Mark Shea on the subject:

(. . .)

. . . Robin Hood is a product of a Catholic imagination in a culture that was totally Catholic at the time. The image of somebody who casts down the mighty in their arrogance and lifts up the meek and lowly, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty is, shall we say, not original to Robin Hood.

And it is very ancient teaching that it is not theft to take from the rich man’s excess and give it to the one who has immediate and urgent need for the basic elements of life. Here’s the Catechism:

Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2408 The seventh commandment forbids theft, that is, usurping another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner. There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. This is the case in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing . . .) is to put at one’s disposal and use the property of others.

In short, if my son is starving and I steal bread from Bill Gates, I have done no theft. In the Robin Hood story, Robin Hood is not a thief. He is taking back from the rich (namely John and his cronies) who have robbed the poor of the basic elements of life.

Since we don’t live under King John and since Americans are not, as a rule, deprived of the necessities of life, I’m not making any suggestion that we should emulate Robin Hood today. I do, however, suggest that the bottom one billion of the earth’s population have a right to the basic elements of life and that if we are not doing our bit to share with them we are probably thieves.

My response:

I think the consensus in moral theology is that the “starving stealing bread to eat” rule regarding theft does not apply collectively. So, theft from the enriched by the unjustly impoverished is only moral on a waif-by-waif basis. In Robin Hood, the justification would be in that the person of John and his cronies, as despots ruling by right, were personally enriched, rather than “the Crown” or any such later legal abstractions of the State.

Also, speaking of collective moral theological questions, can the lower one billion steal from us upper 5 billion and commit no theft? If you can stand a friendly disputation, is this not the argument terrorists make to justify the killing of rich westerners, that is, that they are unjustly enriched and deeply entrenched in this wealth to the point that the only way to redistribute it is to kill them and destroy their mechanisms of theft?