The Frugal Farmer

News: Commentary
by Joe Sixpack — The Every Catholic Guy  •  •  July 5, 2022   

Calumny and other sins

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A frugal farmer was on his way to market one day when he saw a piece of string lying on the road. He thought it might come in useful, so he bent down to pick it up. And just then, a passerby saw him put it in his pocket.


An empty wallet was found,

yet no one believed the farmer  

Later, a man's wallet containing several hundred dollars was reported to be lost at the same spot. So, the police asked the farmer what he knew about it. They didn't believe him when he told them he'd only picked up a piece of string. Indeed, the entire town laughed at the farmer's explanation. He tried to tell everyone around town the true story of what happened, but nobody believed him.

He couldn't sleep that night and was absolutely miserable over everyone thinking he was a thief. The next day, the wallet was found lying empty on the road. The farmer happily told everyone this new detail, but by now he'd been judged guilty by the common consent of all the townspeople. They decided this latest detail was just a clever trick by the farmer so he could keep the money.

With his reputation ruined, the farmer returned home. He brooded over the incident until it drove him to a nervous breakdown and to mental illness. He kept babbling over and over to himself, "A piece of string. It was only a piece of string." Then he soon died.

As we complete our examination of the Eighth Commandment, this story touches on so much of what we've already learned. It also covers some of what we'll look at today — calumny, libel, secrets and reparation for sins against this commandment.

Causing Dishonor

Paragraph 2477 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that calumny, which we commonly call slander today, is the making of "remarks contrary to the truth [which harm] the reputation of others and give occasion [of] false judgment concerning them." Calumny is gravely immoral, as everyone has a right to a good reputation.

Calumny is gravely immoral.

I suspect contumely is a new word for most of you. I didn't know it when I first started studying Catholicism, but it really is a word that at one time was common in our language. Anyway, contumely is showing contempt for a person by unjustly dishonoring him. It may be committed by ignoring the person, refusing to show him the proper signs of respect (such as refusing a handshake), or ridiculing him.

Not only is this a sin against the Eighth Commandment, but it tempts the person who's being disrespected to anger, revenge and other sins.

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Libel, meanwhile, is any false or malicious written or printed statement or any sign, picture or effigy tending to injure a person's reputation in any way. We commonly see this today when a political cartoonist abuses his liberty in favor of license to harm a political enemy. I'm not saying all political cartoons are libelous. I'm merely saying they often go too far.

Keeping Confidentiality

We also see violations of the Eighth Commandment regarding secrets. We're obliged to keep secrets if we have promised to do so, if our role in the world requires it (lawyers, doctors, therapists, etc.), or if the good of others demands it.

We also see violations of the Eighth Commandment regarding secrets.

This prohibition against revealing secrets extends to reading the private letters and writings of others, such as personal diaries. We may never read such things without the person's permission unless the motive for reading them is to prevent grave harm to oneself, another or society.

For example, say your friend has been very depressed and you're concerned about him. You can't find your friend one day, but you do find a letter he's written and left on his desk. Should you look at that letter? If you're concerned it could be a suicide note, then you can look at it. If it is a suicide note, you're morally obligated to do something about it.

If, however, it becomes apparent that the letter isn't a suicide note, then you're obligated to stop reading it and to keep to yourself the content of that part of the letter you've already read.

The seal of confession must never be broken

This indirectly leads us to the seal of confession. The vast majority of people believe the seal of confession applies only to the priest hearing confessions and no one else. That simply isn't the case.

If you somehow gain knowledge of a matter from someone else's confession, you must never reveal that knowledge to anyone.

Even if you come to know of a criminal act because you may have overheard a sacramental confession, you are obliged to keep that information to yourself. It is gravely immoral to violate the seal of confession, even if you merely overheard a confession.

I know I've overheard several confessions while waiting to see the priest myself, because the person ahead of me spoke too loudly. What I overheard will die with me, as it should.

Making Reparation

Reparation for sins against the Eighth Commandment is absolutely necessary, and making reparation one time will keep you from ever committing that particular sin again. 

Let's take another look at this through the Catechism, focusing on paragraph 2487:

Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven. When it is impossible publicly to make reparation for a wrong, it must be made secretly. If someone who has suffered harm cannot be directly compensated, he must be given moral satisfaction in the name of charity. The duty of reparation also concerns offenses against another's reputation. The reparation, moral and sometimes material, must be evaluated in terms of the extent of the damage inflicted. It obliges in conscience.

But what does it mean to make reparation in the case of sins against the Eighth Commandment?

Here's an example.

Let's say a fellow parishioner named John owns a plumbing business, and at 2 a.m. you see his truck outside a shady bar, notorious for being a brothel. Your first obligation is to view that situation in the best possible light — he may be there on an emergency call to fix a busted water pipe.

But rather than doing as you ought, you instead tell other people you saw his truck outside the brothel. Later, when you discover that he was indeed repairing a busted pipe, you must make reparation for telling others about what you saw.

Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.

How is that done? You must go to everyone you told and correct what you told them. You must also find out who they told and go to them as well. You must also find out who they told and go to them too. You must carry this reparation as far as possible in the name of justice and charity! So you can see it's much easier to learn to tame the tongue rather than let it move freely and pay the price later.

I think St. James gives us the best advice in his epistle: "Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19).

As the old saying goes, you have two ears and one mouth, so use them proportionately.

--- Campaign 31877 ---


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