Sin of Detraction

Hi all,

I am hoping to find help understanding the sin of detraction. As I understand it, detraction is defined roughly as, “Disclosing the fault(s) of another to a third party without grave reason to do so.” I suppose my question is just as to what constitutes grave reason.

It may be helpful to have a look at a few examples and see whether grave reason is present in them.

Suppose that Tom Cruise stops in at the coffee shop where I am working, and he turns out to be incredibly rude, yelling at me for not getting his coffee to him within an unreasonable time period (this did not really happen). I then go to twitter and tweet, “Tom Cruise stopped by the coffee shop today. Turns out he’s a real jerk!” I suppose the motivation in doing this would simply be that it is funny (or that I would take it to be funny, at least), and that it brings humor to a potentially depressing situation. Does this constitute grave reason?

Here is another example- this one from real life. My mother throws all kinds of dirt on our neighbors (I am living with my parents for a brief time), and does the same about the neighbors of our last place of residence. Now, the thing is, I think she does this because she feels a sense of relief in being able to discuss the issues that she has with people. Does this constitute grave reason?

I am inclined to think that grave reason is present in both of the above cases, though to be honest my mother definitely does go overboard from time to time. Still I am lacking a clear principled account of what grave reason consists in, so any help on that front will be appreciated.

Further if anyone can provide any paradigmatic examples of detraction that will also be helpful so that I can understand more clearly the essence of that sin.

The first example would not be grave reason and probably would be a sin against detraction… and depending on the amount of harm done to his name, could be grave matter.

In my opinion it probably would be grave matter, but definitely would be a sin.

The second example would be classified as venting, and would most likely not be a grave sin of detraction, although if the venting goes overboard, you should give whoever is venting a friendly reminder not to “throw dirt” on people (but not if they’re in a rage of course).

There is a great article on this topic called "Psst!..Did You Hear? by Jimmy Akin
You should read it if you want more info by an actual theologian.

It never costs us anything to hold our peace even when we would really like to vent; it certainly constitutes a venial sin since we make this sorts of disclosures because for whatever reason we haven’t dealt directly with those involved.

I don’t think either one is grave, but they are both sins.

A mortal sin of detraction is something that really does some truly significant harm to another and you do it quite willingly with full knowledge that this is a serious sin.

For example, telling something about some person that is totally in their past that causes them to lose their job and you had no valid reason for doing it. In my view, that would be grave and mortal.

But I’m not a priest nor an expert on moral theology. That’s just how I see it. I could be in error.

I think only God actually knows** for certain** when someone has committed a mortal sin. Am I wrong about this?

Ahh…isn’t that what you did to your mother and Tom Cruise in your post? :smiley:

On a serious note…

There are some Catholics who love to spend all their time gossiping about other people. They need to be careful about that.

However, there are some Catholics who are on the other end of the spectrum. They have exactly the opposite problem. They cannot stand to hear anything negative about another person. They purposely try to shut down any conversation about sin or personal character faults. They have a tendency to “whitewash” everything people do, even if it’s grave sin.

Ironically, these Catholics are quick to condemn anyone who they think (often incorrectly) are committing the sins of detraction, gossip or slander. They often do not realize that falsely accusing someone of detraction is itself a from of detraction (ironically).

Regarding detraction in general, Jesus was pretty hard on the Pharisees:

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?.."


To clarify, is your point here that Jesus was chastising the Pharisees for detraction in the above remarks, so detraction must be bad? Or is your point that, if detraction is bad, there is at least some form of criticism that is not bad, since Jesus was highly critical at times, and that we should therefore be careful not to define detraction too broadly? At any rate, the latter seems correct to me, though it is noteworthy that Christ’s criticisms of the Pharisees are directed to the Pharisees themselves and not to a third party.

I am interpreting this as a priest breaking the Seal of the Confessional. For Example:
Sally tells Fr. Frank in confession that she had killed four people during the week. Later that night, Fr. Frank tell the Police that Sally did the murders.

Good questions. This is getting complicated…:blush:

I don’t think Jesus was chastising the Pharisees for detraction in these passages I posted. He was chastising them for hypocrisy. The Pharisees were doing all sorts of things in their private lives (adultery, prostitution, theft, not respecting their parents, etc) but in public they would pretend they were holy and preach against these things.

I don’t think these passages are a direct example of detraction, because that would mean Jesus committed a sin, which is not possible. I also need to research this sin in more detail!

I think the general point I was making is that we have to be careful about going to one extreme or the other when it comes to talking negatively about other people. Some people do it all the time because they enjoy it. Some people try to shut down any conversation that contains even the minutest bit of criticism.

Some people are hypocritical because they say we must **never **say anything bad about others and then attack any individual who says something bad about others.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this wording:

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.

and I have asked (in another thread) what constitutes “objectively valid reason,” but so far have not got a clear answer. The dictionary gives the following definition:

objective : expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations

If “objective” means dealing with facts or conditions, then I think the Catechism’s “objectively valid reason” must be to prevent evil actions, to mitigate the effects of evil, and to bring about good.

Therefore it would seem reasonable to disclose someone’s faults and failings when necessary to prevent harm. For example, if someone is habitually dishonest, either by stealing or lying, we might disclose it to others so that they will not be the next victim of the dishonesty. Similarly, if someone is physically violent, we might warn others about it for their safety and security.

I am not sure if “objectively valid reason” includes moral or prudential teaching. For example, if we told our children that their uncle has always been a loser because he drinks too much, it might teach our children a valuable lesson, but it harms the uncle’s reputation. On the other hand, if the children ask why he staggers and behaves poorly, we could perhaps answer that it is because of his drinking habit, and take the opportunity to warn them not to do likewise when they grow up.

Whenever we choose to disclose another’s faults and failings, we should take care to do it with charity, preserving the other’s reputation to the greatest extent possible. In some situations, this might mean limiting the disclosure to only those who need to know for their own safety or security. In the context of a family or neighborhood, for example, we should communicate privately and say only what is necessary to prevent harm or to make things better.

Thanks, that is an especially helpful reply. I also found the article that was recommended to me by the first person to respond to be very helpful. If you’re interested and haven’t read it yet, it can be found here-

Thanks for the link. Just read it… A good article with lots of examples explained.

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