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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Ethics, Law and Catholics

by Catherine Frakas 16 Aug 2001

Ethics, Law and Catholics QUESTION from Marian O'Brien January 16, 2001 Hello Father:
I have a couple of questions that I hope you will be able to give me the Catholic insight and views on the following:
First, is there any conflict -- morally or ethically -- if a person knows that an individual is mentally unbalanced and takes advantage of that person i.e., befriends the individual so that they can benefit financially.
Secondly, I am aware of Church, moral, natural and civil law, and am aware that there can be conflicts between each or all. For instance, a woman is not considered a criminal if she has an abortion under Canadian law, however she is guilty of violating the teachings of the Catholic Church should she proceed with the abortion.
Civil law often basis judgement on reasonable doubt. Is the same held true for Catholics. For instance, an individual dies and leaves a considerable amount of money to Catholic Charities. The amount of money involved is suspect, since the individual could not have legally earned this money. The Charities are informed that there is substantial proof that the money is stolen; there is evidence of fraud and lying. What is the position of the Catholic Church of Charities taking this money? There is evidence that the money legally belongs to another who was unaware of the actions of the deceased.
Your answer will be greatly appreciated.
Sincerely, Marian O'Brien
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on March 19, 2001 Dear Mrs. O'Brien:
Thanks for the promotion, but I am not ordained, but a lay brother.
On your first question if a person knowingly and diliberately took advantage of a mentally unbalanced person for any purpose but especially for personal financial gain or sexual exploitation, that person has committed a GRAVE sin. This is a dispictible sin. Such a person who would do such a thing could be up on civil criminal charges as well.
There is no reasonable doubt that sin it sin. If the Church teaches that a certain action is sinful, it is sinful. There can be some doubt as to whether a grave sin is also mortal since to qualify for mortal status the person must meet three conditions in their actions: 1) the sin be objectively grave; 2) the person has full knowledge and consent of will (a free will not impaired); 3) the person does the sin anyway.
As for your example, if there is proof that the money belongs to someone else then the money should be turned over to that person. But there needs to be proof. The Catholic Charity not only does not have to turn over the money to someone claiming it is their's merely because the person claims it, but the Charity has an obligation not to turn over the money to someone merely claiming ownership. The Charity has an obligation to use the money as the donor wishes and to not enable a fraud, thus ownership needs to be proven.
If it is reasonably proven that the money should have gone to someone else, or belongs to someone else, then I believe the money should be turned over to that person if it is possible.
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