Terrorism of Gossip

Twice last week, Pope Francis spoke to the Church about the serious threat of terrorism. However, the terrorism of which he spoke was of a very different kind than the danger of Islamic extremism and the growing threat of the Islamic State. No, in two separate audiences, one with superiors of Religious Orders of Men on Friday, Nov. 7 and the other with the Salesian Sisters on Saturday, Nov. 8, our Holy Father addressed an issue that is so divisive, so dangerous, that it has been known to destroy families, friendships and community living among clergy and religious. He was referring to the “terrorism of gossip.”

Pope Francis said: “Please,” he told the superiors, “don’t let the terrorism of gossip exist among you. Throw it out. Let there be fraternity. And if you have something against your brother, tell him to his face. Sometimes it might end in fisticuffs…(T)hat’s not a problem. It’s always better than the terrorism of gossip.”

This is a wake-up call from the Holy Father against a culture of clerical and religious and yes, even parochial gossip. At many gatherings of priests, sadly, the topic of conversation is who’s moving from one parish to another and where this priest is going next a few years from now. Talk like this among priests and seminarians is ultimately harmful and is from the devil. It’s destructive toward morale; it undermines the legitimate authority of the bishop and, well, can just be pretty nasty at times.

There is no need to be uncharitable ever. Sometimes, random speculation can cause more harm than good. On the parish level, the terrorism of gossip can cause people to lose their trust in their brothers and sisters in their local parish and can foster a spirit of “I don’t want to get involved, lest I be placed under such scrutiny.” Words, rumors and idle speculation hurt and can even destroy people’s lives and undermine their faith.

The pope told these religious order priests: “Today’s dominant and individualistic culture is a culture which erodes society starting from its very core, the family. But consecrated life can help the Church and the whole of society bear witness to fraternity, showing that it is possible to live together as brothers despite diversity: this is important! As a member of a community you do not choose its other members beforehand, you ding different characters, ages, educational backgrounds, sensitivities … and yet we choose to live like brothers. We do not always manage this, of course, we often make mistakes because we are sinners. But we admit when we have done something wrong, we ask for forgiveness and we offer forgiveness. And this is good for the Church. It spreads the body of the Church, the lymph of fraternity. And it is good for society.”

If we can learn anything from this pope, it is the need for open, clear dialogue, even when it is difficult to say and difficult to hear. Francis’ clear direct talk is something that we all need to hear. One of the reasons for the success of the recent Synod at the Vatican was because Pope Francis had urged all bishops to speak their minds. The result has been a complete airing of views. Nothing was left in the back rooms, but everything was out in the opinion. The Spirit will breathe where It may. There is no reason to fear such honesty and dialogue when everything is out in the open.

Pope Francis has opened a new window on frankness in the Church. There is no need for backbiting and name-calling. If we have something to say, it’s much healthier to say it in an open forum without fear of reprisal.

“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself,” wrote Marcus Aurelius.

May each of us, clergy, religious and laity, heed this wake-up call and end the terrorism of gossip!