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What does the Church teach about defamation?

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Elena Dijour | Shutterstock

Philip Kosloski - published on 05/11/22

The Catholic Church teaches against all forms of defamation, upholding the dignity of every human person.

The Catholic Church upholds the teachings of Jesus Christ when it comes to defamation, seeking to highlight the dignity of every human person.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church categorizes defamation under the Eighth Commandment.

Christ’s disciples have “put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” By “putting away falsehood,” they are to “put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.”

False witness and perjury. When it is made publicly, a statement contrary to the truth takes on a particular gravity. In court it becomes false witness. When it is under oath, it is perjury. Acts such as these contribute to condemnation of the innocent, exoneration of the guilty, or the increased punishment of the accused. They gravely compromise the exercise of justice and the fairness of judicial decisions.

CCC 2475-2476

This commandment from God covers a wide variety of offenses against the human person, always respecting their reputation.

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 detractionwho, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

of calumnywho, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

At the same time, as the Catechism notes, there may be an “objectively valid reason” to disclose a person’s faults publicly.

This isn’t easy to decipher and in most cases, we shouldn’t point out another person’s faults publicly. Even Jesus himself asked us to resolve the dispute privately, before going to the courts.

“If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.

Matthew 18:15-17

Yet, even in this case, Jesus suggests that you “go to the Church” for help in resolving an issue, rather than trying to solve the problem publicly.

Defamation is a serious sin, one that goes against the commandments of God, but the best way to resolve such a conflict is always privately, away from the public eye.

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