Monday, November 12, 2007

Fr. Benedict Groeschel admonishes Catholic bloggers on discussing Fr. Francis Mary's leave: Don't engage in detraction

The humble priest, at the end of yesterday's Sunday Night Live, made an appeal to Catholic bloggers: Don't engage in detraction, and if you have, know that it is a mortal sin. As Father pointed out, even if something is true, it can be a mortal sin to pass it along. I must say that Father appeared disappointed, and was firm in his catechesis on detraction which is not well understood these days.

EDIT 14-Nov-2007: I think some may be misunderstanding the message. Father did not say "do not discuss", but "do not cross the line into detraction". And, he provided a simple explanation of detraction. I offer examples in the comment box about 4-5 posts down. Perhaps we should ask, how much discussion is too much discussion? The time spent seeking out details is better spent in adoration praying for priests. If you really want to do something worthwhile, adopt a priest spiritually.

First, what is detraction? From the CCC:

2477 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

Fr. Groeschel reminds us that detraction involves revealing faults that may very well be true. Because they are true, does not mean, unlike what secular society teaches us, that they are to be disclosed. This is a fallacy that belongs to the world and the media, which earns a living off of gossip.

If one spreads something they know to be untrue, then it is calumny. Both are mortal sins, requiring sacramental confession should we discover we have engaged in them.

In the case of the recently departed priest from EWTN, to which Fr Groeschel was referring, something led him to believe people were engaging in detraction in Catholic blogs. This could have been actual blogposts, or it could have been commenters, or both. Perhaps it was all sparked by speculation with the words of his brother priest saying that, "sin will not prevail". That one statement opened the door to that speculation and certainly this was not Father's intention when he said it.

Some think that when EWTN doesn't give more info, that they are hiding something or trying to protect their image. I believed right from the beginning that the friars would have revealed more if they didn't feel they would be crossing the line into detraction. There are facts that the priest in question may himself share, but others in the know, may not. This is why I believe cricitism of EWTN for not revealing more is a bit misguided. Fr. Francis Mary was one of the most visible public figures among the friars. It became necessary for them to strip reference to him on it's website and programming, something not uncharacteristic of a religious order when someone leaves. With this particular case, it would have been difficult without some kind of statement first to help everyone understand why this material was being removed. A greater scandal could have been created by saying nothing and simply removing his material - especially if Father were seen out and about in lay clothes.

All of this applies not only to bloggers, but to people who have left comments in various blogs, as well as in email exchanges. Each of us must do an examination of conscience on the matter. If there is even the slightest doubt that something crossed the line, the best thing we can do is share it in Sacramental Confession and let our confessors judge our deeds. I iinclude myself first in this regard.

I think it is a healthy thing for any blogger - to truly examine the morality of our writings, and with any doubt that arises with regards to detraction, discuss it with a solid priest who is well grounded in holiness.

As a truly holy man, and wise spiritual Father, I take Fr. Groeschel's words to heart and I hope you will too.

EDIT 15-Nov-2007: If you want more catechesis on the sin of detraction, I have made a post with the explanation of the late, great theologian Fr. John A. Hardon.

Bloggers, please pass along Fr. Groeschel's admonishment for all to consider.

EDIT 16-Nov-2007: There is much traffic coming to this blogpost from Spirit Daily. Please see my blogpost of today on the scandal being created by the NY Times in the way they are irresponsibly misrepresenting what the bishops said about abortion at the USCCB meeting.

Te Deum Laudamus! Home


Moniales said...

I totally agree; I'm always amazed at the rumours that come back to us at the monastery! They are never serious but often are totally wrong! However, I was a bit taken a back with the amount of information that was in Father's letter. I personally didn't think it was very prudent. Especially a letter coming from him personally. I'm not one for saying nothing because people come up with all sorts of supposed reasons! A simple, "Father has requested a leave of absence to pray and discern about personal matters. Please keep him in your prayers" would have been sufficent.

Good luck on your blog makeover! Fun...

Esther said...

Mahalo Diane! I am posting this over at my blog too.

Diane K said...

Just a note: Some people may be misunderstanding my point about Father's message.

