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The Art of Keeping it Classy Online


The world really showed what it wants to be when news outlets recently made the decision to run a partial story. What happened next could have happened to you, your child, your spouse, or another loved one.

How we behave in real life and how we behave online ought to be similar. Let me say that again.

How we behave in real life and how we behave online ought to be similar.

The disconnect between who we are in real life and who we become online (as a society) has become so polarizing in and of itself. I frequently head out into my local community to do mundane stuff, like pick up groceries, go shopping, go to church, meet with friends, order food, etc. I have yet to run into someone in my everyday who behaves like some a lot of the folks I see commenting online. The temptation to stick your oar in is great. When Catholic Sistas began, many of the writers – myself included – had many years of online experience under our belts going in. We had seen quite a bit and witnessed the underbelly of many online forums. Sometimes under the guise of “debate” the discussions quickly devolved into ad hominem attacks. While there are plenty of opportunities to witness for the Catholic Faith, we had to also recognize that the comboxes (slang for comments on blogs/websites) could quickly spiral into occasions of sin, if not outright breeding grounds for dissent. We collectively determined that we would not babysit the comboxes, but instead would put in place a standard for leaving comments, rooted in Christian charity. So, how can we carry ourselves online in these polarizing times in a way that upholds what we believe as Catholics? Here are some quick tips of mine that I’ve developed over the years, going back to 1994 when I was the teenager online.


  1. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, then don’t say it to them online. Going back to 2007, I witnessed a once well-respected online community devolve into what could only be described as a public sewer. Under the guise of being called a Debate Team, its original purpose was to engage in constructive conversation involving some hotly debated topics. It started out fine, but eventually became a cesspool that original members began to back out of. The writing was on the wall and people’s true colors came out. But, why had it become such a toxic environment? Was it due to lax rules? Lax leadership? Members constantly pushing the boundaries, stretching the rules in ways that led to the implosion of the group? Or was it simply an indicator that if left unchecked, people would turn to a mob mentality?
  2. Avoid posting on unhappy or angry impulse. Take a step back, wait and pray. Posts/comments should come from joyful experience, sincere curiosity, thoughtful reasoning, tender concern, and lessons learned. In listening to and receiving the thoughts of others, PAUSE before posting/commenting in haste or out of emotion.
  3. You are responsible for your words. Allow them to reflect a spirit of charity, understanding and good will. 
  4. Give special care when writing about your spouse and the Sacrament of Marriage. By matrimony, therefore, the souls of the contracting parties are joined and knit together more directly and more intimately than are their bodies…and from this union of souls by God’s decree, a sacred and inviolable bond arises. Casti Connubii #7. When an issue treads into the sacred realm of marriage, be deferential to different marital styles, always assuming the best of our spouses. Prudential decisions are best left between spouses. 
  5. Respect the differences of personalities and family styles. Intend charity when reading, do not assume offense is intended.
  6. Avoid lying, in all senses of the word. The Church warns us against the danger of lying: through rash judgement (who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor), detraction (who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them), and calumny (who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them).

WAIT! I’ve done all these things before. Now what?

It’s not ok, but…it’s something most of us grapple with. We’ve all slipped and made mistakes. Seek out forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then with those whom you’ve harmed by giving them your apologies and making restitution where possible. You can also read up on the damaging effects of excuses on how to craft an authentic apology.

Lastly, I leave you with this story that makes a rather profound statement of the effects of gossip and its pernicious nature. It is the story of a most unusual penance St. Philip Neri assigned to a woman for her sin of spreading gossip.

The 16th century saint instructed her to take a feather pillow to the top of the church bell-tower, rip it open, and scatter the feathers to the four winds. This probably was not the kind of penance this woman, or any of us, would have been used to. But the penance didn’t end there. Philip Neri gave her a second, and more, difficult task. He told her to come down from the bell-tower and collect all the feathers that had been dispersed throughout the town. The poor woman, of course, couldn’t do it – and that was the point Philip Neri was trying to make in order to underscore the destructive nature of gossip. When we detract from others in our speech, our malicious words are scattered abroad, and cannot be gathered back. They continue to spread dishonour and division in people’s minds days, months, and even years after we have spoken them, as they pass from one tale-bearer to the next.

