Q. I know that it is a sin to gossip, but what is the difference between gossip and Christian concern?
A. Christians live out their faith by manifesting the love of Jesus Christ in their thoughts, actions and words. That desire is true Christian concern. Your question addresses the imitations of Christ’s love through our words.
Disciples of Jesus Christ, of course, may never lie, that is, speaking a falsehood with the intent of deceiving. As this relates to our neighbor, we, therefore, commit the sin of calumny when we lie about people in such a way that it destroys their reputation.
Christians must always respect the truth. They may never lie. However, the Christian must also be prudential and charitable in the communication of truths about others.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it” (CCC 2488).
So, how do we know if we commit the sin of gossip? Sometimes people equate “gossip” with rumors. However, not all rumors are evil. Someone might say, “I heard a rumor that Jonny passed the bar exam,” or “Someone told me that Suzie made the game-winning shot last night.” These are “good” rumors, and many people wouldn’t consider this to be gossip. Some people might.
In terms of Catholic moral theology, speech becomes sinful when it damages the reputation of others. Again, one can never commit the sin of calumny by telling lies about others. Closely connected to calumny is the sin of rash judgment, where one assumes the moral fault of his neighbor without sufficient foundation.
Extreme caution and prudence should be exhibited any time the faults of others are revealed. The sin of detraction is committed in disclosing, without a valid reason, the faults of others to those who did not know them.
There are legitimate times when the faults of others would have to be made known to others. If we were called to testify under oath about the character or behaviors of another, we must answer honestly. Perhaps, we would have to tell about the faults of others in confidence with a counselor, priest, or supervisor, for a good reason.
Christians must always use due discretion in the disclosure of the faults of others. However, it may be necessary, at times, if there is the right motive and proper circumstances.
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.