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Priest: Thou shalt not steal (unless it's from big business)

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Vicar: Shoplifting OK at times
  • Priest previously served as prison chaplain, interests include fair trade issues
  • Asks critics: How much did you give to charity compared to your Xmas spend?
  • Church bosses: Priest raises important issues but shoplifting is never acceptable

London, England (CNN) -- A UK priest has defended his comments that it is acceptable to steal from large companies.

Tim Jones, parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda, told his congregation in York, northern England: "My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift."

Jones, who according to the church Web site previously worked in Corinth, Mississippi, made his comments about what he regarded as acceptable behavior by those in need when they were desperate.

In a transcript of his sermon published in the local newspaper, "The Press," Jones said: "I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither.

"I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices."

Jones told CNN affiliate ITN Monday that his advice was directed at those with nothing and who had exhausted all other legal avenues to survive, such as state benefits.

While it was never right to shoplift, Jones said, it was the most acceptable alternative for those in desperate need compared with prostitution, burglary or other criminal offenses.

The Web site for St Hilda's states that Jones has served as a prison chaplain and that his interests include international justice and fair trade issues.

"I would say to those people that are outraged: Compare how much you are spending on yourself this Christmas compared to how much you have given to people in desperate situations," Jones told ITN.

In his sermon Sunday Jones called on anyone planning to steal not to take more than they need for longer than they need, saying that he offered his advice with a heavy heart. He added that his advocacy of shoplifting was a "grim indictment" of society and a plea for help for the most vulnerable.

But Jones' church bosses failed to back his call. In a statement on the Web site for the Diocese of York Tuesday, Richard Seed, Archdeacon of York said: "The Church of England does not advise anyone to shoplift, or break the law in any way.

"Fr Tim Jones is raising important issues about the difficulties people face when benefits are not forthcoming, but shoplifting is not the way to overcome these difficulties.

"There are many organizations and charities working with people in need, and the Citizens' Advice Bureau is a good first place to call."