Allen Guest Posts Perspective from the Head

How to Avoid Heartache in Dating

The Importance of Emotional Chastity in the Dating Process

In my first article, Dating with Purpose, I provided the big picture of how youth, with the assistance of their parents, can navigate the rough waters of relationships and approach them with maturity and purpose.  This article delves deeper into how to interact with other people in appropriate ways.  We all have a desire to be loved.  In pursuit of that love, we are tempted to give ourselves away and surrender to another so as to have our physical or emotional need for love satisfied.  This can be done in two ways.  One is by surrendering your physical self, which we hear about often, and the other is by surrendering our emotional self.
photo 3-2Articles on physical chastity are many and they are worthwhile, but in my opinion, they are focused on addressing what happens when emotional chastity is not exercised.  Sarah Swafford posits that guys are tempted toward violations of physical chastity, while females primarily contend with maintaining emotional chastity.  Both can lead towards sexual sin, but it is important to understand how men and women differ in where this path begins.   All too often, men are unaware of the roller coaster of emotions that his affections towards a girl will send her on.  The constant games played in relationships leaves everyone guessing what one’s intentions are.  I have found that many times my own children have difficulty reading the intentions of an interested party and it is often because the young person doesn’t know himself why he is acting in a certain way.  It is so easy to lead with our emotions instead of our heads and it leads us down a path we might not be ready to go.  It is very important for men and women to understand what is appropriate conversation and contact.  Speaking clearly and honestly in a relationship can often spare many heartaches.
I have found that preparing a relationship for a friendship and leaving the romance out completely or at least to a minimum during this beginning friendship stage is very important.  Often when relationships begin with the romance, the friendship is never able to develop and couples find themselves with people they don’t really know.  So what does a chaste friendship look like?  Well first, one has to limit the amount of contact to allow the relationship to have time to grow.  Starting out a friendship with someone by spending part of everyday together would clearly promote an emotional attachment.  If a young person is not sure how much time is appropriate, they should talk to a trusted adult, like their parents.  In fact, a key to developing mature relationships with the opposite gender is having a great parent/teen relationship.  Children learn much about what a healthy relationship looks like by the example that adults within their lives provide for them.  If they see constant arguing, bickering, back stabbing, and gossip, then they will probably mimic these poor interpersonal relationship traits.  Parents are always teaching their children especially through their actions.  Mature relationships are built on healthy friendships and sometimes these trusting friendships blossom into marriage.

Practical Advice

photo 4-2This article seeks to suggest practical tools for guarding one’s heart.  Don’t spend hours and hours texting every day.  Remember, this is just a friend, someone that you have something in common with and so limit your conversations to planning an outing with friends, talking about something relevant to your shared interests such as band, youth group, or a sports activity.  The more you talk about nothing, the more likely you are to share too much too soon and turn a good friendship into something more when neither of you are ready to take it to that next step (see the recommendations for when to start dating in my previous article).  What I tell my kids and their friends is that if they want to ensure that they will never be married in the future to each other, then become more than friends now.  Because that relationship will have no where to progress to other than temptation.  Thus, they will only end up with hurt feelings because you can only hold hands and kiss for so long before you lust for more intimacy.  Romantic relationships can only be satisfied for so long, whereas friendships can be maintained for a lifetime or at least until you are both ready to seek out your lifelong helpmate.
If you become romantically drawn to a friend, don’t share it with them or your friends right away. This usually leads to gossip about how “She likes him. Does he like her? Have they told each other?” and this makes friendship difficult to maintain. Relationship gossip to teenagers is like a kid in a candy store. They’ll eat it up and consume all of their time with “Who likes who?”  In one of my daughter’s friend’s experience, conversations about teen romance are circular, leading nowhere except down a hill of fantasy and illusion.  My daughter Ellen has had her share of dealing with emotional chastity in her relationships and has experienced what it is like when relationships are not kept emotionally chaste.  She says, “Even though emotional chastity can often times be harder to maintain then physical chastity, it is so important!  I made the mistake of becoming emotionally attached too fast in a previous relationship and now it is harder for me and this guy to be just friends anymore.” Emotional chastity is not just a stuffy old fashioned idea that doesn’t relate to society anymore. It is something that should be practiced in all relationships, even ones that may not lead up to marriage.
FriendsDating with Purpose is a process, one that shouldn’t be rushed lest we give away something that we should be saving for our spouse and to be honest, we just don’t know who God has prepared for us until we go through the process of finding a friends whom we are attracted to and is attracted to us, entering into a discernment of marriage and ultimately exchanging vows before God and our friends and family.  The relationship with our spouse is designed to be one of a kind, second only to our relationship with God, that is how special it is.  Scripture points to its beauty by speaking of how the two become one within the first chapters of the Bible.  While physical and emotional chastity are both difficult to maintain, the beauty of that gift  being brought to the marriage is worth it.
8th Commandment Faith Formation Mary P. Ten Commandments

