What commandments require restitution?

By Paul Dion, STL

I decided that I would make this week's burning question a challenge for you all. You all know that Catholics believe that sinful acts against God's wishes can be forgiven by participating in the sacrament of Penance.

What is essentially required for this sacramental forgiveness is a truthful and complete confession to a priest, a firm resolve to avoid the behavior in the future and atoning reparation. The reparation can be a good act or several good acts of varying degrees of "difficulty" or proximity of relationship with the sin(s) for which absolution has been granted.

There are however sins against three specific commandments that require restitution to effect complete atonement and divine forgiveness.

Here's the Burning Question: Name the three commandments.

It's all yours. Tell us what you think.


  1. Anonymous5:58 AM

    You shall not kill,
    You shall not steal,
    You shall not commit adultery

  2. Anonymous2:34 AM

    If the previous posting is correct, my question is how, exactly can one pay restitution for killing or adultery? Stealing, I figure, would be easy enough to figure out, but it's not like you can un-kill someone, or un-sleep with someone. Where in the New Testiment does it say anything about restitution? I thought that Jesus's words to the woman at the well were, "Go, and sin no more" I don't remember him saying how to un-do the sins she'd already committed. I thought that price he had already paid for us. This kind of Church doctrine contradicts the Gospel, and causes me doubt.

  3. Anonymous3:40 PM

    When Our Lord gave us life, he placed His Love within our hearts, and through Moses and the Ten Commandments he has shown, or commanded us, the manner in which we are to release and share His Love with our brothers and sisters.

    The first three of His Ten Commandments are concerned with the way we express our love for Him, and require restitution to effect complete atonement and divine forgiveness.

    I am the LORD Your God you shall not have strange God's before me.
    You shall not take the name of the Lord Your God in vain.
    Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.

    The commandments were given to Moses, and then to us, in the order of their importance. Therefore, if we adhere to the first three, we should have no difficulty in loving our neighbor, as prescribed in the remaining seven commandments.

  4. Anonymous3:42 PM

    The comment directly above this one from anonymous is a great one. The answer, unfortunately, does not address the question.

  5. Anonymous3:43 PM

    Is it the 5th (Thou shalt not kill), 7th (Thou shalt not steal), and 8th (Thou shalt not bear false witness) commandments? In murder, one of course cannot bring the other person back to life, but according to the laws of the state, doing prison time and having a complete remorseful attitude would be in order ( to say the least). As you would forfeit all your freedoms in restitution for the one you have killed. In lying, because we are bound by our conscience to tell the truth, we would have to make restitution by admitting our untruth and vow not to do THAT again, (lying). In stealing, giving back the thing stolen, or paying back all the money or goods stolen and again, having a sincere repentant attitude to not steal again.

  6. Anonymous3:59 PM

    By Paul Dion, STL
    Oct. 24, 2006


    The Catholic faith relationship with God requires that the balance of justice be maintained. Catholics believe that each human being carries the responsibility to strive to become perfect as Jesus was perfect. To Catholics it is reprehensible (bad) to sin and not submit the sin before the Church community and atone for it by spiritual and physical good acts.

    One of the chief acts of renewing our relationship with Jesus is the confession of our sins to the Church through the priest, who in the place of Jesus, says, "Go, and sin no more."

    It is important to note that Catholics believe that Jesus conquered sin once and for all by His Life, Passion, Death and Resurrection.

    He also left us with the commandment of love, mutual support and clean living as a saint in the Kingdom of God. He knew that we would make mistakes, so He left the disciples whom He set aside for service in the Kingdom with the assurance that "whatever they loosed on earth would be loosed in Heaven and whatever they bound on earth would be bound in heaven." (Matt. 18:18)

    What does this mean to us in the discussion about restitution? In the Tradition of the chosen People of God, restitution was a very important act. Chapters 21, 22, 23 of Exodus and chapter 4 of Numbers are full of directions and mandates concerning restitution. In fact in those days restitution was to be five-fold the value that had been stolen. The final chapter of Job has a powerful lesson about restitution owed back to God for having subverted His wishes by speaking wrongly about His relationship with Job.

    The New Testament is more subtle about restitution, but Jesus does not turn a blind eye to it.

    In the second comment above there is mention of the woman at the well. The woman at the well in the 4th chapter of John goes to town and comes back and repairs her transgressions of the law by spreading the good news about Jesus. The woman in John's eighth chapter, the one caught in adultery was told, "Go and sin no more."

