Detraction or not?


The facts are more or less like this, with changed names and some other details, to make identification more difficult:

I belong to one of the learned professions and am a bit of an activist there. This means I go to conferences, speak, write, have a blog etc, often touching controversial subjects in the profession on which there are some dividing lines, sometimes a lot of money and power involved, for the other side at least, whose views and actions I disagree with. I’m well known and recognized, if not exactly a popular person (as it’s all about the subjects, not about me as a person).

There’s Forum 1 and Forum 2, of which the admins aren’t on speaking terms due to an old conflict that’s a distant memory now. The membership largely overlap, i.e. many professionals belong to both of the groups. I’m friends with the admins of Forum 1 and their friends, and we agree on most things (not all by far). However, I had no beef with the admin of Forum 2, who always talked friendly to me, though we only spoke 2-3 times a year. That admin is friends with some people who support the other side.

One day I found myself banned from forum 2 and in receipt of very surprising private correspondence from the admin, unloading a lot of verbal abuse and revealing himself to have been a closet enemy for some time, saying he was glad to have a ‘good reason’ to ban me. Turns out that ‘good reason’ was joke that he approved of when made but later chose to interpret as a metaphor about himself as a tyrant on that forum. Something I didn’t mean to say because I totally didn’t even think it. I was extremely surprised he’d even make that sort of link.

With misgivings, because I knew what the Catechism says on detraction, I went to Forum 2 and wrote a post because I didn’t want to have to suffer it in silence.

I restricted it to just disclosing the bare facts that 1) I was banned by the admin of the other group, I didn’t simply stop participating or leave it of my own accord; 2) the stated reason was a joke the admin first approved of but later chose to interpret as a metaphor describing himself; 3) there was no thematic connection between the joke and his person (thus the interpretation was unwarranted); 4) I had a good opinion of him, I didn’t even actually think what he claimed my joke implied.

I omitted and totally kept secret the verbal abuse I experienced from him, as I didn’t think people had to know about it. I didn’t want that one bad act to be the lens through which people would see and judge him. I didn’t publicize any of the matter on my website or blog or anywhere else like that except for a narrow circle of people with whom I shared more information.

Did I have an obligation to protect that guy’s reputation by total silence on all details of this?

I suppose the audience — fellow professionals — had a right to know what was going on in a thing like this, but my motivation was that I didn’t want to keep the ban a secret just to protect the guy’s reputation.


Discussion ensued, where audience provided additional information and started connecting the dots. It turned out that it was a deliberate hoax and PR coup by him and his buddy (both of the guys eventually stopped barely short of openly confirming it). I disclosed more information, and in any case there were some unfavourable posts about those guys, including some discussion of the manipulative buddy’s black PR operations in general. I think the profession is better off knowing. However, I’m not sure what I did was right.


I don’t see any sin in reporting the facts as you did. Why would you think otherwise? I am guessing that you fear some retaliation, but in any case, that is not a matter of sin on your part.


Since you didn’t mention anyone by name, and you were mostly trying to set the record straight about yourself, and you stuck to the facts, and you even said something complimentary about the guy…I see no issue.


I did say some complimentary things about the guy (mentioned by name), but the facts were very clear. It was clear that he either made a huge blunder in interpreting the situation (and that puts his professional skills in a bad light) or lied about the whole thing and banned me from a personal community for effectively no reason, based on his negative personal opinion of me alone (which puts his personal morality in a bad light, as well as his qualifications to be a leader in professional/social life).

I can’t nail down an objectively valid reason for me to share that information about him. I was looking for some compassion and understanding from the general public, wanted to clear the record, protect my own reputation maybe.

Here are the passages from the Catechism I worry about:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty: …

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

2479 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.

I can’t seem to be able to get a reasonable reading of them other than people’s faults must essentially remain a secret.


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