Bearing False Witness

Election season is upon us. We’ve already been treated to debates among the potential Republican nominees and poorly-veiled campaigning by the current President, and we have just under a year left ahead of us for more debates, town hall meetings, questionable campaign promises, and attack ads on television. But don’t worry – this post isn’t about who should win the Republican nomination or why the Republicans need to beat Obama in 2012. This post is about a topic that transcends partisan politics. Something that has infected our entire political process. Something that we take for granted as simply being “par for the course” around election time. That “something” is an offense against the Eighth Commandment, called “calumny.”

I’ve found that “calumny” is a little-known word, even among Catholics. I know that I had never even heard the word until sometime within the last few years, and when I told one of my Catholic friends that I was writing about calumny for the blog, she responded “calumwho?” It may be an unfamiliar word to many, but it’s not an unfamiliar concept, I’m sure. It’s essentially the same thing as slander or libel. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as making remarks contrary to the truth, which are harmful to the reputation of others and give occasion for false judgment of them. “Calumny” is the appropriate word for so much of what people say about Catholics and especially about our Church leadership (for example, “Pope Benedict is/was a Nazi” – a charge which couldn’t be further from the truth).

Calumny is related to rash judgment and detraction because they are all offenses against truth, and more specifically offenses against the respect that we owe to the reputations of others. They violate the overarching command to love our neighbors as ourselves. I find it interesting that the Eighth Commandment, which we all take to encompass all types of lying, specifically names the kind of lying where you speak an untruth against your neighbor. This is a serious sin, and we need to take heed!

I may not need to connect the dots for you, but in case I do, this is related to election season because, unfortunately, a lot of what passes for “campaigning” among political candidates these days is nothing more than mudslinging, which often involves calumny (in addition to both rash judgment and detraction). Candidates on both sides of the party line actually seek to damage the reputation of other candidates. I believe that some “dirt” that is “dug up” against candidates is fabricated whole cloth for the sole intention of destroying their chances to be elected; other times, partial truths are twisted into untruths. It’s not just candidates who do this to each other, sadly. Sometimes this happens via the large portion of people in the mainstream media who are not so much concerned with truth as they are with their personal ideology.

I promise that I am not writing this post for the purpose of pointing fingers at political candidates and mainstream media members. I began this post talking about politics because I thought it was an extremely accessible application of the principle of calumny – something we could all understand. To be honest (which is important in a piece on the Eighth Commandment!), I foolishly failed to see it as a sin that would be easy for the average good-willed person to fall into, or a sin that I personally struggled with. Oh how naïve I was! After starting this piece, I suddenly realized that I am much more tempted toward calumny than I had thought I was, and I bet it is something that we have all struggled with.

It’s true that I am very unlikely to fabricate out of thin air a story about someone and then spread it around to damage their reputation. I despise outright lying, and am much more tempted to commit detraction (sharing true but damaging information about other people). But how likely am I to share second-hand stories about others (especially regarding politics) without honestly assessing whether the stories are true? How likely am I to jump unthinkingly on the chance to help damage the reputation of a person who I think is undeserving of a good reputation and needs to be “exposed” for who they really are? The answer to those questions is that it’s more likely than I’d like to admit. And if I were to spread around a second- hand story about someone without concerning myself too much with its truth, and with the express hope of making people look askance at that person, is that really very different than fabricating a story myself?

I want to tell my readers not to worry about my being tempted by this sin, because at least I am only tempted to do it because of good intentions! I’m not like those other people who commit this sin. The only time I would ever spread around a damaging story without caring about whether it was true is when there is a good reason! People need to know who these people really are – and even if this or that particular story is untrue, that doesn’t mean that what it says about the person is untrue….

