The Rev. Tim Jones, 41, told his congregation at St. Lawrence Church in York, England, during a sermon Sunday it is better for the poor to turn to shoplifting than "prostitution, mugging or burglary," the Daily Mail reported Monday.
"My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift. I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither," he said. "I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices."
The priest's sermon drew criticism from police, the British Retail Consortium and Conservative Member of Parliament Anne McIntosh.
"First and foremost, shoplifting is a criminal offense and to justify this course of action under any circumstances is highly irresponsible," a North Yorkshire Police spokesman said. "Turning or returning to crime will only make matters worse, that is a guarantee. We recognize some people find themselves in difficult circumstances but support is readily available and must be sought."