“Ask a Priest: Is Eavesdropping a Serious Sin?”

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Q: What is the Church’s position on eavesdropping? Like when does it become a mortal sin? Does it ever become a mortal sin? How should the faithful discern when eavesdropping may enter the territory of mortal sin? – H.M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The question you raise is too broad for a simple answer.

A police officer listening in on a private conversation might be justified if he thinks the people are conspiring to rob a bank. Or a parent might be justified listening in on a teenage child’s phone call if the parent suspects that the teen is headed for serious trouble.

On the other hand, there might be times when it’s almost impossible not to hear others’ conversations, such as on a plane in midflight.

In general, though, we should respect people’s privacy. Remember the Golden Rule. Eavesdropping can destroy trust.

You ask (three times!) whether listening in on others’ conversations could qualify as a mortal sin.

Maybe another question is worth asking: If eavesdropping were “only” a venial sin, would you do it? Would you continue to do it?

If your answer is yes, there is a serious problem here. To deliberately decide to offend God means a person is probably a lot closer to mortal sin then he realizes.

Like many things, eavesdropping could lead a person into the realm of mortal sin; for instance, if the topic of the conversation turned out to be graphic.

Also, an eavesdropper might learn something that subsequently complicates a decision that he has to make. How does he explain his decision – without revealing that he got certain information in a deceitful way?

Perhaps some of these points are reason enough to avoid eavesdropping. Whoever eavesdrops risks opening a can of worms.


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