Did you know that St. Thomas Aquinas taught that there are occasions when it is OK to steal? Consider this from the Summa (II-II, q. 66, a. 7):
In cases of need all things are common property, so that there would seem to be no sin in taking another’s property, for need has made it common. … [I]f the need be so manifest and urgent, that it is evident that the present need must be remedied by whatever means be at hand (for instance when a person is in some imminent danger, and there is no other possible remedy), then it is lawful for a man to succor his own need by means of another’s property, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery.
He’s pretty generous with another’s goods! If you have need, take what you want, “openly or secretly,” this isn’t theft or robbery! Well, what thief wouldn’t say he had “need” of it?
Well, perhaps that is making too much of this particular quote, as Jim notes in a comment below. Thomas is talking of cases in extremis. But consider how this principle gets expanded in the 20th century, when it goes from being an exception to the rule to a major principle for Catholic Social Thought. Consider this statement in the Vatican 2 document, Gaudium et Spes:
69. God intended the earth with everything contained in it for the use of all human beings and peoples. Thus, under the leadership of justice and in the company of charity, created goods should be in abundance for all in like manner.(8) Whatever the forms of property may be, as adapted to the legitimate institutions of peoples, according to diverse and changeable circumstances, attention must always be paid to this universal destination of earthly goods. In using them, therefore, man should regard the external things that he legitimately possesses not only as his own but also as common in the sense that they should be able to benefit not only him but also others.(9) On the other hand, the right of having a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one’s family belongs to everyone. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church held this opinion, teaching that men are obliged to come to the relief of the poor and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods.(10) If one is in extreme necessity, he has the right to procure for himself what he needs out of the riches of others.(11)
John Paul II developed the thought in his encyclical, Laborem exercens. He says that this “principle of the common use of goods” is “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order.”
The above principle, as it was then stated and as it is still taught by the Church, diverges radically from the programme of collectivism as proclaimed by Marxism and put into pratice in various countries in the decades following the time of Leo XIII’s Encyclical. At the same time it differs from the programme of capitalism practised by liberalism and by the political systems inspired by it. In the latter case, the difference consists in the way the right to ownership or property is understood. Christian tradition has never upheld this right as absolute and untouchable. On the contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone. …
From this point of view, therefore, in consideration of human labour and of common access to the goods meant for man, one cannot exclude the socialization, in suitable conditions, of certain means of production. In the course of the decades since the publication of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum, the Church’s teaching has always recalled all these principles, going back to the arguments formulated in a much older tradition, for example, the well-known arguments of the Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
What is the Biblical foundation for this teaching? We can find places where Scripture exhorts those with means to share with those who lack; we find exhortations to care for the widow, the orphan, the poor; there are laws about leaving the corners of the fields unharvested so the poor can glean. But where is there anything like this principle that any person has a “right” to what another owns, and that, in case of “need,” that person can simply “help themselves”?
In light of this, no wonder Liberation Theologians took the stand they did toward social conflict. Perhaps if some of their number hadn’t openly embraced Marxism, John Paul wouldn’t have had a problem with their methods of “redistribution” of wealth.
See also the Catechism of the Catholic Church; its discussion of the commandment against stealing is a philosophical treatise that begins with this “universal destination of goods” and gives greatest attention to its socio-political implications. Contrast with the straight forward explication in the Catechism of the Council of Trent.
In this principle, I think we also find the origin of the Catholic Church’s approach to immigration. The Catholic bishops are just extending this economic principle. If Mexican poor have “need,” the “right to common use” stipulates that they should be able to walk across the border and take what belongs to someone else. Consider the legislative agenda of the Bishops of Texas: illegal immigrants must not be hindered by a border fence, they must have the same access as legal residents to health care and education, they should even be able to get a government issued driver’s license. They are not to be called “illegal,” or “criminal,” despite having broken the laws of another nation–they are to be called “undocumented,” as if they simply left their papers at home.
God’s law is clear: “Thou shalt not steal.” The Catholic Church can’t change that. Aquinas, Vatican 2, John Paul II, and the Texas Bishops are as wrong as can be.