    This is a requirement to do two things, make her reputation and the reputation of her partner right again in the temple community, and to bring good and honest behavior into the community. It is also advice to stay repentant because through continued repentance she will return the gift of a clean and renewed soul to God.

    The New Testament also has the story of Zaccheus the tax collector. ( Luke 19; 1-9) This man knew the religious law. He knew his Torah. He knew that he had to make restitution for his ill-gotten gains. So before dinner with Jesus, he makes the promise to pay back everyone to whom he has caused financial damage four times more than he took. Further, he promises to give half his goods to the poor. Jesus is happy and declares that "salvation has come to this house today."

    Human Conscience / Moral Teachings Based on the Commandments


    Restitution is not only a part of the moral code of all human beings, it is also a part of the civil code. It is seen most often when it comes time to sentence criminals who have stolen goods or cash. So actually, there isn't much to say here except that unless a person brings the balance of justice back into the community that has been damaged by this illegal and immoral rearrangement of assets, the sin, even though confessed to a priest, will not be forgiven. The lack of restitution is a sign of lack of repentance. An attitude of this nature will not call down the forgiveness of God and the grace of a continued, uninjured personal relationship with Jesus. Restitution is essential for forgiveness of sins against the divine commandment, "Thou shalt not steal."


    Malicious defamation and libel are lies that require restitution if the sin is to be forgiven. Every effort must be made to restore the reputation of the person who has been the topic of the damaging lie. These can also be civil crimes and the guilty party will be held to some kind of restitution, even in civil life. Now I know, everyone is going to read it on the Internet that Jane Trappenclog is going to jail because she defamed her next door neighbor Scott Nosretep. That could be considered sufficient reparation civilly, and maybe even spiritually. The point is, it must be a part of the human reparation if Jane wants to continue walking with God.


    I've had so many people tell me, "how can you un-kill someone?" I wish I knew how! If I did, do you think I would be sitting here writing this? This is the toughest restitution of them all because the perpetrator doesn't want anyone to know. You just know that Sheamous Shatterdipikous isn't going to go drop a huge wad at the corner funeral parlor during the pre-funeral rosary. He's on the lam and he knows that he can't un-kill the dude that he iced. But, make restitution he must, even if he never goes to jail. The dead man was supporting someone and had children counting on him. Sheamus therefore has to make restitution for the support that he "stole" from them. If he does go to jail, then restitution in kind becomes impossible and the time in the big house becomes a part of the resetting of the balance of justice.


    Many of you have made remarks about how to make restitution for adultery. One comment, as you can see above was, "You can't un-sleep" with your partner. Nope. Right again. And you sure don't want to trot down to the house and drop off a few bucks to make it right, now do you? Oh, that would be sweet! Now, let's get serious and look at it another way. Adultery often results in pregnancy. Now you're talking restitution big time. We all know how long it takes for a child to grow out of Mom and Dad's wallet. Believe me, restitution is essential here too. It is not easy, but it is also non-negotiable.

    Frankly, now, do you want me to include abortion too? In the Catholic church that will get you excommunicated, yes, even you, papa, if you aid and abet the action. Oh, you can get absolution from it, indeed. Plus, believe me, you will be directed to share in the costs of the action as your penance. This will not be a "three Hail Mary's for the souls in Purgatory" and you're gone.

    Under the same heading I include all the damage that is caused by the molesting of minors. It is not morally correct to go to confession, get the priest's absolution and think that you can walk away from the reality of the trauma. Iste, stercus taurorum est. Without restitution, the lion can't sleep tonight!

    GUIDING PRINCIPLE -- Impact on the Community

    Remember the Communion of Saints. (See our previous blogs) Everything we do has spiritual repercussions. It is not acceptable to abdicate our spiritual relationship with Jesus to damage the spiritual welfare of our brethren. Occasionally we do get caught up in our selfish gratification behavior. Every time we do, we cause damage to the community.

    Sometimes it's a "ding" and sometimes it is a "CLANG". We have to remember that when the angels call us to the judgment, sitting on the clouds at the right and the left of the Judge, trumpets blaring, the unrepaired behavior is going to the there for all to see. Especially HIM! Yikes!

    We do nothing alone. We touch the community with our soul every moment. Every moment someone in the community is praying for us. We are occupying someone's spiritual space all the time. We too, carry souls in our spiritual being all the time.

    When we trip and fall and damage something, we have to repair it. The least we can do it to embrace the spirit of those we carry in our prayer life and in our accompaniment of Jesus. When we renew this relationship with Him and them, we are whole again. Even small acts of repentance and atonement are restitution of some kind.

