Are all wealthy persons thieves who are guilty of mortal sin??!!!

Yet another serious doctrinal error being spread among the faithful by Fr. Ryan Erlenbush, posting under the pseudonym Fr. Reginaldus at the New Theological Movement blog. Lest anyone think that I am exaggerating his views, here is a long quote from his blog explaining his claim:

When one man has excess wealth (that is, property and wealth which are beyond his legitimate needs) while another is in poverty (lacking material necessities), the rich man is a thief. The excess he possesses belongs to the poor man and, if he refuses to distribute his wealth accordingly, he plays the part of the “rich fool” in the Gospel parable.

The same fundamental doctrine underlies both the right to private property and the teaching against possessing excess wealth while others are in need. Each and every man has the God-given natural right to make use of the earth to supply for his own necessities as well as those of his family. Thus, we have the right to personal property, by which we secure a means of satiating our needs. Likewise, however, whenever anyone is lacking in basic necessities (food, water, shelter, medical care) he has a right to whatever excess wealth is present in his community. Thus, the excess food in your fridge and in mine, belongs to the poor. The excess money in your bank account and in mine, belongs to the poor. It is no alms to give to the poor from our excess wealth, we only restore to them what had belonged to them by divine right.

All men have a right to maintain the necessities of their own existence – and this includes saving a little something for the future – to hoard any wealth beyond this, is to commit the sin of theft. It is always a sin and, when the injured party is a poor man, it is always mortal. (Fr. Ryan of NTM blog)

The above false doctrine can be refuted in several different ways.

Fr. Ryan claims that giving money to the poor is not a type of alms. If giving what is excess, beyond legitimate needs, is not alms, but a necessity to avoid grave sin, then what is almsgiving? It can only be giving away what you and your family legitimately need to survive. This cannot be done without sin in many cases. The case of the widow who gives all that she has to live on (Mark 12) is justified in two ways. First, she does not have any family to support, so she is not unjustly taking away what they need. Second, she is a figure for the Church, who expends Herself utterly (in many ways, not merely financially) in seeking to help those in every kind of need. But if we believe Fr. Ryan, then anyone with a family to support would not be able to give alms at all. For he claims that giving away what is beyond your legitimate needs is not alms, but required to avoid mortal sin. And if you give away what your family needs, you also sin. So Fr. Ryan’s claim cannot be true.

His claim contradicts the constant teaching of the Church and the constant practice of the faithful to give alms from their excess wealth, not as a requirement to avoid mortal sin, but as a penance, as a type of almsgiving, as a virtuous act that deserves reward in Heaven, just as Christ taught:

{6:3} But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
{6:4} so that your almsgiving may be in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will repay you.

But there would be no reward for giving alms if it were merely a requirement to avoid mortal sin. To the contrary, the CCC teaches that almsgiving is a type of penance (CCC, n. 1434). Certainly, there is justice in sharing the goods of this life with those in need. But it is not solely an act of justice, and neither is it required by the moral law to give away all that you possess beyond your needs. To do so would be an act of generosity and charity, not merely the minimum act needed to avoid mortal sin.

Sacred Scripture says this about giving to those in need:

[2 Cor]
{9:6} But I say this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. And whoever sows with blessings shall also reap from blessings:
{9:7} each one giving, just as he has determined in his heart, neither out of sadness, nor out of obligation. For God loves a cheerful giver.

But if we apply Fr. Ryan’s theory to this text, everyone is obligated to give all that is beyond their legitimate needs; it is an obligation. And each one cannot give just as he has determined in his heart, since each one supposedly must give all that is beyond their legitimate needs, under pain of mortal sin. So Fr. Ryan’s claims on this topic are directly contrary to the plain teaching of Sacred Scripture. What does he say about this text from Scripture? Nothing, he is too busy misinterpreting theological texts from the Middle Ages to pay much attention to Sacred infallible Scripture.

As for his claim that the wealthy are all thieves, because they have not given away everything beyond their legitimate needs to the poor, Sacred Scripture says this about a particular wealthy man:

{27:57} Then, when evening had arrived, a certain wealthy man from Arimathea, named Joseph, arrived, who himself was also a disciple of Jesus.
{27:58} This man approached Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered the body to be released.
{27:59} And Joseph, taking the body, wrapped it in a clean finely-woven linen cloth,
{27:60} and he placed it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out of a rock. And he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and he went away.

