There is no rationalization of "petty theft." If there is any theft, it's on the part of the employer by not paying their employee enough where they can't afford basic necessities. There's a world of difference between taking one roll of toilet paper in order to make it until the next paycheck comes in and taking a box of pens/paper just for the sake of taking them. (Catholic social media user)
Sometimes, you get into a conversation with so-called Christians that really catches you off guard. Yesterday was one of those days. The writer of the above paragraph on social media apparently believes that the seventh commandment offers an exception--if you really want or need something. It’s particularly interesting to me, because of the echoes of Catholic social justice thinking within her response. The discussion began with a woman’s admission that she regularly stole toilet paper from her employer. She believed it was perfectly appropriate because, after all, she needed the item due to insufficient income; the employer didn't pay her enough, so she'd take something a little extra. I assumed I wouldn’t be the only Catholic to take her to task, but I was.
In the guise of social justice, then, people like this are rationalizing petty theft from their employers. Not exactly a wonderful example of a life of holliness lived for Christ. This attitude needs to be confronted head-on because it’s a perversion of social justice, as explained in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1928-1948. We all need to root out and expose this deceptive line of thinking for what it truly is: rationalization for theft. (Some might unconvincingly argue that Section 2408 of the CCC gives an out for this behavior, but my argument is that this clearly fails to apply to a country such as the United States. Too many redundant safety nets exist for those in need.)
In fact, I suggest that the attitude of those who rationalize along these lines betrays the sin of pride in addition to the sin of stealing. That is, they are ashamed to ask others for help, so they take it upon themselves to steal to satisfy their own needs/desires. It’s a lie clothed in shreds of truth, and this is why it's an attitude that must be confronted. It's also worth noting that moral law is not based upon dollar and cent values--as civil and criminal laws are. I would argue that the moral sin of taking a small item is tantamount to taking a much larger one; God doesn't care whether your toilet paper was on sale, or not.
Before coming to work for the State of Oregon in 1997, I worked for retailers like Nordstrom and Sears in the field of loss prevention. This primarily involved arresting shoplifters as well as investigating internal thefts revealed through overs/shorts register analysis and other means—hidden cameras, for example. After I would chase down the suspects and place them in custody, I routinely heard every excuse you could imagine. There was always a reason why I should let them go, but, of course, I never released them before the police (and once or twice US Border Patrol) arrived to finish the reports in my cramped store office.
Rationalization is a way for life for these people. As one is removing bundles of stolen jeans or electronic devices from concealed compartments within the shoplifter's baby stroller, though, there is little inclination to feel sorry for them; they made their choices. We live in the richest and most generous society on the planet, and we should never excuse those who steal—by either force or quiet deception.