It's one thing to discuss Fr. Francis Mary's leaving. Father didn't say not to discuss it. He said to be careful about not crossing the line into detraction, and he is absolutely right.

As Catholics we have to be careful about what the world deems ok, and what Holy Mother Church says. The world says it's ok to print gossip magazines about the stars and musicians. But, it doesn't take much study of the CCC to realize that purchasing gossip, at the least, is not virtuous.

As I stated earlier, detraction is not understood well at all today. Here is a simple example:

If you happen to walk by Neighbor A's house and see his wife having sexual relations with another man, not her husband, do you have a right to tell Neighbor B? The answer is absolutely not! You may tell the person's spouse though.

Some think, that because the fault is true that it is ok to reveal it to a 3rd party. However, this IS a MORTAL sin, if you do not have just cause to do so. What is a just cause?

Example: You see Neighbor A's 12 year old kid smoking dope in the treehouse with other kids. You go to Neighbor A and tell him. Or, you take it to the police. This is a justified reason to reveal another person's fault.

You see a co-worker with his paws in the petty cash box, pocketing large sums of money. You do not commit detraction by telling the proper authority within the company or the police. Of course, you don't have a right to tell your co-workers about it if they can't correct or deal with the situation. In fact, not telling a person of authority in such a case, could constitute a sin of omission. But, this would be for a priest to decide as with many things there are mitigating factors.

I hope this distinction makes sense.

Does anyone disagree with my understanding of the CCC? I'm open to discussion on it.

Esther said...

Diane, this has been on my mind all day. So much so that I deleted the one post where I linked to your post about women and priests. (which I think is excellent BTW). I felt like I was letting more and more people know about what happened because that was my most popular post. Again, thanks for posting this message and your explanation.

Diane K said...

No problem, Esther.

But, I don't think the issue was the general problem as we discussed it, as much as it was perhaps someone sharing more than was provided by EWTN (if they were in the know), and speculation which lead people to believe something is true when it may or may not be (which is why it is best not to speculate).

God bless and you did the right thing if it was concerning you.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting discussion. Most of what I read on blogs concerning this matter seemed restrained and raised pertinent questions concerning the appropriate manner for priests and unmarried women to interact in a manner that would avoid actual impropriety or the appearance of the same. As to the particular case:it was the decision of Fr. Francis to disclose to a certain extent that led to the pertinent discussions including the question of what role his religious Superiors could have in averting this scandal. While I would leave the issue of "detraction" to the clerical and cannon law experts experts it appears to me that this may appear to some as a tactic to divert discussion from the issue and silence those who have legitimate questions concerning the issue of scandal caused by the clergy. Greater questioning of such matters regarding predatory homosexual priests might have averted the moral and financial destruction that is ongoing.

Sr. Lorraine said...

I think Fr G. must have been referring to some of the discussions about this in which people were speculating that Fr Francis Mary was in an immoral relationship. That's absolutely unfounded to say. Some people were implying that he was in a state of sin, which is also wrong to infer from this.
It seems to me that it would have been better for Fr Francis Mary not to mention anything about the woman he knew. He could have just said he was going on a leave of absence for vocational discernment and leave it at that. The rest is none of our business.
Having said that, though, it's my understanding that telling another person something that is already widely known, for example, because it was reported in the paper, is not detraction. Detraction is making known the hidden faults of another. Once they become public knowledge, detraction doesn't really apply. Of course, it's better not to discuss other people's business unless some situation requires it.

Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

A good reminder!

Anonymous said...

As a father of 11 children with my
wife whom I thank God for every moment of our is my most
fervor desire for Fr. Fransis Mary
consider the decision of the Sacred
Heart of Jesus Christ for an answer!
Our Lord said "I AM with you always
even til the end of time"!
Can we as humans measure up to such an
AWESOME WORD of support to our calling?
We can only reflect on these WORDS
and Fr. Fransis Mary knows the answer already and we know he will
respond to His Calling because He
has built part of His Kingdom on
the answer in Fr. Francis Mary's
in the Great...
I AM...Carl

Diane K said...

Sr. Lorraine - I couldn't agree more.

