Priest tells poor it's OK to steal

Sermon draws rebuke, but he says critics are missing his point

The Associated PressDecember 23, 2009 

— For a priest in northern England, the commandment that dictates "thou shalt not steal" isn't exactly written in stone.

The Rev. Tim Jones caused an uproar by telling his congregation that it is sometimes acceptable for desperate people to shoplift - as long as they do it at large national chain stores rather than small, family businesses.

Jones' Robin Hood-like sermon drew rebukes Tuesday from fellow clergy, shop owners and police.

From his pulpit at the Church of St. Lawrence in York, about 220 miles north of London, Jones said in his sermon Sunday that shoplifting can be justified if a person in real need is not greedy and does not take more than he or she really needs to get by.

The remarks drew a summons from Archdeacon Richard Seed, who said on his Web site that the church rejects the view that shoplifting can be acceptable.

"The Church of England does not advise anyone to shoplift or break the law in any way," he said.

"Father Tim Jones is raising important issues about the difficulties people face when benefits are not forthcoming, but shoplifting is not the way to overcome these difficulties. There are many organizations and charities working with people in need, and the Citizens' Advice Bureau is a good first place to call," Seed's statement said.

Eleanor Course, a spokeswoman for Seed, said the archdeacon wants to meet with Jones to discuss the "appropriateness" of his sermon.

"The point we are most concerned about is that shoplifting is simply not a blameless, victimless crime," she said. "We want to make clear that it simply doesn't help people. And the last thing a desperate person wants is to be caught for shoplifting, so we feel this advice is very unwise."

Jones said he stands by his comments. He said he regretted only that the media are focusing on his view on shoplifting rather than the underlying problem he wanted to address.

"The point I'm making is that when we shut down every socially acceptable avenue for people in need, then the only avenue left is the socially unacceptable one," he said, adding that people are often released from prison without any means of support, leading them back into crime.

"What I'm against is the way society has become ever more comfortable with the people at the very bottom and blinded to their needs," he said.

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