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Ask A Priest – What’s the Difference Between Gossip and Just Talking about People when They’re not Around?

14 Mar 2014

Mar 14, 2014

Father, What’s the difference between gossip and just talking about people when they’re not around? Is gossip only when there is intent to ridicule? Also, people who are in stressful relationships may find it beneficial to talk about what their friend/spouse/relative has done which upset them. Is that considered gossip?

There can be many times when we might speak about others not present for very legitimate reasons. Gossip, however, is characterized as idle talk without any justification and the spreading of opinions or rumours or criticism. It would normally be talk to denigrate or criticize another person, or spreading bad news about them without there being a reason to do so.

There can be times when we might need to point out defects in other people, for example, being asked about the qualities of a person applying for a job, but this is done in a very different context from just getting together with other people and talking about another person’s defects when they have no reason to know these things.

The last point you raise is a very different situation from gossip. For example, take the case of a person who is having problems at work with someone who is being unjust and wants to talk about it with their spouse or a friend. They talk with them about their problems not with the intention of denigrating or harming the other person, but to seek advice or consolation for their problems.

Gossip is, in fact, quite a serious sin and one which Pope Francis has talked about a number of times. In his morning meditation of April 9, 2013, he said:

“There are so many enemies of gentleness, aren’t there? Starting with gossip. When people prefer to tell tales, to gossip about others, to give others a few blows. These are daily events that happen to everyone, and to me too”. “They are temptations of the Evil One”, he continued, “who does not want the Spirit to create this gentleness, in Christian communities.

“Then, in another morning meditation on September 2, 2013, he said:

“We might welcome someone and speak well of him the first day but little by little that worm eats away at our minds until our gossip “banishes him” from good opinion. That person in a community who gossips against his or her neighbour is, in a sense, killing him. “The Apostle John”, the Pope said, “in chapter 3 of his First Letter, v. 15, tells us that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer”. And the Pope immediately added: “we are used to gossip, to spreading rumours, and we often transform our communities as well as our family into ‘hell’ where this kind of crime that leads “to killing one’s brother and sister with one’s tongue is manifest”.

“The Bible”, the Pope continued, “says that the devil came into the world through envy. A community, a family is destroyed by this envy that the devil teaches in the heart and causes one to speak ill of the other”. And referring to what has been happening in these days, he stressed the need to think also of our own daily weapons: “the tongue, gossip, tittle-tattle”.

“In his Angelus message of February 14, this year, Pope Francis again spoke about gossip and said:

“This brings us to gossip: gossip can also kill, because it kills the reputation of the person! It is so terrible to gossip! At first it may seem like a nice thing, even amusing, like enjoying a candy. But in the end, it fills the heart with bitterness, and even poisons us. What I am telling you is true, I am convinced that if each one of us decided to avoid gossiping, we would eventually become holy!”