The following comes from an Aug 1 story by Christina Gray in Catholic San Francisco.
When St. Hilary Parish pastor Father William Brown got wind this spring of rumors spread about the “personal virtue” of other parish families in a series of text messages, emails, and phone calls, “I was horrified!” he said. The false accusations going back at least a year came to light in May when the injured parties finally came forward.
In an interview with Catholic San Francisco at the church rectory in Tiburon on July 18, Father Brown said he was inspired by Pope Francis to talk to his community about the destructiveness of gossip, tale-bearing, detraction, backbiting, intrigue and what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls “calumny.”
The pope has repeatedly addressed the harm gossip can cause the gossiper, the victims of gossip and the church itself in his Vatican homilies.
“It’s so rotten, gossip,” the pope said on Feb. 16 in his Sunday Angelus message. “At the beginning, it seems to be something enjoyable and fun, like a piece of candy. But at the end it fills the heart with bitterness and poisons us.” He has also called rumors “the devil’s weapon” to undermine the community of the church.
Brown sent an email letter to parishioners, school families and faculty on May 16, asking them to reflect on Francis’ words likening gossip to a “form of murder.” He made no mention of the parish gossip that prompted his letter.
“Our community is going through a number of changes, and this always leads to some anxiety, anger, confusion, curiosity – and, unfortunately, gossip,” wrote Father Brown. As human beings, he said, we are all tempted by this sin.
“If you are like me, and thus tempted to gossip at times, please reflect on the pope’s recent commentary to help you avoid this very toxic temptation, which can destroy people’s lives and make community life miserable.”
The Ninth Commandment exhorts us not to “bear false witness against thy neighbor” and “thou shalt not lie” speaks for itself.
Father Brown met privately with the alleged rumormonger to facilitate a reconciliation among the parties.
The alleged gossiper, who claimed to have only repeated but not made up the rumors, “couldn’t see the harm,” said an incredulous Father Brown. He told the person: “If you slammed into people with a car you’d be in prison. You’ve slammed into them with your words and these people could sue you!” That’s the legal problem you could have, he said. “The spiritual problem you have is that once you do this kind of thing, it’s almost impossible to take it back.”
“….When I was a new priest, I lived in a rectory across the street from a parishioner who called the church office reporting that she had seen me come out of the rectory early one morning with a woman carrying a suitcase. “Brazen as brass, with people arriving for church at the same time,” she said to the pastor, who replied: “Mrs. O’Brian, that was a seminarian, not a woman. He’s bald and he has a mustache. You need to get your eyes checked!”
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