Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fr. John A. Hardon on Detraction

It would seem helpful in light of discussion surrounding Fr. Benedict Groeschel's admonishment to not engage in detraction on blogs, to share more on this grave matter by another humble priest: Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ. Fr. Hardon goes in depth on the catechesis of this issue.

I'll start you out here, but please read the entire section at the site where this is stored.

Commandments of God - Detraction and Calumny
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The immediate focus of the Eighth Commandment is falsehood that does injury to one's neighbor. Harm to another person's reputation, therefore, is the special prohibition of this divine mandate.

A person's reputation may be injured in various ways, notably by detraction and calumny or slander. Detraction is the unjust violation of the good reputation of another by revealing something true about him. Calumny or slander differs from detraction in that what is said or imputed about a person is not true.

A good reputation is the esteem that one person has formed and entertains about another. It may regard his moral qualities, such as honesty, chastity, or truthfulness; it may regard physical and mental qualities or attainments. In either case, reputation is the object of an acquired right, and consequently to take it away or lower it becomes an act of injustice. Not only the living but also the dead have a right to good esteem. During life we wish to remain in the grateful memory of mankind, and such an expectation can lead us to great exploits.

What needs to be stressed, however, is that a person's good name is something he cherishes even though we may not think he deserves it. No matter; it is his good name, not ours. We may, if we wish, forfeit our good name provided no harm is done to others. But another person's good reputation belongs to him, and we may not do it injury by revealing, without proportionately grave reason, what we know is true about him.

Detraction is consequently a sin against justice because it deprives a man or woman of what they ordinarily value more than riches. Socrates' statement that the way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear highlights the effort required to acquire a good name. All of this, more even than accumulated wealth, can be destroyed by a single criminal act of detraction.

The seriousness of the sin committed will mainly derive from the gravity of the fault or limitation disclosed. But it will also depend on the dignity of the person detracted and the harm done to him and others by revealing something that is hidden and whose disclosure lowers (if it does not ruin) his standing in the public eye.

Not unlike the restitution called for in stealing, detraction demands reparation as far as possible to the injured person's reputation. Often such reparation is next to impossible to make, either because of the number of people informed or the complexity of the situation. But this merely emphasizes the warning of Scripture to "Be careful of your reputation, for it will last you longer than a thousand hoards of gold. A good life lasts a certain number of days, but a good reputation lasts forever" (Si. 41:12-16).

The essence of detraction is the unwarranted disclosure of a hidden failing, which implies that there are occasions when the disclosure can and even should be made.

When the revelation of another person's fault is necessary or very useful, as in defense of self or of others, no injustice is done in revealing it. This would be the case when the failing or defect is made known to parents, or superiors, or for the purpose of seeking counsel or help, or to prevent harm to others, though again, there must be adequate proportion between the lessening of a person's reputation (which is not intended) and the good to be achieved by the disclosure (which is intended). This would cover such contingencies as anticipating unjust harm to oneself in the law courts, or even seeking consolation of a trusted friend by revealing the injustice done.
Go read the full section by Fr. Hardon at the Real Presence website

Fr. Hardon's Library moves from Assumption Grotto to St. Louis as his cause is investigated

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