What is "gossip"?

Seeing as we always talk about other people, good and bad, I would like to know what a good Catholic definition of “gossip” is. Thanks.

First, let’s look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about various kinds of conversation:

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

[list]of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;[/list]

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

[list]of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them[/list]

(CCC 2477).

As the Catechism does not use the specific word gossip, let’s look at its secular definition and apply that to the Catechism’s discussion. Here are the first three definitions from Dictionary.com:

1.) Rumor or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature; 2.) A person who habitually spreads intimate or private rumors or facts; 3.) Trivial, chatty talk or writing.

Definition three is idle chatter. So long as it does not show disrespect for the reputation of another and so long as it does not supercede other necessary responsibilities, there is nothing wrong with it. Definition one fits the Catechism’s discussion of both rash judgment and detraction. If the person knew that the rumors he were spreading were false but deliberately spread them anyway, it would be calumny. Definition two is simply a colloquial term for a person who engages in the acts discussed in definition one.

In short, gossip can be harmless if it does not disrespect another’s reputation and if it does not keep someone from attending to his responsibilities. Gossip becomes harmful and possibly sinful when it includes rash judgment, detraction, or calumny.

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