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27 Jan 2015 Articles Comments (2)

Why the Crusaders Went

This post is the third in a series about the most prevalent modern myths about the Crusades and how to refute them. Anna Comnena was the thirteen-year-…

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11 Sep 2014 USA No comments

Tense political divide doesn't stop Christian unity over Middle East

Washington D.C., Sep 11, 2014 / 03:03 am .- Despite strained political differences, Christian leaders at a historic ecumenical conference voiced the need for un…

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30 Nov 2015 Middle East - Africa News No comments

Watch Pope Francis Open "Holy Door" in Bangui

Holy Father celebrates Mass in Central African Republic where he opened the holy door  

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12 Dec 2014 Q&A No comments

Can deacons perform exposition and benediction?

Full Question My parish is instituting adoration and benediction during Lent. The pastor and associate are not willing to participate, and they are giving …

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31 Dec 2014 Q&A No comments

Can God make square circles? If not, does that mean he isn't all-powerful?

Full Question Can God do literally anything? Make square circles? Make 1 + 1 = 72? If he can't do these things, is it safe to say that he cannot do literal…

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20 Nov 2015 Articles No comments

Governor forced to become bishop: the story of St Ambrose of Milan

St. Ambrose was Bishop of Milan, his hometown. He was born around A.D. 338 and died in 397. He was a very popular political figure, and since he was the Gove…

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13 Jul 2016 Americas Asia-Pacific Middle East - Africa News USA Vatican No comments

Lesotho Church officials call for international intervention following shooting of journalist

The shooting of a newspaper editor in Lesotho is the latest in a series of attacks on government critics in the mountainous country surrounded by South Africa, …

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29 Nov 2014 Q&A No comments

What is the difference between saints and blesseds?

Full Question What is the difference between saints and blesseds? Answer There are several steps in the Church’s process of declaring someone a s…

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09 Sep 2016 Articles No comments

Are Americans WRONG about work? How a Catholic approach to work actually increases profits

Are Americans wrong about work? New research and practical experience suggests we Americans are wrong about work, and that if we want to be more productive, we …

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Question concerning Stealing; Can it ever be justified to steal something to feed starving family?

Question from D. Lopez on 03-15-2001:

Fr. Torraco, when asked if it would be moral to steal to feed a starving family who had noone to help them, you wrote (I paraphrase) that it would be immoral not to. I am wondering how you square that with what John Paul II wrote in Veritatis Splendor 79 – 83 about intrinsically evil acts and his affirmation that one may not do evil in order that good may come from it.

In this encyclical, the Holy Father quotes St. Thomas: “it often happens that man acts with a good intention, but without spiritual gain, because he lacks a good will. Let us say that someone robs in order to feed the poor: in this case, even though the intention is good, the uprightness of the will is lacking. Consequently, no evil done with a good intention can be excused.” and Romans 3:8 “There are those who say: And why not do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just.”

For what it’s worth, what you say ‘feels right’ to me; but I don’t like taking my ‘feelings’ as divine Truth. I am just having a really hard time trying to come to terms with the Holy Father’s words and the Catechism’s teachings, and the possibility of extreme situations, such as stealing to feed the poor, lying to hide the Jews in your attic from the Nazis, and so on. I mean, if ‘property isn’t absolute’ in the stealing scenario, is truth also not absolute in the Nazi scenario? Is ANYTHING absolute except for Love? Is each ethical situation such that there IS an absolute moral good but what is the good in each situation depends on that which furthers Love?

OR is it so that that which is called intrinsically evil by the Church (lying, stealing, murdering, etc.) truly ALWAYS sinful but that it’s sometimes to our moral benefit to sin?

OR are we expected to tell the truth about the Jews hiding in our attic and never, under any circumstances, do that which is intrinsically evil?

And please, Father, any references you can provide from official doctrine, encyclicals, letters, etc., would be MOST appreciated. Thank you very much.
Answer by Fr.Stephen F. Torraco on 03-15-2001:

If a person is starving to death, and NO ONE is willing to help him, the starving person’s act of taking the loaf of bread IS NOT STEALING. He is taking what rightfully belongs to him. Pope John Paul II’s statement about intrinsically evil acts has to do with the OBJECT or WHATNESS of the act (which is one of the three “sources” of the act, as described in Part 3 of the Catechism). Another name for this object or whatness is the moral species as distinct from the physical species of the act. An action can admit of different physical species (for example, killing can either be an act of self-defense, which is morally justifiable, or an act of murder, which is not morally justifiable.) Killing would be the physical species. Self-defense and murder would be moral species. For an act to be good, the moral species must be good or at least neutral. In the case of the starving person who takes a loaf of bread (physical species) when NO ONE IS WILLING TO HELP HIM, the moral species of his act is SELF-PRESERVATION, which is morally good. Moreover, the loaf of bread that he takes (and this “taking” does not have the moral species of stealing) is rightfully his, since there is no such thing, morally, as the absolute ownership of things. The people who were unwilling to help that starving person were, by their omission, STEALING the loaf of bread from him. In other words, their omission had the moral species of stealing, which is morally wrong.



  1. Edward A. Hara Reply

    Based on your answer, Father, it seems that there are a LOT of billionaires who are stealing what rightfully belongs to others when the amass huge amounts of money to themselves and will not life a finger to feed the poor.

  2. Mark Valladao Reply

    The example uses starving to death. What about where you are just going hungry? Is it still the same? Meaning if someone goes without food for a day or two days? Is it then justifiable to steal?

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