A MAN who has stolen, has nothing more urgent and imperative to

perform, on this side of eternity, than the duty of refunding the money

or goods unjustly acquired, or the value thereof. He may possibly

consider something else more important; but if he does, that man has

somehow unlearned the first principles of natural honesty, ignores the

fundamental law that governs the universe, and he will have a difficult

time con
incing the Almighty that this ignorance of his is not wholly

culpable. The best and only thing for him to do is to make up his mind

to pay up, to disgorge his ill-gotten goods, to make good the losses

sustained by his neighbor through his fault.

He may, or may not, have profited to any great extent by his criminal

proceedings; but there is no doubt that his victim suffered injustice;

and that precisely is the root of his obligation. The stolen goods may

have perished in his hands and he have nothing to show; the same must

be said of the victim the moment his possessions disappeared; with this

difference, however, that justice was not violated in one case, and in

the other, it was. The lawful owner may be dead, or unfindable among

the living; but wherever he may be, he never intended that the thief

should enjoy the fruit of his crime. The latter's title, vitiated in

its source, cannot be improved by any circumstance of the owner's

whereabouts. No one may thrive on one's own dishonesty.

You say this is hard; and in so saying, you lend testimony to the truth

of the axiom that honesty is the best policy. There is no one but will

agree with you; but such a statement, true though it be, helps matters

very little. It is always hard to do right; blame Adam and Eve for it,

and think of something more practicable. But must I impoverish myself?

Not to the extent of depriving yourself of the necessaries of life. But

you must deprive yourself to the extent of settling your little

account, even if you suffer something thereby. But how shall I be able

to refund it all! You may never be able to refund it all; but you may

start in immediately and do the best you can; resolve to keep at it;

never revoke your purpose to cancel the debt. In case your lease of

life expires before full justice is done, the Almighty may take into

consideration your motives and opportunities. They do say that hell is

paved with good intentions; but these intentions are of the sort that

are satisfied with never coming to a state of realization.

But I shall lose my position, be disgraced, prosecuted and imprisoned.

This might happen if you were to write out a brief of your crime and

send the same, signed and sworn to, to your employer. But this is

superfluous. You might omit the details and signature, enclose the sum

and trust luck for the rest. Or you might consult your spiritual

adviser; he might have had some experience in this line of business.

The essential is not that you be found out, but that you refund.

It may happen that several are concerned in a theft. In this case, each

and every participant, in the measure of his guilt, is bound to make

restitution. Guilt is the object, restitution is the shadow; the

following is fatal. To order or advise the thing done; to influence

efficaciously its doing; to assist in the deed or to profit knowingly

thereby, to shield criminally the culprit, etc., this sort of

co-operation adds to the guilt of sin the burden of restitution. Silence

or inaction, when plain duty would call for words and deeds to prevent

crime, incriminates as well as active participation, and creates an

obligation to repair.

There is more. Conspiracy in committing an injustice adds an especial

feature to the burden of restitution. If the parties to the crime had

formed a preconcerted plan and worked together as a whole in its

accomplishment, every individual that furnished efficient energy to the

success of the undertaking is liable, in conscience, not for a share of

the loss, but for the sum total. This is what is called solidarity;

solidarity in crime begets solidarity in reparation. It means that the

injured party has a just claim for damages, for all damages sustained,

against any one of the culprits, each one of whom, in the event of his

making good the whole loss, has recourse against the others for their

share of the obligation. It may happen, and does, that one or several

abscond, and thus shirk their part of the obligation; the burden of

restitution may thus be unevenly distributed. But this is one of the

risks that conspirators in sin must take; the injured party must be

protected first and in preference to all others.

No Catholic can validly receive the sacrament of penance who refuses to

assume the responsibility of restitution for injustices committed, and

who does not at least promise sincerely to acquit himself at the first

favorable opportunity and to the extent of his capacity. This means

that only on these conditions can the sin be forgiven by God. That man

is not disposed sufficiently to receive absolution who continually

neglects opportunities to keep his promise; who refuses to pay any,

because he cannot pay all; who decides to leave the burden of

restitution to his heirs, even with the wherewith to do so. It is

better not to go to confession at all than to go with these

dispositions; it is better to wait until you can make up your mind.