Q. Must we restore ill-gotten goods?
A. Yes; we are bound to restore ill-gotten goods if we are able, or else the sin will not be forgiven; we must also pay our debts.
We come now to speak of the third way of wronging our neighbour by unjustly keeping what belongs to him, and that is when we do not restore ill-gotten goods. The restitution of what we have stolen to the rightful owner is a strict duty, for the neglect of which millions are now burning in hell, and it is therefore most necessary that all should be well instructed as to the obligation of it and the manner of making it.
Remember, therefore, my dear children, throughout life, that there is no pardon from God for any injury which you have knowingly and willingly inflicted on your neighbour, unless you repair that injury to the utmost of your power. This is equally true of injuries which regard the property and those which affect the character of your neighbour; but it is of those which regard his property that we are here speaking, those which concern his character will be treated of under the eighth commandment. Bear in mind, then, that if you have stolen from your neighbour, cheated him in any way, or wilfully damaged his property, you are strictly bound, as a necessary condition of obtaining pardon, to make good the loss. Moreover, the loss which we have to make good is not the bare amount or value of what we have stolen or destroyed, but it is the entire loss which our neighbour has undergone, and which we might have foreseen that he would be in danger of undergoing from our unjust action.
For example, let us suppose that a thief has stolen a hundred pounds from a shopkeeper. To supply the loss, the poor tradesman has to borrow another hundred pounds to enable him to preserve his credit and carry on his business. You can easily see that the thief has injured him not only to the amount of the hundred pounds which he stole, but also to the amount of the interest which the tradesman has to pay for the money which he has been obliged to borrow; therefore the thief is bound to make this good also. Take, again, the case of a person who has stolen a workman’s tools. The poor man is unable to get employment without his tools, and remains for some days idle. The thief is obliged to restore not merely the value of the tools, which may be trifling, but the loss which the workman and, his family have suffered in consequence. In a word, a thief is bound in justice to repay all the losses and expenses as well as the direct injury which has been caused by his theft. Hence we find Zaccheus in the Gospel restoring to those, whom he had wronged, fourfold the amount of that which he had deprived them, no doubt in order to make full atonement for all the losses which they might have suffered in consequence of his dishonesty. And our Blessed Lord praised him highly for so doing, and assured him that his excellent dispositions had obtained his pardon (Luke xix. 8, 9).
Rev. Henry Gibson, The Necessity of Providing Restitution, 1882.