{15:42} And when evening had now arrived (because it was the Preparation Day, which is before the Sabbath)
{15:43} there arrived Joseph of Arimathea, a noble council member, who himself was also awaiting the kingdom of God. And he boldly entered to Pilate and petitioned for the body of Jesus.
{15:44} But Pilate wondered if he had already died. And summoning a centurion, he questioned him as to whether he was already dead.
{15:45} And when he had been informed by the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.
{15:46} Then Joseph, having bought a fine linen cloth, and taking him down, wrapped him in the fine linen and laid him in a sepulcher, which was hewn from a rock. And he rolled a stone to the entrance of the tomb.

{23:50} And behold, there was a man named Joseph, who was a councilman, a good and just man,
{23:51} (for he had not consented to their decision or their actions). He was from Arimathea, a city of Judea. And he was himself also anticipating the kingdom of God.
{23:52} This man approached Pilate and petitioned for the body of Jesus.
{23:53} And taking him down, he wrapped him in a fine linen cloth, and he placed him in a tomb hewn from rock, in which no one had ever been placed.

Sacred Scripture tells us that Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man. Yet infallible Sacred Scripture also calls him a good and just man. And the Providence of God entrusted this man with the body of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. In fact, Joseph was so virtuous that he took the risk of petitioning Pilate for the body of Jesus, despite Pilate’s well-known reputation for extreme cruelty (“some who were reporting about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices.” Luke 13:1).

But according to the false doctrine taught by Fr. Ryan Erlenbush, any man who is wealthy if others are poor is committing a mortal sin. (And since Christ taught that “the poor you will always have with you,” Mt 26:11, we need not add the condition ‘if others are poor’, for such is always the case.)

So who should we believe? The infallible Holy Spirit tells us that Joseph was wealthy as well as good and just. But this priest (Fr. Ryan posts as ‘Fr. Reginaldus’) says that no one can be wealthy and be good and just. If you are wealthy, then you are committing a mortal sin, according to him. Yet when he preaches what he claims is the doctrine of the Church online, he does so undercover of anonymity, apparently ashamed to put his own name on these foolish ideas. And with good reason. It is very common for a diocese to have some wealthy donors who give generously to the work of the parishes, while still retaining wealth beyond what they need. Fr. Ryan is explicitly accusing these donors to the Church of being thieves guilty of mortal sin because they do not also give all that is beyond their legitimate needs to the poor. He cannot put his real name on this reprehensible false accusation. The pastor of his parish and the Bishop of his diocese would be appalled, and the many generous wealthy donors to the parishes and dioceses of the Church would be offended.

But there is more. The infallible words of our Lord also teach us that being wealthy does not imply that a person is a thief, nor does it imply that one is committing a mortal sin. A wealthy young man who had many possessions approached Jesus. According to Fr. Ryan, he was necessarily a thief, and was committing mortal sin, by possessing wealth while others were poor. And yet the text of Sacred Scripture proves otherwise:

{19:16} And behold, someone approached and said to him, “Good Teacher, what good should I do, so that I may have eternal life?”
{19:17} And he said to him: “Why do you question me about what is good? One is good: God. But if you wish to enter into life, observe the commandments.”
{19:18} He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said: “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony.
{19:19} Honor your father and your mother. And, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
{19:20} The young man said to him: “All these I have kept from my childhood. What is still lacking for me?”
{19:21} Jesus said to him: “If you are willing to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.”
{19:22} And when the young man had heard this word, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Consider what the young man says, that he has kept all the commandments from childhood. This would certainly include ‘You shall not steal’. And then he asks Jesus what is still lacking. Our Lord does not reply that the young man has broken the commandment ‘You shall not steal’ by being wealthy. Rather, he tells the young man what he lacks to be perfect. In other words, Jesus is acknowledging that the young man has in fact kept all these commandments, including ‘You shall not steal’. Therefore, this wealthy young man is not a thief. And since Jesus tells him only what he next needs to do to be perfect, this implies that the young man is not committing a mortal sin by being wealthy. So this encounter between a wealthy young man, who keeps all the commandments including the commandment not to steal, and our Lord, proves that the doctrine of Fr. Ryan (claiming that all the wealthy are thieves guilty of mortal sin) is a false doctrine.

