The act of one who without necessity relates unfavorable things about another to certain persons. "Unfavorable things" includes not only statements that blacken a person's good name, but statements that can cause unnecessary harm or sorrow to one's neighbor. By "good name" is meant the esteem that others have for a person because of praiseworthy qualities. The talebearer relates unfavorable things to certain persons, namely, those who have a special relation to the one about whom he is talebearing. Thus, a child tells tales about his classmates to the teacher; another child tells tales about his brothers and sisters to his parents. The motives for talebearing are varied: dislike for another, envy, the desire of ingratiating oneself, mistaken notions about obligations to report on the actions of others, or a desire to sow discord or hard feelings between friends.
There is no doubt that talebearing is prevalent among children. Besides the various reasons given above, the child will have an added reason if he has been encouraged in this practice by his parents or teachers. A child who has received direct or indirect commendation from an adult for this type of action will be more inclined to continue the regrettable habit. The habit becomes more difficult to break as the child grows older. It is not correct, however, to think that talebearing is confined to children or to those who developed the habit as a child. Adults, both men and women, indulge in it.
The sinfulness of talebearing differs according to the various forms the act can take. Even if the unfavorable things reported are not harmful to the person's reputation, the act is still a violation of charity. If the unfavorable things are true and divulged without necessity and harm has been done to the person's good name, the action is comparable to detraction. If the unfavorable things are lies, and the person's good name has been blackened, the act is comparable to calumny. Relating unfavorable things in order to break up a good friendship or "… to sow discord among brethren is hated by the Lord" (Prv6.19). However, not all revelations of unfavorable things about one's neighbor are sinful. The action is licit when there is a moral demand of equal or greater urgency. In other words, when the continued ignorance of the truth is causing harm, the unfavorable truth may be licitly revealed.
See Also: detraction; calumny; reputation, moral right to.
Bibliography: d. m. prÜmmer, Manuale theologiae moralis, ed. e. m. mÜnch, 3 v. (Freiburg-Barcelona 1955) 2:165–201. b. h. merkelbach, Summa theologiae moralis, 3 v. (Paris 1949) 2:423–432. thomas aquinas, Summa Theologiae 2a2ae, 73–74. h. davis, Moral and Pastoral Theology (New York 1958). k. b. moore, The Moral Principles Governing the Sin of Detraction … (Washington 1950).
[k. b. moore]