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Does giving money to panhandlers satisfy charity? September 17, 2010

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, General Catholic, Society.

So, Crescat has a post about how she gives money to any panhandler she sees, feeling that we are called to do so.  Some people don’t think that’s right, that so many panhandlers will go spend the money on potential sins like abusing drugs or alcohol, that they cannot in good conscience do so.  Crescat says she’s ok with people using money to buy liquor or drugs to help them cope with street life.  As a former addict, I find that pretty hard to accept, both due to my own experience and that of others.  Drugs/alcohol didn’t help me cope with life, they made my life a nightmare. 

What do you think?  Are we called to give money to the poor indiscriminately, or should we use prudential judgement?  St. Thomas Acquinas definitely argues for the latter, I think.  But more and more today, there are voice in the Church advocating for the former, stating that we are not to “judge” how they will spend the alms they are given.

UPDATE:  The issue is not really charity, it’s prudence.  I’m not saying don’t help the homeless or poor, absolutely we should.  We give to some shelters in the area like Union Gospel and Austin Street.  I’m talking about direct cash payments to panhandlers.  Statistics indicate that a majority of the homeless are both addicts, and on the street because of their substance abuse.  Can we in good conscience give money to, as likely as not, further their addiction?


1. Lily - September 18, 2010

Last week we gave some cash at the tollway

The man insulted my Granddaughter and said vulgar words in front of 3 other small children.

Your blog is perfect timing.

Thank you

2. Restore DC Catholicism - September 20, 2010

If Crescat thinks it’s ok to help them buy drugs and alcohol, does he/she understand what it is to cooperate formally and materially in mortal sin? That being said, St Katherine Drexel never gave money directly to indigents for that very reason.

tantamergo - September 20, 2010

Yes, that’s the aspect I see, too – you are cooperating in mortal sin by giving them that money. Now, you can try to remain willfully (invincibly) ignorant and think happy thoughts and say to yourself that the people you give to certainly didn’t seem like addicts, but the fact of the matter is they almost certainly are. You could give money to one panhandler and get lucky. Two, quite possibly. Go much beyond 3, and you’ve almost certainly helped by liquor or drugs for someone, whose sole goal in life is to get high. It’s a shame, it’s a catastrophe, and there but for the God go I, but I cannot give them cash because I can’t contribute to anyone’s addiction.

If you want to buy them a meal, fine. If you want to give to a homeless shelter, that’s awesome, there are some very good ones in this area and every city. We do that as part of our alms. There are many ways to help the homeless, but giving a panhandler cash smacks more of sentimentality and/or a desire to pat oneself on the back more than anything else.

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