From the June AD 1997
Our Lady of the Rosary
Question: You said it is necessary to make restitution for the lies one has
told. How can I make restitution if I didn't steal anything?
Answer: The moral law always requires us to make up for the damage we have purposely
done to others. The damage can be done in a number of ways which violate various
Commandments. For example, physical damage done to a person or his property,
theft, scandal, and damage done to another's reputation, all demand reparation.
The obligation is less pressing if the damage was accidental. Direct restoration
may not always be possible, insofar as the damage is permanent or the sinner
lacks resources. Nonetheless, some sort of compensation must be worked out if at
A single lie about someone can constitute multiple sins. The untruth itself
severs us from Christ who is Truth, it is an abuse of our own intellect and
power of speech. It is blasphemous if we invoke or imply that God is our
witness. For those in authority it dishonors the position they hold and others
who hold it (e.g. a policeman, a judge, or a priest). It may hurt the one about
whom it is told, and those who would otherwise benefit from association with
him; a physician, for example, or a confessor, or a baby sitter. It may cause
other people to sin if they go along with the lie, preferring to believe it at
though it were truth.
Everyone hates a liar, but there are various lesser ways in which one can sin
by uncharitable speech. The following is from a sermon outline by Fathers McHugh
and Callan, the well known Dominican preachers:
I. The nature and malice of evil speaking against our neighbor.
1. By uncharitable speech is understood every kind of discourse that is
calculated to ruin or lessen our neighbor's good name. The sin is committed,
whether the effect follows or not, and may be committed even when the speaker
does not intend the evil effect.
2. The sin of uncharitable speech is mortal in its nature, (a) because
Scripture tells us that railers, like idolaters and adulterers shall be excluded
from the Kingdom of Heaven (1 Cor. vi:˙10); (b) because it injures a man
unjustly in his good reputation, which is his most precious external possession
(Prov. xxii:˙1); c) because it damages a man in his fortune and the dearest
interests of his life, e.g. it causes a person to lose his position and means of
support, and creates untold misunderstanding, dissensions, etc.
3. Evil speaking, however, may be only a venial sin if the injury done is but
slight; even trivial uncharitableness, however, may become serious by reason of
hatred that prompts it, or of the high position of the person attacked, or the
scandal that results, etc., etc.
4. This sin may be committed in indirect ways, such as by faint praise, the
use of doubtful expressions, qualifications, contemptuous smiling, shrugging of
the shoulders, etc.
II. Various kinds of evil speaking:
1. Contumely consists in words or actions of injury or derision uttered of
performed against a person in his presence. The sin is committed by reproaching
a person for his failings, misfortunes, or defects, or by ridiculing him with
sarcasm, nicknames, and the like. Such a a sin, beside injuring a person's
reputation and giving scandal, is often an indication of hidden contempt and
hatred. At the very least it is a sign of ill breeding. Whether it is a mortal
sin or not depends upon the intention with which it is uttered and the foreseen
effects that follow.
2. Backbiting is the circulation of one's known faults behind his back. The
contumelious man is like the dog that barks at you openly, the backbiter like
the serpent that stings you unawares (Ecclus.˙x:˙11).
3. Detraction (libel) is the revelation of one's secret faults without just
cause and behind his back. This is sinful, even though the person detracted be
dead or the matter be revealed confidentially to but one person.
(Lev.˙xix,˙16; Prov.˙xxiv: 9; Ecclus xix:˙10; Rom. i:˙30; Titus iii:˙2;
Jas. iv:˙11). It is not detraction to reveal the faults of others when their
own or the good of others requires that the faults be disclosed.
4. Talebearing is the carrying to another secretly of what has been said or
done against him, when we intend or foresee that it will sow discord. This vice
is severely condemned in Scripture (Prov. vi:˙16,˙19; Ecclus. xxi: 31; xxviii:
15, 16), and talebearers are called by the Fathers "the most terrible
plagues of society" (St. Augustine) and "meddlers intent on creating
and fomenting discord and scandal (St. Bernard).
5. Unjust betrayal of a secret is a sin whose gravity on the intention and
6. Calumny (slander) is the lying imputation to another behind his back of a
fault or crime of which he is not guilty. This is committed not only by those
who circulate the lies they have invented, but also by those who exaggerate or
put false interpretations in their neighbors conduct. Calumny is more serious
"Wherefore, putting away lying, speak ye the truth, every man with his
neighbor; for we are members one of another."2
1. Charles J. Callan, O.P. and John A. Mc Hugh, O.P., The Gospels and Epistles
of the Sundays and Feasts with Outlines for Sermons (NY: Jos. F. Wagner, 1939),
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, pp. 96-98.
2. Ephesians iv: 25.