Q. 1. What is the seventh Commandment and what are the sins against it?
A. 1. The seventh Commandment is, “You shall not steal.”
What is forbidden by this Commandment? It is forbidden to take what justly belongs to another. And it is forbidden to destroy or injure the property or possessions of another.
Is it ever permitted to take what belongs to another? In dire necessity it is permitted to take what is necessary to preserve life, if there is no other way to obtain these necessities. The seventh commandment forbids theft, that is, usurping another's property against the reasonable will of the owner. There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. This is the case in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing...) is to put at one's disposal and use the property of others. [Cf. GS 69 # 1] (C.C.C. # 2408)
Even if it does not contradict the provisions of civil law, any form of unjustly taking and keeping the property of others is against the seventh commandment: thus, deliberate retention of goods lent or of objects lost; business fraud; paying unjust wages; forcing up prices by taking advantage of the ignorance or hardship of another. [Cf. Deut 25:13-16; 24:14-15; Jas 5:4; Am 8:4-6] (C.C.C. # 2409)
The following are also morally illicit: speculation in which one contrives to manipulate the price of goods artificially in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others; corruption in which one influences the judgment of those who must make decisions according to law; appropriation and use for private purposes of the common goods of an enterprise; work poorly done; tax evasion; forgery of checks and invoices; excessive expenses and waste. Willfully damaging private or public property is contrary to the moral law and requires reparation. (C.C.C. # 2409)
How would business people break this Commandment? A merchant who gave false weight or measures, or goods that were spoiled, would break this Commandment. A banker or money lender who demanded a higher rate of interest than was permitted by law would also break it.
How would public officials break the Seventh Commandment? By setting apart for himself or misusing public funds.
What is the obligation of employers? They are obliged to give a just living wage to all who work for them.
What is the obligation of employees? They are obliged to give a just return in time and labour for their salary or wage.
What, in general, are all people obliged to do by this Commandment? Everyone is obliged to respect the just rights of others, and to give to everyone what belongs to them.
If we have broken this Commandment, what are we obliged to do? We are obliged to give back anything we have taken, and to repair any damage we have caused.
If we have received stolen goods, what are we obliged to do? We are obliged to return the goods to the person from whom they were stolen.
If we cannot restore to the proper owner money or property justly belonging to him, what must we do? We must restore to his heirs or relatives, or if this cannot be done, we must devote the stolen money or property to charity.
If we have found some articles of value, what are we obligated to do? We are obligated to try to find the owner and return the article to him.
“To be a partner of a thief is to hate one’s own life; one hears the victim’s curse, but discloses nothing.” [Prov. 29:24] The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity.” [Ecc. 5:10]