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Stealing from a thief
Question from JP on 4/25/2005:

Dear Fr Levis,

Here is a (theoretical) moral case which occurred to me recently and which has left me puzzled as to the correct solution.

A thief breaks into someone's apartment and steals a sum of money. As he emerges he is spotted by a fellow criminal who, aware that the money has been stolen, grabs it from the original thief's hand and runs away with it.

The first thief, who has been left with nothing as a result of his action, later regrets what he has done and goes to confession. He is told of his obligation to make restitution to the original owner and does so, paying back the full amount stolen out of his own savings.

Later, the second thief, hearing that the original owner has been repaid, also feels sorry for his behaviour and goes to confession, where he is told to make restitution.

The question is: who does the second thief make restitution to?

The original owner has already been fully compensated by the first thief. It seems difficult to argue that he has a right to be compensated again, as he would end up with twice the amount originally stolen from him.

On the other hand, can the first thief really be said to have a right to restitution when the money taken from him wasn't his in the first place?

I look forward to your answer!

Best regards.

Answer by Fr. Robert J. Levis on 4/26/2005:

Dear JP, No second restitution is required. The original owner of the money has received no injustice finally. The second thief makes no restitution, even to the first thief, but must confess his sin of thievery. God bless. Fr. Bob Levis

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