Detraction: What it is and isn’t

I read an article about a celebrity who’s Catholic who had a personal conversion experience a few years ago and has been taking his faith more seriously.  I can be vague because it seems in recent years we’ve been happily seeing quite a few celebrities who are either converts or “reverts” to Catholicism.  And, as a celebrity, this person has a “past,” and I think such behavior is taken for granted among celebrities.

Meanwhile, some people seem to be relishing in allegations by various women that they had adulterous relationships with the current President at a time be professes to have really “found Jesus” and that were as “consensual” as a relationship with a married billionaire can be, so really no worse, sadly, than many presidents and at least not as bad as some presidents who’ve been accused of rape.  Thus, it seems appropriate to talk a bit about detraction.

There is a big difference between the “Known Sinner” coming back from the parabolic Pig Sty, and the “Righteous” who speak in hypocrisy.  So the reaction when a “Known Sinner” repents should be one of “Hey, good for you! Keep it up!”  If a person is going around saying, “I’m a good Catholic” and then sleeping around or doing drugs or gossiping or whatever, then perhaps it would be “objectively good reason” to point out their hypocrisy, but otherwise, to poi

Detraction: it’s a sin that, on the one hand, is far too common and we all fall into very easily, with or without the Internet.  On the other hand, it’s a sin people with a few thin lines.  According to the Catechism, one is guilty

“of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them” (CCC 2247).

An ambiguity in our day lies in the fact that there’s so much detraction and calumny in the media that most of us know very quickly about things, so for the average person, the secondary principle is often moot, though that’s one very good reason to avoid the “news.”

Then there’s the question of an objectively valid reason, which has two sides: if the goal is purely to destroy someone’s reputation, then it’s definitely sinful, and that is one of the problems with elected versus hereditary or appointed governance: our system is supposed to based upon deciding which candidate one believes shares ones values and is of the best character. That, contrary to what many think, is the point of the Electoral College: we’re supposed to meet our electors personally and get to know them at literal “political parties,” and the electors are supposed to personally know the presidential candidates.  Still, “I’m the best man for the job” often degrades to “I’m the lesser of two evils,” as it has from pretty much the beginning of the US:


I have always believed that character counts in an election, and I have always believed that people should vote for the candidate on their ballot who best reflects their views (I usually draw the line, literally, at “write ins,” unless it’s a local election with only one name).

The tensions of the last election strained and in some cases ended many relationships for me, like everyone else–and ironically for me it was mostly other conservatives because, even to the last minute, I could not bring myself to vote for Donald Trump.  I voted for Castle.  Had I been in another state, I might have voted for a different third party candidate, but as far as I’m concerned, one candidate was a Northern liberal who supported gay marriage and socialized medicine, and the other was Hillary Clinton.  One candidate was a rich, white racist and warmonger, and the other was Donald Trump.

I’m immensely relieved Clinton is not president, and until he and the GOP failed to merely defund Planned Parenthood, much less actually do anything for Personhood, I’d have said they were doing a fairly decent job, and I’m considering voting for him next time.

The cry of Republicans today, like that of Democrats in the early 1990s, is, “We’re electing a president, not a pastor.”  I believe character matters because a politician should be trustworthy.  If I’m electing someone based upon my convictions, I want to know that person shares my convictions.  In theory, at least, we want someone who’s relatively honest, able to keep a vow, emotionally stable, etc.

And it should definitely matter if someone in office is accused of an actual felony–the reason “high crimes and misdemeanors” is worded like that is to say that “character counts.”  The Founding Fathers intended for impeachment to be applied more generously than it has been, to put the Office above the Officeholder.

So it would not, then, be detraction to point out the sins of a public official–if it were, John the Baptist and most of the other Prophets would be guilty.  Indeed, Leviticus tells us that the entire people bear the guilt of the sins of their leaders.

Still, we knew Donald Trump was an adulterer before he was elected.  He was not, as far as I’m aware, accused of any crimes, and he has not been accused of adultery or sexual harassment that allegedly occurred recently.  Yet some people continue to harp on allegations made by different women to a degree that I would argue constitutes detraction, since their goal is mainly to impugn his character more than to discuss his qualifications to be president.

Indeed, the most potentially criminal allegations against Trump have been made, via that infamous recording, by Trump himself, and he has publicly admitted to and acknowledged his past sins about as honestly as a public figure can do without fleeing to a monastery afterwards.  It arguably help him.  I know it was the main reason I considered changing my vote.

Now, getting back to the main topic, one thing I have always struggled with is the Church’s insistence on avoiding scandal by not discussing past sins.  In her Life, St. Teresa of Avila talks about a habitual sin she struggled with.  She says it came from reading fairy tales and adventure stories.  She says it was something that made her a very bad nun and caused her father to almost disown her at one point, but that she never did anything to dishonor her family.  She says it’s a sin many people struggle with, and she wished she was permitted to be open about it because it could help others who struggle with the same sin.  And yet people always say, “Oh, it was just scrupulosity.”  Now, Therese of Lisieux was definitely scrupulous, but I think Mother was being as honest as she could about an actual bad habit.

When Mary and I did our Engaged Encounter, one of the couples leading the retreat were as we expected to be in a few years–and pretty much were.  They were a vibrant young Northern Virginia, JP2-era, Catholic couple who met on a cruise, spend 2 weeks together, got engaged the first time they saw each other after the cruise, and got married as soon as they’d gone through their 6 months.

The other couple were middle-aged, and they had a palpable tension between them.  I could sense from the start that something major had happened in their relationship–not just the comfort of years but an actual rift that they’d had and healed from.  Throughout their various talks, they eventually said that they’d had a serious rift they’d had to heal from and eventually that the husband had committed adultery.  And it became a profound story of forgiveness and healing.

If a couple were standing there, talking about marriage and *not* admitting to such problems, that would be hypocrisy.  Saying, “I sinned, and Jesus forgave me, and my [wife/parents/kids/friends/whomever] forgave me for sinning against them” is not hypocrisy and should not be considered scandal–it’s testimony.

 

 

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