The crime of gossip

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”

A few years ago I was in the sacristy of a church in the west of Ireland. Sellotaped onto the wall, alongside the framed pictures of the Pope and the local bishop, was a white A4 page with the words of a poem entitled Gossip.

The smile of amusement when I first noticed this curious item disappeared by the time I reached the end.

“My name is Gossip”, the poem began, “I have no respect for justice. The more I am quoted the more I am believed. To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become. Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same. I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights. I spawn suspicion and generate grief.”

The priest who placed it on the church wall would find plenty of support from Pope Francis. Since his election, the Holy Father has repeatedly pointed out the dangers of gossip. More striking than the frequency of his references is the strength of the language he has used to describe it.

When we gossip, he said, we are like Cain killing his brother. The Church must convert from “the crime of gossip”, he says.

Gossip was once memorably described as something no one claims to like, but everybody enjoys. It is attractive and addictive. Pope Francis admits that he has succumbed to the “daily temptation” to gossip and has said he is ashamed of it.

Even though it is a temptation for everyone, Pope Francis has clearly identified it as a major problem in the Church. In an address to officials in December in the Vatican he spoke about the need for a "conscientious objection to gossip", describing it, damningly, as an “unwritten law of our surroundings”.

In another address to novices and seminarians he noted that he had often found “religious or diocesan communities where the most common short prayer is gossip!”

“It’s terrible!” he added. “They skin one another!”

The Pope knows what causes most gossip too – “the worm of jealousy and envy”.

Gossip is not a new problem and it extends well beyond clerical culture. St Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, cautions not to use “hurtful or harmful words when speaking”. “No foul word should ever cross your lips,” he writes. “Let your words be for the improvement of others and do good to your listeners.”

The Pope offers some advice for those who are tempted to gossip though: “If you have a difficulty with someone say it to his or her face or say it to someone who can help, including someone in authority.”

Even though the Church’s calendar is already packed with Sundays dedicated to special causes, it might be worthwhile to dedicate a day to this topic. Ireland is, after all, the home of the “valley of the squinting windows” and the gossiping “Teapot Taliban” of author Donal Ryan’s, The Spinning Heart.

Simply put, in the words of Pope Francis, “If we succeed in never gossiping, it will be a great step forward" and "will do us all good".


Calumny and detraction

Pope Francis’ strong language on gossip is mirrored in the catechism which makes particular reference to two terms rarely spoken about much: detraction and calumny.

Detraction is the disclosure of another person’s faults and failings, without valid reason, to people who are not aware of them already.

Calumny is the harming of another person’s reputation with remarks that are not true and thus give rise to false judgments.

They are mentioned in the section on the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” and are described as “offences against truth”.


St Valentine in Dublin

With February 14 approaching it might come as a surprise to many marking this well-established Hallmark holiday that St Valentine was a Catholic priest. It will also be news to many to hear that his relics are to be found in Dublin – at a special shrine in the Carmelite church at Whitefriar Street in the city centre.

The relics were brought to Dublin by Fr John Spratt, an Irish Carmelite, in 1836. They had been given to him as a gift by Pope Gregory XVI after Spratt had preached at the famous Jesuit Church, the Gesù, in Rome.

According to legend, St Valentine was martyred in the 3rd Century for marrying couples, a practice which had been outlawed by Emperor Claudius II who needed the men for military campaigns.

February 14 is obviously a popular day at the shrine and the Masses that day include a special Blessing of Rings.

It’s a nice spot to add to the ‘to do’ list when next in the city centre.