Priest tells Catholics of moral duty to return faulty ATM's cash

A Catholic priest has appealed to people's sense of moral duty to return money they received from faulty teller machines in Belfast and said the bank's excessive fees cannot justify their actions.

The BBC reports that Fr Martin Magill was speaking after Bank of Ireland machines in the city centre and in Anderstonstown recently paid out double the money requested.

The response of many people was to look on the extra cash as a very early Christmas present. There were even reports that once news got about, queues formed at the bank machines with people eager to benefit from the bank's mistake.

But west Belfast priest Fr Martin Magill, citing the eighth Commandment "Thou shall not steal", said people had a moral duty to give the money back.

"I was taking a look at the catechism of the Catholic Church and I think it is very clear on this," he said.

"It actually talks about certain situations which not necessarily will contradict the provisions of the civil law, but then it will go on and refer to the 'deliberate retention of goods lent or objects lost.'

"I certainly would refer to this as 'objects lost'. I believe there's a responsibility or an obligation on people to return the money to the bank."

He conceded that people may have got caught up in the "fun" of the moment, but he added: "I hope those who have gone down and taken money will think about it, will reflect on it and will, in the clear, cool light of day, decide to return it."

The clergyman said he would not accept any argument about the "rip-off" reputation of some banks as a justification for their actions.

"If we say banks, then we could justify it maybe in terms of large supermarkets and then it's smaller shops etc, where do we stop?" he asked.

"We need to draw the line somewhere. I recognise we don't live in a black and white world, but, at times, I think there are some moral absolutes. And in terms of the commandments we could find here an absolute. I'm very clear on this, the money needs to be returned."

He said it was up to individuals to take a look at what they had done. "We make the message very clear, we put it up to people's conscience and please God they respond accordingly," he said.

Thou must give that cash back (BBC 26/5/06)

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30 May 2006