Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - Updated: 12:17 pm
QUESTION: I went to confession recently and just happened to mention that I gossiped. The priest said that gossip is a terrible evil and that I should be ashamed of what I did. I was shocked by his strong response to what I considered a very minor sin. Have I missed something? Has the church changed the rules and put some more sins on the serious list?
ANSWER: Traditionally, gossip is understood as “casual talk” about a person not present. To many, gossip seems harmless, but to those about whom it is spoken, it is far from that.
Those who gossip hide under a cloak of secrecy and seek to convey special “information.” They, nonetheless, are able to avoid the responsibility that truth implies because they are never the source of information, only the agent of its dissemination (“I’m only telling you what I heard”).
Within groups, gossip intensifies in times of stress or change. Familiar patterns no longer apply, and some feel the need to verbalize their own form of security by passing on their own information and “facts.” Gossips have an abundance of easy answers and simple solutions, but never stand up in public to convey them. They act without responsibility and are answerable to no one.
Most who hear gossip recognize the betrayal of truth that it is. They also know that such a person, once having betrayed the truth, should never be trusted again. While those who gossip assume they are forming alliances, they are, in fact, isolating themselves from the rest of the community.
Some may have the view that gossip is just a part of life and something that “everyone does.” In the world in which we live, gossip is never harmless. Anyone who has suffered the effects or ministered within a community suffering from them have a heightened awareness of the seriousness of gossip.
Within our culture, social media and other platforms have taken gossip from a pastime and made it a very serious weapon. The weapon of gossip has destroyed reputations and lives. It has many victims, yet few who acknowledge the crime.
While the Catholic Church has always cautioned against gossip, today it is also aware of the heightened evil that gossip has become. Gossip always has serious consequences. The destruction of reputations and lives is never trivial.
Is gossip a sin? Absolutely. Is it a serious sin? It certainly can be because it has serious consequences and it has the potential for harm that can never be erased. It renders its victims helpless in the face of indignity.
In every case, gossip involves our most precious possessions — truth and reputation. Gossip robs truth of its power and is the intentional theft of a reputation. There is no way to fully repair that damage done by gossip.
As a way forward, perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the words of St. Paul: “Never let evil talk pass your lips; say only the good things people need to hear, things that will really help them” (Ephesians 4:29).
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.