“Ask a Priest: Is Criticizing the Government a Type of Gossip?”

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Q: I have been struggling with all the COVID issues in the world today and seeing our president get blamed for so many things. I find myself getting caught up in what some people say about our rights being slowly taken away and this all being a step toward communism. I have shared what I have heard with others and was wondering at what point does my sharing become gossip? Or is OK to express our feelings about our government with others? I know prayer works the best, but I have failed in this area in regard to the government. Would you kindly respond? – J.Z.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: As a citizen you have a right and sometimes even a duty to speak up if you see problems or injustices in public life.

The key thing is to remain charitable. It’s one thing to attack a program or a law; it’s another to attack a person.

So in principle you could criticize government policies without any need to malign individuals. By focusing on issues rather than on political or social leaders, it’s easier to avoid the danger of gossip or detraction.

That said, it might help to think about some guidelines that would help you live this ideal.

You might, for instance, want to pray for civic leaders. Pray that their hearts will be open to the Holy Spirit.

And when sending messages over the Internet or social media, you might want to delay hitting the send button for at least a few minutes. Then, before sending a message, re-read it and see whether it comes across in a charitable way. Try to avoid hitting the send button in the heat of anger.

Helpful, too, would be to read deeply into issues. Various websites give in-depth perspectives on issues, such as First Things and The Catholic Thing.

Most issues are complex, and the more we understand them, the more we can understand why other people have different ideas.

Two helpful resources would be the U.S. bishops’ conference page on the “Seven Themes of Church Social Teaching” and the 30-plus interviews with Omar Gutierrez on Church social doctrine at the Discerning Hearts website.

It would be good to try to think in terms of positive steps you can take when confronting issues. This can range from writing letters to congressional leaders, to supporting Church projects and Catholic education, to subscribing to informative e-mails and publications, to forming a grass-roots group to tackle a problem at the local level. So don’t just vent; rather, look to invent … solutions.

And be realistic. This will never be a perfect world. Keeping your hopes modest can you avoid frustration.

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