    The welfare of the community is of utmost importance in judging what is good and proper spiritual behavior. When the spiritual harmony of the community is damaged, even a slight bit by our bad behavior, we owe it to the communion of saints and to the savior of us all to have enough courage to fix it.

  7. Anonymous5:32 PM

    OK - so your point is that one must make restitution for things like adultery and abortion the same as restitution for theft. That leads to the obvious question of how (practically speaking) is one expected to do that? To whome is restitution paid for abortion, and how? Seems like the victim of that crime is beyond the reach of financial restitution, and no good deed can undo or repair the damage caused.

  8. Anonymous:
    Thank you for a very thoughtful question. For whom and to whom should restitution be paid for an abortion brought on by adultery? The question has to be asked aBout whom the moving party is. If the adultery is rather quiet and private and of the "one night stand" variety and the moving party to procure the abortion is the woman, the man may or may not know the or come to know the physical consequences of the encounter. In which case, restitution would be impossible because of the lack of knowledge.

    The moral principle of restitution obliges reparation of damages that could have been avoided. In the case of an abortion there could be monetary restitution through anonymous donation to the agrieved party. These donatins would not be made out of concurrance with the decision to have the abortion but to alleviate the economic damage caused by them. Hence, the anonimity. There could be payments for psychological treatments required for the repair of the post-traumatic consequences. Professional help to the immediate family of a married adulterous partner may be required and anonymous contributions to alleviate the cost of those would be of great atoning value.
    Restitution is not always required to be public. It can be made in the form of donations to public or private service agencies related to the rectification of the harm done by the sin committed. In the case of a pregnancy caused by an adulterous liaison, donations to an adoption agency might be in order. This may save the female side of the event the trauma of procuring an abortion and help the agency find a place for the offspring.

    It is not moral to walk away from the duty of restitution.

  9. Stephen12:30 PM

    Hi Wally - I can honestly say that in all my years of going to confession, the only thing I've ever been asked to do other than say a few prayers, has been to read a particular passage of the Bible. And I'm no Saint!!! :-)

    Is it common for reparations to be given?

  10. Anonymous12:32 PM

    Here's an example in light of Paul Dion's article above. If I kill someone, it's not enough to say I'm sorry and say a few Hail Marys and read a few passages from the Bible.

    Yes under civil law, I have to serve my jail sentence but that too is not enough. As a Christian, I am obligated to make it up to the family of the person for their loss. That family might have lost a father and means of generating income for themselves. I am morally obligated to make it up to that family for what I have done. I have to provide restitution in good conscience for the act I committed.

    That's what we mean by this Burning Question. And there are more examples. I'm sure this group can collectively bring this to a fruitful discussion.

  11. Thanks for that Wally.

    I completely see the purpose of this, but what slightly concerns me is that if this is such a big deal as part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, do Priests know to convey this? Sure, for the big things I imagine they do e.g. murder. But for small things, I think they should be providing the guidance necessary to help people reach a full state of forgiveness.

  12. As the Theology editor of I am going to try to address this very insightful comment.
    1. "...Part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation." Yes, priests know to convey this. for the "big stuff" against commandments 5, 6 and 8. In these matters, the confessor will make it a point to mandate restitution as a condition for absolution.
    2. The small things are left up to the individual to heal. We apologize; we throw an extra $10.00 into the Sunday collection; we attend Mass on a weekday, etc. This is called "making a sacrifice." It is a part of the spiritual life that we are all expected to develop and nurture in ourselves and our children as Catholics. Since this is a part of Catholic culture, we don't talk about it much and the priests usually convey it in venues other than the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I hate to say this, but when the priest speaks we should all listen, always. Nuggets of Catholic culture fall from their lips in the strangest places and at the strangest times.
    3, Note also that restitution is a temporal thing. Purgatory too, is a temporal thing. Since nothing impure can enter heaven, we must all be perfectly pure to get in. Few of us can purify ourselves during our temporal lifetime to the degree required to get in. Thus, God provides a temporal, intermediate stage of purification (purgation) to finish the job. This purification of temporal residue of the harm that our sins have caused to the communion of saints is restitution of sorts. Through it, the balance of justice comes back to level and the soul rejoices in the Beatific Vision of God Himself.
    Paul Dion, STL
    Theology Editor,

  13. Anonymous8:45 AM

    This is an excellent article on purgatory and the bible for those questions which are going to arise due to the last post. I found it in my search for an effective 'rebuttal' explanation of purgatory, to my non Catholic friends.

  14. good information sir i like you posts thank you