PEP Newsletter

Ideas For Your Parish


February, 2020

Addicted to Criticism and Back-biting

                “When the Pharisees went outside, they immediately began to plot with the Herodians on how they might destroy him.” (Mk 3,6)  It has ever been thus, but with the advent of the Internet, destroying people’s reputations through gossip has become rampant.  Kaya Oakes, a correspondent for Religion Dispatches, wrote in A Pope Francis Lexicon, (Liturgical Press, 2018) “To gossip is to speak without thinking, write without fact-checking, or tweet without sourcing.  Gossip is instant gratification, and, as with so many other kinds of instant gratification, the after affects are something we rarely consider in the moment.” (p. 81)


The Work of Satan

            The same book, A Pope Francis Lexicon, contains a contribution on “Satan,” by Gregory K. Hills, a theology teacher at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY.  Referring to a homily by Pope Francis from January, 2014, Hill wrote, “Whereas Christ through his Spirit endeavors to unify through humility and love, the devil seeks to divide through pride and hatred, both of which manifest themselves in gossip, envy, and infighting. . .  The devil thus sows theological and ideological divisions that threaten to tear apart the one body of Christ.  He does this by fostering jealousy and greed,  particularly through the terrorism of gossip. . . ‘ Gossip divides communities,” the pope stated, “it destroys communities.’” (p. 169)


Gossip In the Parish

            In the same book, Kaya Oakes, wrote a section entitled “Gossip,” in which she said, “At a local church, this [gossip] can lead to a kind of modern-day shunning, one in which individuals are iced out, ignored, turned down for committee work, or made to feel so uncomfortable that they leave.  Priests are not innocent of this; they too can fall into the habit of grousing about parishioners and one another, and especially about their bishops.  But all of these patterns begin in gossip.  A rumor begins with an individual who hears something.  Like the childhood game of telephone, as it passes from one person to another it becomes distorted and amplified to the point that the true story is lost.  The demonic aspect of this pattern is about the power to control the narrative.  The truth is stolen from the individual being gossiped about – and given over to gossipers.  This is only amplified in our age of social media where gossip runs rampant.” (p. 80)


Dialogue and Ground Rules

            Pope Francis suggests that dialogue is the antidote to gossip.  Gregory Hill paraphrases a homily Francis delivered in January, 2014.  “A dialogical church is one that rejects Satan in favor of genuine love for the other, including love for those who do not love us.” (p. 170)  Speaking directly to people rather than behind their backs uncovers misjudgments and brings the truth to the fore.  This takes much courage and often requires the help of a trusted third party to help facilitate the interaction.  What might help to foster dialogue and reduce the level of gossip in a parish community is a list of Ground Rules to which the pastor, staff and parish leaders commit themselves as a model for the parishioners to emulate.  Here is the beginning of a list that can be expanded and adapted for each parish community:

  • When hearing or reading something unfavorable or unkind about another, don’t pass it on to others.
  • If someone does something you find distasteful, if it is important, seek out the person for dialogue.
  • Don’t use social media to criticize or judge another who has no way of knowing where it originated.
  • Foster a climate of affirmation where all are thanked and congratulated for their efforts and abilities.
  • If you can’t say something nice or supportive about someone else, don’t say anything at all.