See how easily Fr. Ryan’s claim is refuted from what is plainly taught in Sacred Scripture. So how can he arrive at such a false conclusion, when Scripture teaches the opposite so clearly? Foolishness disguised as scholarship!

But I would be remiss if I did not add that wealth and poverty are not of equal utility in the spiritual life. For Jesus does tell the young man that giving his wealth to the poor is a necessity for the path to perfection and will give him treasure in heaven. And as for those who use their wealth selfishly, it is very difficult for them even to enter heaven.

{19:23} Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, I say to you, that the wealthy shall enter with difficulty into the kingdom of heaven.
{19:24} And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for the wealthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
{19:25} And upon hearing this, the disciples wondered greatly, saying: “Then who will be able to be saved?”
{19:26} But Jesus, gazing at them, said to them: “With men, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”

So certainly it is possible for a wealthy man to sin. (Of course, the poor also are capable of sin.) And a wealthy man has the responsibility to use his goods prudently and wisely. But the mere fact that a person is wealthy, while others are poor and in need, does not imply that he is a thief, nor that he is necessarily committing a mortal sin.

Now let’s consider a sinful wealthy man.

[Luke 19]
{19:1} And having entered, he walked through Jericho.
{19:2} And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. And he was the leader of the tax collectors, and he was wealthy.
{19:3} And he sought to see Jesus, to see who he was. But he was unable to do so, because of the crowd, for he was small in stature.
{19:4} And running ahead, he climbed up a sycamore tree, so that he might see him. For he was to pass near there.
{19:5} And when he had arrived at the place, Jesus looked up and saw him, and he said to him: “Zacchaeus, hurry down. For today, I should lodge in your house.”
{19:6} And hurrying, he came down, and he received him joyfully.
{19:7} And when they all saw this, they murmured, saying that he had turned aside to a sinful man.
{19:8} But Zacchaeus, standing still, said to the Lord: “Behold, Lord, one half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone in any matter, I will repay him fourfold.”
{19:9} Jesus said to him: “Today, salvation has come to this house; because of this, he too is a son of Abraham.
{19:10} For the Son of man has come to seek and to save what had been lost.”

Zacchaeus gained wealth by committing sin, probably by committing many objective mortal sins. So while we cannot say that all the wealthy are thieves or are guilty of mortal sin, it is common knowledge that some persons gain wealth by means of grave sin.

But consider what happens when Zacchaeus repents of these sins. He gives away only half of his goods to the poor, and he repays those he has cheated. But it seems entirely possible that, after doing so, he will retain substantial wealth. Scripture does not say that he gave away all his money to the poor after repaying those he cheated. Scripture does not say that he gave away all that he had, other than the goods that he legitimately needed. There is no trace of Fr. Ryan’s doctrine in this passage on the wealthy man who repents. Sacred Scripture does NOT teach that Zacchaeus had to give up all his excess wealth in order to avoid mortal sin, or in order to begin to keep the commandment, ‘You shall not steal’.

And Jesus says to Zacchaeus, the wealthy man: “Today, salvation has come to this house; because of this, he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man has come to seek and to save what had been lost.” But if it were true that wealth implies thievery and mortal sin, then Jesus’ statement would be false. We must believe either Sacred Scripture and our Lord’s own words, plainly spoken, or a priest who posts his claims about what we should believe using a false name.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

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2 Responses to Are all wealthy persons thieves who are guilty of mortal sin??!!!

  1. Gerry Van Hees says:

    When one looks at the worlds various societies and their solutions for ending poverty, one cannot help but be impressed by the way the Western world (founded on the Judeo christian principles) in particular has resolved this issue. The acknowledged wealth of the minority has managed to largely eliminate the poverty of the majority in the Western world through various means such as welfare, taxation and philanthropy etc.
    I for one would not like to be considered a thief or in fear of mortal sin for being thrifty and wise with my finances.

  2. mundabor says:

    It is astonishing how liberation theology keeps rearing its ugly head, and clearly there are priests of a certain generation that are approaching the point of no return.

    The idea that one would not even have a legitimate right of things in his own fridge would make even the blood of a die-hard communist activist chill. Even Marx would recognise the private property of what is not a production means. This interpretation of the doctrine of wealth is more than heretic, it is just insane.

    Beware of the false prophets.


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