“Ask a Priest: How Can We Make Restitution for Gossip?”

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Q: I don’t have a clear understanding of detraction and calumny. Typically, in the past I confessed the sin of gossip. I don’t understand that with these sins there is the need for reparation. There are two past sins that stick out. One sin, from 20 years ago, was sharing with my mom that an ex-boyfriend told me he had gotten a girl pregnant and they had an abortion. It’s possible I told her because I wanted her to know he wasn’t a perfect “boyfriend.” I no longer have contact with him or his contact information. The second situation that happened over a year ago was a team member sharing info with me about another team member. She had heard from her sister that this team member was possibly having a relationship with a married man, the principal, and that she was going to be moving to the city where he has relocated. Unfortunately, I shared this info with another teammate. Since that time, the teacher has relocated to another city. I happen to be on Facebook and saw her site. She has a picture of her and that guy, the principal, as her public picture on her site. At this point, it would seem that she is comfortable publicly letting people seem them together, despite their personal situations. If I need to make reparation in these cases, what would be best? – J.H.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: First, it is worth quoting from the Catechism here.

No. 2477 says, “Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty: […] of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them.”

Notice that detraction involves objective faults and failings — that is, things that are true.

The idea here is that we don’t always have the right to say the “truth” about people if that ruins their reputation.

In the cases you mentioned, both sound like detraction, no matter what the parties themselves later revealed.

At this point you can’t really make up for the detraction, since to do so would probably cause more problems. The cat is already out of the bag. So, it might be good to let those cases drop.

You could, of course, make restitution through prayers and sacrifices for those people, for their conversion.

Also important would be to resolve to avoid all detraction and gossip in the future.

Instead, it would be good to cultivate the habit of speaking well of others. We rarely go wrong by emphasizing the good we see in people.

For related reading, you might consider Sharpening Your Tongue: A Regnum Christi Essay on Charity in Our Words.

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