Morality of Criticising Others

We’re not supposed to gossip or try to destroy others’ reputations. That’s clear.
But where does one draw the line when talking about others?

I was told that the line was at criticizing others. However, does this mean that it is always a sin to criticize someone or even to vent about them to someone else? It seems to me that in our interactions with others, when problems arise it is quite natural to want to talk to someone else about them to “ease our burden” or get some solidarity.

I don’t mean talking in uncharitable ways or with hatred, but rather with justified anger at an injustice that was done against us. Is this always wrong? And if so, what is the basis?

Matthew 12:34, Matthew 23:33
Obviously it’s not always wrong to criticise. If someone has behaviour that is reprehensible, I think we should correct it.

It seems to me that you are talking about two different things here so I’ll simply explain how I handle it.

1st- the need to vent, it seems to me that you are partially talking about a need to vent. In this case I think it is okay to do so as long as it is with one or two trusted people, i.e. my wife and I vent to each other and that’s about it, sometimes she vents to her favorite aunt but other than that we keep it amongst ourselves and I think that is perfectly fine.

2nd- it would appear you are asking about correcting someone. Remember we are called to admonish the sinner and instruct the ignorant. Just make sure you do so at the appropriate time, and with love!

It sounds to me like you are talking about a situation of one person (A) treating you badly and you wanting to confide in someone else (B) about this for emotional support. I think this is fine in the vein of getting advice to help you make decisions to improve the situation. The discussion shouldn’t be about bashing person A. You always have to show respect. Don’t over embellish their faults. In addition, you should only give person B the information they need to understand the situation and be able to give good advice.

The relevant teaching in the Catechism would be detraction, which is about not revealing another person’s faults to a third party unless it’s important that they know. A person can’t give advice if they don’t understand the situation though, and that sometimes requires revealing a person’s faults. Since person B needs to know at least some of person A’s faults, it is not detraction to reveal some of those faults. There is no sin.

As far as not criticizing others, it’s about being careful not to criticize others unless you are ready to be criticized yourself. It really comes down to humility. I am very careful about criticizing others because I know I am probably not much better than the person I’m criticizing. A really holy person like St. Paul could criticize because he had very few faults. An average person like myself has tons of flaws. In many cases, it just wouldn’t be right for me to criticize someone.


2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 He becomes guilty:

[INDENT]- 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;279

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

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.280

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.[/INDENT]

I know what it is like to handle dangerous information. It takes a toll on you especially if you admit to yourself that you are a sinner.

A priest told me venting is not a sin, but venting to more than one person could turn into gossip. Honestly, just say what you observed without making any inferences. This may not be the best advice.

Thank you for the replies, guys.
The Catechism paragraphs help too.

I’m trying to voice my concerns and frustrations without being uncharitable or insulting to the person I have issues with, and without having ill intentions towards the person while relating the issues.

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