That’s what I wish I could say to my readers. I wish I could say that my sins aren’t really sins because I have good intentions. I wish I could say that I am so much better than the people who commit the same sins with much more nefarious purposes in mind. It’s so easy to point fingers at other people who we think are committing sins out of pure evil or selfish intentions, and whitewash over our own sins because of the fact that we think we are committing those sins for a good reason. But then we aren’t being honest with ourselves, are we? We aren’t remembering that Scripture and our Catholic faith teach us that we can never do something evil for the purpose of bringing about good. Getting back to the political theme, even if Candidate A is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Candidate B cannot make stuff up about him in order to ensure that he does not win the White House. And I cannot uncritically pass on that made-up stuff because I want everyone to know just how evil Candidate A is.

It can be so tempting to think that we must stop at nothing in order to ensure that this or that candidate does not have control of the White House – especially when millions of human lives are on the line, as is the case in the fight against legal abortion. At those times that we are tempted, we’d do well to remember who the “father of lies” is, and Who the Truth is. How can we ever hope to be victorious for the Truth when we are using the tactics of the “father of lies”? The reality is that we cannot hope for that. It’s nonsensical to think that we will beat satan by breaking the Commandments given to us by our Lord. Scripture tells us that the Truth will set us free! We have to place our trust in that – in HIM – even if it means that we have to endure periods of time where great evil is being done in our nation. When we resort to using sinful means in order to bring about a perceived good, we have given up true hope and trust, and despaired of the power of God. We have grown impatient and decided that He isn’t working fast enough and that we have to step in and get the job done more quickly. We have sacrificed the health of our own immortal souls for some lesser good.

But if I’m being REALLY honest with myself, I also would have to admit that my sins aren’t all committed for noble purposes (shocking, I know)! There have been times when I have been tempted toward calumny for purely selfish reasons. How often have I at least wanted to embellish a story about someone or, as political candidates sometimes do, to twist a partial truth so much that there was barely a semblance of truth left by the time I was finished – all for the purpose of making myself feel better or look better in someone else’s eyes? How often have I actually followed through with it? How often have I let my emotions overshadow my love for the truth, such that I convinced myself that something negative about another person was true when I knew deep down that it wasn’t – and then shared that “truth” with someone else because I was hurt or angry?

Again, the answer to those questions is “more often than I’d like to admit.” It appears as though calumny is a sin that is easier to fall into than I had thought. So, I need to be on guard against it, as do we all – especially because calumny can be grave matter and thus can constitute a mortal sin (depending on how damaging the untruths are to a person’s reputation and whether the other usual conditions for mortal sin are met).

One of the best ways to avoid both detraction and calumny is to have a general rule not to gossip or talk badly about other people. I know – it’s so easy to fall into the trap of gossiping, or “venting” when someone upsets you, especially if you are surrounded by people who have no qualms about doing those things.  But through the grace of God (and, practically speaking, the avoidance of near occasions of sin), I believe we can conquer any sin that tempts us. We have to pray for that grace to overcome the urge to do injustice against our neighbors (even when we think they really really deserve it!). We have to pray for a zeal for the truth.

As we enter into the New [Liturgical] Year, let us resolve to be more mindful about how we can honor the truth and love our neighbors as ourselves (yes, even the neighbors we dislike), and to avoid occasions of rash judgment, detraction, and calumny. As we tidy and decorate our homes in preparation for Christmas festivities, let us clear out the cobwebs in our hearts and souls and prepare our spiritual houses for the coming of our Savior!


Eighth Commandment image borrowed from

Image of gossiping women by Stuart Miles.

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Can You BELIEVE She Did That!?

As Martina wrote in her post about rash judgment from a few weeks ago, often when we think about the 8th Commandment, we assume it means:

 thou shalt not lie

{read with ominous voice}

However, as she pointed out, detraction is a sin that also falls under the 8th Commandment, and it doesn’t involve lying at all. The opposite, in fact: detraction is the the vice in which we disclose, without good reason, another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them. (CCC 2477) Basically, detraction is gossip.

