LONDON — A British priest who advised vulnerable people to shoplift defended his remarks on Tuesday, arguing that those abandoned by society often had no choice but to turn to crime.

Father Tim Jones, a parish priest in York, northern England, caused a media storm when he advised his congregation on Sunday to shoplift in times of trouble -- as long as they avoided stealing from small family firms.

"Shoplifting is a dreadful thing but sometimes that's all we leave people with," he told BBC television on Tuesday.

He added: "When we, as a society, let our most vulnerable people down so terribly badly, I would rather that people take an 80 pence (1.2 dollar, 90 euro cent) can of ravioli rather than turn to some of the most appalling things.

"It is an indictment on us that we let people exist in that kind of situation."

Discussing the situations of certain people living rough in his sermon on Sunday, Jones had said: "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.

"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.

"I would ask them not to take any more than they need, for any longer than they need."

He said his words should not be "misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift", adding: "This is a call for our society no longer to treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt."

The Venerable Richard Seed, Archdeacon of York, did not endorse Jones' comments, saying the Church of England "does not advise anyone to shoplift, or break the law in any way".

He added: "Father Tim Jones is raising important issues about the difficulties people face when benefits (state payments) are not forthcoming, but shoplifting is not the way to overcome these difficulties."