30 January, 2012

Rough day for American Chancery offices: two women charged with each stealing $1,000,000

It's a sad day for the Archdioceses of New York and Philadelphia as employees are charged with stealing millions from the Church to maintain their  lifestyle. The New York Times writes about a woman who accomplished the undertaking to maintain her daily New York life. The Philadelphia Inquirer posts an article about another who bilked another million covering losses she ran up at casinos.

I am not surprised people steal. No one who hears confessions for a living, be they priests, bartenders or barbers, would be shocked by such news. But there is something particularly odious about stealing from a Church. Whether it's emptying the poor box of coins or bank accounts with fraudulent bills, it's all stealing from monies given with the goal of helping the poor and educating the young. We sadly often applaud those who steal from the rich to give to the poor; from Robin Hood of film and legend to today's 'Anonymous' Movement  who hack computers to do the same. We all want to pull for the underdog in any David and Goliath struggle. We feel a certain vicarious satisfaction from their accomplishment. Yet this will serve to deaden our conviction that it is wrong to steal, irrespective of the wealth of the individual or victim. This is a necessary first step along a path which eventually leads to sin. It is a sad day indeed.

It can also be a life lesson. These women did not pull-off one giant heist. They began by nibbling away with small amounts, no doubt convinced that they would pay it back when their luck changed. They framed their acts, not as 'thefts', but as an advance on future salary or a loan to be quickly repaid. But, having been able to justify theft once as being a necessary evil, and given that the act occurred seemingly without consequence, they were inclined to fall into that sin again, and again, and again.... Eventually their self delusions cannot cope with the scale of fraud. They become driven to dig even deeper into sin in a futile attempt to conceal their crimes, trying to prevent finally falling into despair and disgrace.

Their fall demonstrates the danger we all face when we are tempted to sin. Satan doesn't suggest we commit BIG sins. He knows we're too smart to fall for that. He suggests that we commit small sins. Acts that we can 'justify' to ourselves to soothe our conscience. Eventually this leads us to confuse what we need from what we need, a culpable blindness that leads one deeper into larger mortal sins.

Another variation of theft is something many Canadians will face in the next few weeks as they file their taxes, a process that tempts some to claim deductions they are not entitled to. Things that others have a claim to from our own resources that we hide or refuse to pay. When we fail to pay our taxes, we are stealing from the public purse. It makes no difference if we get caught. It's stealing all the same. Nor can we claim it to be victimless crime. If we consider today's deficits in health care budgets which leads to the delay of necessary procedures, we can see the lie that no one is hurt by our falsely depriving the government of needed tax revenue.

As a smoker, (I know, I know... I'm planning to quit for Lent... hopefully for good this time) I refrain from purchasing my cigarettes from local native reserves despite the cash savings. To deny the province the tax revenues attached to the sale cigarettes is a morally questionable act – especially in times of deficits and cutbacks. Clearly it is by winning us through such mundane daily decisions poorly made that Satan tries to steer us off the path of salvation.

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