Diane K said...

To Anon (10:00): I think you are completely misunderstanding Fr. Groeschel's point, as well as my post.

Discussing what was made public is one thing. Speculation, in the absence of details, can lead to errant conclusions or rash judgment. Rash judgment can also be a mortal sin.

Read the CCC people and understand it. Secular culture has swept many Catholics and Christians into the notion that we have a right to know the details about everyone's relationships, and we have a right to discuss it to the point that the only left is the act of speculation. When do we stop talking about it, and move on to prayer, to spiritual reading, and to other worthy ways to spend our time?

Render to God the task of judgment because he knows things we will never know. His mercy is also limitless for those who seek it in Sacramental Confession.

That is a big point. Not only do we not know if anything immoral happened, because it was not revealed specifically. People have drawn conclusions about what took place or is taking place with Fr. Francis Mary. In addition, even if something immoral happened, what if a solid and remorseful confession were made?

I rejected one anonymous comment because it automatically assumed things not publicly revealed. I am not defending any wrong actions, if there were any. I'm going back to the most basic Christian principle to all those who want to "stone" this priest.

Let he who is without guilt, cast the first stone....

I don't think it matters whether it involves a public figure like Fr Francis Mary, or the neighbor down the street.

Anonymous said...

I essentially understand what Fr. Groeschel has said, but I question not how it can be decalred a mortal sin. I undertsand that for a sin to be considered mortal it must meet all 3 of the following criteria:

1)its subject must be grave (or serious) matter;
2)it must be committed with full knowledge, both of the sin and of the gravity of the offense;
3)it must be committed with deliberate and complete consent.

If one did not know that this was a sin and it was grave, how could it be a mortal sin?

A Believer said...

I'm glad there was an attempt to clarify the difference between speaking about a matter and "crossing the line into detraction."

I do find it odd however that this sort of admonition occurs with the likes of EWTN Father and not some other Catholic.

Is it because it involved a priest, we suddenly not speak of it? Is it the same mentality in which everyone hushed up about child-molesting priests, and thus their evil bishops moved them around without warning and so continued to molest child after child? Just curious about where this "line" is, and whether this topic is mainly for saving face.

Diane K said...

To anonymous (10:23 on Nov 14):

I'm sure Father was referring to it's being a mortal sin in the general context of a list of sins. For example, we know that murder, stealing, pre-marital sex all involve grave matter and are conisdered grave sins. If the person is knowledgable that they are sinful and commits them anyway, then yes - they have committed a grave or mortal sin.

For those who did not undertand detraction (and many do not today), the lack of knowledge does not change the fact that the matter itself is objectively grave. When an examination of conscience reveals any grave matter, we must still confess it the next time we are at confession even if we did not meet the criteria (the three things you list) for the objectively grave matter to be mortal for us personally.

The same could be said of sins that are forgotten at the time of confession. Some do not realize (because they have not been taught) that if you forget to confess a particular mortal sin and remember later, while it has been forgiven provided it was not left out intentionally, we must still confess it at our next confession. In other words, we don't get a free pass even though absolution was well and good for even the forgotten sin.

Diane K said...


Fr. Groeschel spoke on a specific topic at the end of his show: detraction. He did it in his usual fashion without name even the priest involved, but merely mentioned "recently departed priest".

I'm getting a little tired, in Catholic forums and elsewhere, of people thinking a priest has no right to speak about grave matter unless they have spoken out about every abuse problem on the planet.

It's tantamount to one child, caught stealing, says to his parents, it's not fair that you pick on my and not on my brother for his sins.

Even if his brother is guilty of terrible sins, it does not change the fact that the child caught stealing is wrong and his deeds should be dealt with.

That having been said, I don't want this thread to spiral down into discussion of priets & bishops and their accountability on other issues. The thread is about the little known sin of detraction. I'm simply going to reject any further comments that attempt to divert attention from the subject matter to some other issue. That's like opening pandora's box.

Anonymous said...

You say:
If one spreads something they know to be untrue, then it is calumny. Both are mortal sins, requiring sacramental confession should we discover we have engaged in them.

