Vatican Theft and the Seventh Commandment
By Father Kenneth Wasilewski
A few weeks ago, there was a news story involving the Vatican and the theft and attempted destruction of some statues relating to the indigenous people of the Amazon. The statues had been used in a prayer service in anticipation of the Amazon Synod that Pope Francis and other Church leaders would be attending. 
This garnered attention because some people saw their presence as inappropriate for a Catholic prayer service. The statues were later placed in a church (Santa Maria in Transpontina) not far from the Vatican. 
This deepened the frustration of some people even more — once again, because they felt that it was inappropriate, even idolatrous, to have them displayed in a Catholic church. Early on Oct. 21, a man walked into the church, took the statues, carried them to a nearby bridge and then set them up and knocked them into the Tiber River below. 
The theft, and the attempted destruction, were videoed by the perpetrators who then made the videos public. The reactions to these events were mixed. Some saw these actions as semi-heroic. Most, however, seemed to see them as a form of vigilantism involving theft and vandalism. 
This case is filled with several moral issues. However, in keeping with my ongoing discussion of the Seventh Commandment, I will limit my discussion to just a few that deal more directly with that commandment. 
To that end, the most obvious issue is rather black and white. It is undisputedly an act of theft. The person(s) in question had no right to take and attempt to destroy the statues even though they found them offensive and inappropriate. The fact that someone judges something to be inappropriate doesn’t give them license to do what they want with someone else’s property. 
This particular act of theft was compounded by the fact that it took place in a church. Interestingly, in the video of the crime, the thief is seen genuflecting upon entering and leaving the church. Presumably, this was done as a sign of reverence to Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. However, it’s a rather twisted logic that offers God reverence while directly transgressing one of God’s commandments. 
Nevertheless, those who would defend such actions claim it was simply an effort to remove images that were idolatrous or inappropriate. But this thinking goes against something in the Church’s moral teaching, namely, the principle of toleration. 
This principle basically says that we are not allowed to commit known evil actions in order to combat evil. We are only permitted to choose good or neutral actions. If our fight against evil leads us to commit evil, then evil still wins. 
Rather, the principle of toleration means that we must choose a good means to fight against evil — even if that results in us having to “tolerate” the existence of some evils in the process. 
In the case of the statues in question, if someone had a problem with them being in a church, then there are plenty of good avenues one could choose to try to rectify the situation. For example, simply offering one’s objection in a reasonable manner. It falls to those with authority to act or not act — either way the responsibility is theirs. 
Ironically, this whole episode demonstrates another problem with attempting to fight a perceived evil with an evil act. The underlying motivation for the theft and vandalism was allegedly so that these images would be removed from sight. Nevertheless, nothing has contributed more to these images being seen far and wide throughout the world than their theft. 
If the thieves believed it good that these statues never be seen again, then their actions achieved precisely the opposite effect. This is perhaps an important lesson for the rest of us — namely that in our efforts to fight against evil in this world, we must always and only choose good means to do so.