You Shall Not Steal!

Exodus 20:15
You shall not steal.

For some strange reason, we find it easier to steal if our victims have no faces.  One $20 bill stolen from a stranger on the bus next to you is theft, but money stolen by downloading music off the Internet that you haven’t paid for is free for the taking.  Indeed, for some people, “sharing” music without paying for it has somehow become a positive “right.”  And the justification for that right is that the people we are stealing from have “enough money already.”  Now, if it were a matter of a poor man with no hope of gain putting bread in his baby’s mouth by stealing from a miser who has more than he needs, you might have a case in Catholic understanding. As St. John Chrysostom says, “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.”  So there is room for Robin Hood in the Catholic tradition.  But your average MP3 collector is not stealing because of some noble principle of helping the poor.  He’s just taking stuff he wants because he’s too much of a slob to pay for it.  There is no difference between that and stuffing CDs into our pocket at the local music store, except for one thing: music store owners have faces and we can see our theft reflected in their outraged expressions clearly.

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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  • Guest

    Dear Mark, To whom are you referring specifically? or are you referring to an imaginary person with no face that is downloading all this music for free?  In the Holy Love of God I am your brother and my name is Royal.

  • Guest


    I read Mark's comments to be addressed to everyone regarding our human tendency to rationalize bad behavior more easily when there is no visible person there to be offended. 

    But God is offended, so it's good for Mark to remind us.

  • laurak

    Artists deserve to earn the “royalties” from their music. When people steal music, it’s like stealing someone’s livelihood.