Psssst. Do you want to hear some really juicy gossip about Casandra? Well, I just happened to overhear a conversation and found out some big news! She and her husband are apparently having a really big problem. Here’s the scoop…
We can stop the story about the fictional Casandra right there. Such information would not be for public consumption and is damaging to Casandra’s reputation. Spreading such information may make one guilty of the mortal sin of detraction.
Have a care for your name, for it will stand by you better than precious treasures in the thousands; The boon of life is for limited days, but a good name, for days without number.
People have the right to their own good name. Reputations are built slowly over a long period of time and people place a very high value on their “public image.” Unlike other treasures, a good name continues even after death. However, what takes a lifetime to build can be damaged by the unjust and unauthorized disclosure by someone else. It does not matter that the disclosure is truthful.
Consider how you would feel if the situation were reversed. Perhaps you have committed a sin for which you are truly sorry, have confessed, received absolution, made reparation and truly wish never to repeat. Now imagine someone found out and took it upon themselves to share your private shame with others. Despicable. Their motivation would obviously be to hurt you and they would succeed. That is detraction.
There can be exceptions however, when harm to reputation may occur but that is not the honest intent and a greater offsetting good is achieved. For example, testifying against someone in court or to protect yourself or another person. A careful examination of conscience should precede making such statements.
A similar sin to detraction is calumny, which also harms the reputation of another but with the additional malice of falsehood. Both detraction and calumny demand reparation to the degree possible, but in the case of calumny it is particularly urgent.
Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
– of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
– of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
– of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
2477 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.
2479 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
It is a sin against justice and charity to engage in detraction or calumny. It is likewise wrong to participate in someone else’s sin of the same. Guard the reputation of another as if it was your own!
Father Hardon covers this topic in his excellent paper Commandments of God – Detraction and Calumny.