A Church of England priest has found himself at the center of controversy after he told his congregation it was morally justifiable for the poor to shoplift.
Father Tim Jones of St. Lawrence and Hilda Church in York said this week that he did not believe it was right for people to shoplift but maintained it was the “least worst option” for people in desperate situations.
He gave the example of prisoners being released from prison without benefits or other financial assistance, saying it was for better for people in such circumstances to turn to shoplifting from large retailers rather than prostitution, mugging or burglary.
“My advice does not contradict the Bible’s eighth commandment because God’s love for the poor and despised outweighs the property rights of the rich,” he said in a sermon Sunday.
A spokesman for supermarket chain Asda, in response, argued that shoplifting affected hardworking store staff more than the rich.
“Maybe Father Tim Jones could repeat his sermon at our York store and see what reaction he gets?” he was quoted as saying by the York Press. “He’s one psalm short of a sermon!”
Jones was also criticized by the North Yorkshire Police, who reminded the priest it was a criminal offence to steal. A spokesperson for the force was quoted by the Metro as saying it was “highly irresponsible” of a priest to “justify this course of action under any circumstances”.
Speaking on behalf of the Anglican Diocese of York, Archdeacon of York the Venerable Richard Seed said the Church of England “does not advise anyone to shoplift or break the law in any way”.
“Fr. 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,” he said.
“There are many organizations and charities working with people in need, and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau is a good first place to call,” Seed added.