The great Catholic writers of yesteryear Belloc and Chesterton were able to get their point of view across with wit and humour. Being civil in our speech is something most of us try to practice in our daily dealings with our neighbour. But the anonymity available on the internet today has given birth to legions of keyboard warriors and pamphlet-theologians who are self-styled periti on every subject under the sun. No one is safe from their withering tongues, not even the Holy Father. Expressions like heretic, apostate etc... come freely without even the slightest attempt to check their rancour. If you must indulge in venting your spleen, have the courage to face up to the consequences of your comments and put your name, email address or your photograph to your comment or post. Hiding behind a pseudonym in these cases is sheer cowardice.
Whatever happened to charity in our speech? “Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart” says our Lord. [St. Mt. XI:19] Do we really think that there are no consequences to what we say on the internet? But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment. [St.Mt XII:36]. Do we think that we are really helping anyone or converting souls by the use of bitter sarcasm and malicious words that are designed to wound rather than to edify? charge them before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. [2 Tim:II:14]. Are we really proud of our words? Rejoicing that we have “won” the argument? He is proud, knowing nothing, but sick about questions and strifes of words; from which arise envies, contentions, blasphemies, evil suspicions. [1Tim:VI:4] But shun profane and vain babblings: for they grow much towards ungodliness. And their speech spreadeth like a canker... [2Tim:II:16,17]
It would perhaps be a good thing if the moderators on Catholic blogs and those who comment on them were aware of the gravity of the sin of Detraction and Calumny. The following is a summary of the Moral Theology of Dom. Prummer, O.P., on Detraction. A man has a right to his reputation in justice and no man’s reputation may be attacked without undue reason. Detraction (defamatio) may be defined as the unjust destruction of another’s reputation. It is the unjust revealing of a true hidden fault. Detraction may be divided as follows: Formal Detraction arises when one has the intention of harming another’s reputation and this is always a mortal sin. Material Detraction arises when one has some other intention. This may be allowable if there is sufficient reason, otherwise it is usually a venial sin, but could become mortal because of the gravity of the words used. Direct Detraction is when we reveal another’s faults: either by the accusation of a false crime, and this is called calumny, or by exaggerating a crime, by revealing a hidden crime, or by interpreting a good action as a bad one. Indirect Detraction is when we minimize another’s good qualities and this can take place by denying one’s good virtues, acts etc, by diminishing his good works, by silencing those who praise a man’s good qualities, by moderating our praise with a “but...”.
Calumny is detraction with the addition of a lie. While a lie by itself is a venial sin, Calumny has the same moral species as detraction. The lie in calumny has an aggravating circumstance only. The principle here is that unjust detraction is a mortal sin ex genere suo against justice and charity regardless if the detraction is true or not. This is proved from 1Cor: VI:10 and Romans 1:30.
The reason is that the more harm done to the neighbour, the greater is the sin; the greater the good destroyed, the more harm done. Reputation is a greater good than material possessions, the destruction of which can be a mortal sin in grave matter. Hence, a priori, so too with detraction. One needs to know that the greater the dignity of the person detracted, the greater is the offence. The more hearers there are, the more there are who are likely to repeat the detraction and hence greater will be the sin. With regards to Calumny, the intention is always malicious and hence calumny is always a mortal sin in grave matter.
We may indeed have the true faith; we may rightly be pleased with all the good works and prayers we offer up. But if we don’t have charity where does that leave us? St Paul tells us that if we speak with the tongues of men and angels and have not charity, we are become like sounding brass, like tinkling cymbals.[1Cor XIII:1] And right now the sound of brass and tinkling cymbals emanating from Catholic comment boxes and forums is simply deafening.