English Priest: Shoplifting OK at Times

An English priest is giving some unconventional holiday advice - shoplifting may be OK.

Rev. Tim Jones was rebuked by fellow clergy and shop owners Tuesday after delivering a Sunday sermon in which he said it was sometimes acceptable for desperate people to shoplift from large chain stores.

From his pulpit at the Church of St. Lawrence in York, some 220 miles (355 kilometers) north of London, Jones told his congregation that shoplifting can be justified if a person in real need is not greedy.

The remarks sparked a firestorm of protest, and a summons from Archdeacon of York Richard Seed, who said in a statement posted on his Web site Tuesday that the church rejects the view that shoplifting can be acceptable.

"The Church of England does not advise anyone to shoplift, or break the law in any way," he said.

Eleanor Course, a spokeswoman for Seed, said the Archdeacon wants to meet with Jones to discuss his sermon.

"We want to make clear that it simply doesn't help people," she said. "And the last thing a desperate person wants is to be caught for shoplifting, so we feel this advice is very unwise."

Jones told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he stands by his comments. He said he regretted only that most of the focus had been on his shoplifting comments rather than his other points.

"The point I'm making is that when we shut down every socially acceptable avenue for people in need then the only avenue left is the socially unacceptable one," he said, adding that people are often released from prison without any means of support.

"What I'm against is the way society has become ever more comfortable with the people at the very bottom, and blinded to their needs," he said.

He said shoplifting could help people whose government welfare benefits have been delayed.

Members of the British Retail Consortium, a prominent trade organization, also criticized Jones' comments.

"It's the job of our welfare system, which retailers support with the billions they pay each year in tax, to help vulnerable people," said spokesman Richard Dodd. "There are no excuses for stealing."