This weekend we celebrate our independence and the many freedoms our ancestors won for us through their courage and persistence in opposing the forces of tyranny. Today, we enjoy freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech. However, none of these freedoms is absolute. If the press writes something libelous, it can be sued. If a religious sect practiced human sacrifice, the members would be jailed. Freedom of assembly cannot be used to justify treason or mutiny, and freedom of speech cannot be used to maliciously slander a person.
As Catholics, we have several commandments
that deal with speech. The second, which deals with
the Lord’s name, makes lying under oath not just a
crime against the state but a sin against God.
The eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor” has for its immediate focus a lie or falsehood that does injury to one’s neighbor. That’s called slander or calumny. However, the Church teaches that the commandment is broader in scope and lists detraction as a sin against the eighth commandment. Detraction is the unjust violation of the good reputation of another by revealing something true about him when there is no need to do so. It’s gossip, and Pope Francis has spoken out against it many times. In other words, if we cannot speak good of another person, we shouldn’t speak about him/her at all.
This summer, as we socialize with our family and friends, let us refrain from any negative gossip, and build up the reputations of the people we know, the schools our children attend, and the parishes to which we belong. Who knows? Maybe we will start a trend towards a more civil discourse in our society and help heal some of the divisions that threaten the tranquility of our United States