October 7, 2013

What Exactly IS Gossip and How Can We Avoid It?

by Deborah Johnson

"It is better to bite your tongue than to gossip" because "your tongue will be swollen and then you will not be able to speak." These are the words of Pope Francis who frequently addresses gossip without pulling any punches. As always Papa drives the point home - challenging us to become better people and stronger disciples of Jesus Christ.

The truth is that Gossiping is a SIN, leads to even more sin - and hurts others. It falls under the Eighth commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

From "The Catechism Explained":
"We ought to refrain from everything that may wound our neighbor's honor. Thus suspicion, detraction, slander and abuse are forbidden, also listening with pleasure when our neighbor is spoken against."
AND:
"Detraction, slander (both of which are directed against the absent) and abuse (which is directed against one who is present), are sins of the tongue; listening with gratification when another is evilly spoken of, is a sin, if it is in the evil speaking that we take pleasure."
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 
2479 "Detraction and calumny (lying) destroy the reputation and honor of ones neighbor. Honor and witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity."
We know what lying is, but what exactly is detraction? I'll unpack it a bit:

From "The Catechism Explained"
"Detraction consists in disclosing the fault committed by another without necessity. This sin, the lessening of our neighbor's reputation, is an act of injustice towards him. For if he is really guilty of some secret sin, still he has not lost the good opinion of others and of this we rob him if we publish his misdeeds, even though he has no right to it"

WOW.  Even if he is guilty. What does this mean? Many times if somebody wrongs us (sins against us) we "vent" to a friend. So is "venting" just a convenient way to rationalize gossip? We are never justified when we "detract" another by telling an unkind truth - even if the other person is in the wrong. Thankfully Our Blessed Lord Himself gave us the formula to follow when He addresses how to handle such a situation within the Church community. We can apply to our personal lives too:
"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."   Matthew 18:15-20
So what's next if we speak directly to the person and they still won't listen? In a family this could involve siblings calling in their parents as mediators - or even a married couple calling in good, Christian counsel. For me this would mean calling in one of my parish priests, deacons - or a trusted Christian friend. (For some this would also be"taking it to the Church.")

Treating one as gentile or a tax collector within the Church means excommunication - a grave matter and last resort. For a personal relationship this could mean distancing oneself or even moving on depending on the situation - something that will take prayerful discernment on ones own part.

I'm grateful that Jesus Christ laid it all out for us in The Scriptures! Being human we may still be tempted to wag our tongue  - perhaps then we should take the advice of Pope Francis and bite it "so it will be swollen" and then - we cannot speak at all.


"He who goes about gossiping reveals secrets;
therefore do not associate with one who speaks foolishly."
Proverbs 20:19
"The Catechism Explained" by Reverends Spirago & Clark Tan Books and Publishers
The Catechism of the Catholic Church: