given the Church of the Holy Trinity in Prague.

    This had been a Protestant church, but in 1624 the victorious Hapsburg, Ferdinand II gave the church to the Carmelites and it was renamed under the title of Our Lady of Victory. After the death of her husband, the countess presented the image of the Christ Child to the Carmelites saying, “I give to you what I prize most highly in the world. So long as you venerate this image, you shall not want.” Her prophecy was remarkably fulfilled. When the Carmelite community began to venerate the image of the Divine Child many spiritual and temporal benefits came to it. According to the custom of the Order, the novices fostered a special devotion to the little Son of their queenly mother. Among the novices none loved the Infant more than Brother Cyril. This young religious had suffered greatly from aridity and temptations during the greater part of his novitiate year. However the Infant Jesus restored Cyril’s first fervour, and in his turn Cyril became a most fervent client of the Little King.

    There are several examples of the Infant of Prague’s Help in my book Help from Heaven (Answers to Prayer), which I have in a free on-line version at:


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