By saying "should we discover" aren't you saying that we committed these sins without knowing we did? If thats the case then it wouldn't be a Mortal sin right? It would imply that we did it without full knowledge that we had done it.


Diane K said...

JAB, that was already addressed two comments above yours in the one I called: "To anonymous (10:23 on Nov 14)"

Anonymous said...

Fr. Groeschel needs to practice what he preaches. While he is beloved and spiritual "He publically (blog as well as TV program) decried the abusive priests as sick disgusting people, without any knowlege of who they were, what they had done and whether or not they were even guilty." Now, one of his own is under suspicion and he appeals to "mortal sin" in order to prevent people from speculating or even discussing the issues. Why did he not apply this principle to himself when he so blatantly judged his accused brother priests. Can we imagine that according to his own words, Fr.Benedict is now in MORTAL SIN?

Diane K said...

To anonymous on Friday Nov16, 04:01:

I have published your comment, which is the last of it's kind that I will publish. I'm doing so because some serious corrections are needed here.

First of all, go back and read my post thoroughly. No where on MY BLOG do I say that Fr. Groeschel suggested the matter should not be discussed. Once again, for at least the third time, Fr. Groeschel stated to use care in not crossing the line into detraction.

Now, as a comparison, someone who spreads a rumor via blog that provides details which were hidden and not revealed, could be involved with detraction. However, when Fr. Benedict Groeschel talked about abusive priests being disgusting, he was talking in general terms about a group of people who have crossed the line in committing terrible sins against children.

The comparison here is that there is NO comparison. In one case an identity and hidden info is being provided, or speculation is being made publicly potentially leading others to believe some moral wrong, not stated by EWTN, is true. In the other case, the actions of a group of people are characterized as digusting, as well it should be.

If I go by your misunderstanding of detraction, then I would be wrong to say that prostitutes engage in immoral behavior. Or it would be wrong to say that single people who sleep around are immoral. Or, that business people who steal millions from workers and shareholders through shady accounting practices are committing a moral wrong.

Please take note that it was not I who said that Fr. Groeschel did not want the case discussed, but Spirit Daily. It was not my choice of words and I'm sure no ill will was intended by the heading, but it was misleading to many.

Diane K said...

I need to further clarify that when Fr. Groeschel talks in general terms about abusive priests, he did not damage anyone's reputation BECAUSE NO ONE WAS NAMED.

Detraction is not committed where the identity of someone is not identified. But, if you give someone enough info for them to figure out who you are talking about, and spread information that can damage their reputation, then detraction could be involved.

TO ALL READERS: Please read the article by Fr. John Hardon, as well as my resonses to other questions or comments BEFORE posting. I will reject comments that are duplicates where clear misunderstanding, misapplication, or thread-hijacking for some other agenda is obviously taking place.

Everyone is free to get their own blog if they don't like it :D

Ellie said...

Boy, I have a headache just reading this blog. What a bunch of nitpickers!(or is it paharisees ?) I'll make it simple-Quit your gossiping!----and speculation!Then pray for your priests. All of them. The abusers, nonabusers, the cover-upers, the holy ones and especially the unholy ones. If we can do that we will have a better church.

Anonymous said...

I really wish Fr. Goreschel would have never mentioned this situation on his show. I would have never known about it.

I do understand the concerns regarding the blogoshere. I am shocked at how vicious people can be in their postings, as if there was not another human being on the other side of the post.

I have seen Fr. Mary Francis many times on EWTN. He seems like a very fine and decent man. I do believe he will do what is right and just.
I for one, will rely on God's goodness to resolve this. After all, He always does.

Anonymous said...

Lest we forget, Fr Francis Mary, a vowed religious & ordained priest is a human being & therefore, a fellow sinner. Holy Mother Church
has endured and survived "scandals"
for centuries, but the biggest scandal (& sin) of all is hypocrisy. (Read: Matthew 7:1-2) It's a relief to see such an out-pouring of admiration & prayer for Fr Francis Mary, however, I don't seem to recall an over-abundance of
Christian charity for Archbishop-emeritus of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, OSB, when news of his
"scandal" broke. +Immaculate Heart
of Mary, pray for us. Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.