Gossip that demeans someone and makes them an outsider in their community is, as the Holy Father says, a form of social murder. When it occurs in a church, it kills a person’s relationships and place in the community of Christ. It isolates, alienates and sets them apart from other believers.
It can drive people out of their parish or even out of the Church. In extreme cases, it can maim their relationship with God.
Gossip is not the same thing as venting to a spouse or someone equally close. Gossip is talking to this one and that one and everyone who will lend an ear, cutting a person down and creating a wedge between that person and their fellows. When that happens, it goes beyond venting and becomes a weapon used to punish a person.
Oftentimes, gossip is a cowardly way to attack someone else when they haven’t done anything wrong, not even to the person who spreads the gossip.Perhaps the most damaging gossip in a Catholic parish would be gossip that comes from the priest. Priests carry great authority. Their office embues them with a charisma that they would never have as a lawyer or a dentist.
Catholics place their priests on pedestals. They honestly believe that the priest is closer to God and has a higher knowledge of right, wrong, and what God desires than other people. They think their priests are holy. They trust their priests deeply. I’ve seen people go to their pastor for comfort like small children fleeing to their mothers more times than I can count.
A priest who gossips critically about a parishioner to other parishioners can destroy that person’s ability to live out their walk with Christ in that parish. A priest who gossips about a parishioner to other priests can spread that disability throughout a diocese.
Gossip wounds people. It destroys relationships. When it happens in churches, it can scapegoat and forever damage a person’s ability to be part of that community.