The problem with detraction (besides the fact that it is sinful) is that IT’S TRUE; therefore, it’s easily justifiable in our minds. While we can still get that little guilty twinge of “Maybe I shouldn’t say this, it’s really not very nice…”, we can convince ourselves that it’s okay because “I’m not lying!” But simply “not lying” isn’t good enough – we must not tell a truth that is damaging to another’s reputation. Everyone is entitled to their good name, and to be given the benefit of the doubt. This is a basic principle of common decency. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” Socrates said, “Regard your good name as the riches jewel you can possibly be possessed of.” Regardless of how TRUE the tidbit of information we are about to share is, if it injures another person’s reputation, it is detraction.

Courtesy of

It’s also important to not spin something neutral into something bad. For instance, if we are having a conversation about how to handle potty training with a friend,* we might feel compelled to mention that ANOTHER friend, Sarah, is also having difficulties with potty training, and how we were JUST talking about this same thing this morning! In fact, her son had already had 2 accidents today. While mentioning this is not bad in itself, SO OFTEN conversations like this can turn into: “Well, he has some discipline problems on top of that. It doesn’t seem like Sarah knows how to handle him. Actually, at church the other day, you should have seen what he was doing! And Sarah didn’t even blink an eye.”… and then the conversation turns into a 10 minute commentary on Sarah’s poor parenting skills.

The internet can be a huge stumbling block for those who struggle with gossip. Before, the avenues for gossip were limited to phone conversations and face-to-face contact with people. Now all we have to do is to turn on our computer, and we have the ability to have contact with millions of other people, most of whom we don’t even know. We could go to the effort to write a blog post about another person that’s annoying us, or we could make it even simpler. All it takes is one Facebook or Twitter update to broadcast to the world the faults of others. Some people are more subtle in their approach: “People who can’t afford necessities shouldn’t be buying luxuries!”, while others are more blunt: “OMGosh, my sister-in-law complains ALL the time about how she can barely put food on the table, and yet she smokes a pack a day and took her kids to the movies last night! $9 a ticket! And they got popcorn! And drinks! That probably cost her $80! How totally irresponsible – I’m so furious! I don’t know how I’ll even be able to have a pleasant conversation with her at Thanksgiving dinner.” Yeah, some people actually do this kind of thing! Not only is this detraction, it is also just completely unclassy. And the unclassy meter maxes out if your sister-in-law is actually on your friend list. (Not that being classy makes something less sinful – often it’s quite the contrary. Gossip is often disguised as something fashionable, and those who refuse to participate may be considered “socially awkward” or “self-righteous.”)

Courtesy of

In fact, most of what counts as “celebrity news” today is really just detraction. Sure, some stories are positive, but the majority of them are negative, broadcasting to the world things that should be kept private, or putting a negative spin on positive news. (And while many people justify it: “These people are in the public eye, so they should expect to be talked about!” Yes, but that doesn’t make it right, and that doesn’t mean we have to participate in it.)

Sins against the 8th Commandment, including detraction, are not only sins against charity (as are all sins), but also sins against justice. Sins against justice require restitution – that is, those who have sinned against justice must repair the harm done to their neighbor, as much as he is able. But making restitution for the sin of detraction is quite difficult – we can’t exactly undo the ideas we’ve planted into others’ heads.

In instructions he gave to a penitent, St. Philip Neri illustrated how difficult it is to undo gossip. The woman confessed that she had been gossiping, and St. Philip told her to climb to the top of the church bell tower, rip open a feather pillow and let the feathers fly into the wind. The woman performed the task and returned, where she was told that the second part of her penance was to go to town and collect each of the feathers that she had scattered. She attempted, but it was, of course, an impossible task – they had blown every which way, and she would never be able to collect them all. So it is with gossip – once the words have left our lips, there is no way to get them all back.

How can we make restitution for this sin, then? We cannot go back and deny the statements we previously made, if they are true, since we would be guilty of lying (and lying, even to make someone else look good, is still wrong.) However, we CAN apologize for the statements we made, and we can praise the person whom we have detracted. Because we have lowered their esteem in the eyes of another, we must seek to restore their reputation. If we have detracted in a group setting, or we know that our gossip has spread beyond the first friend, we must try to restore the reputation publicly, so that all who heard the gossip will also hear the praise.

Of course, the best offense is a good defense. We can avoid situations where we know there will be widespread gossip, if at all possible. If we find ourselves in a situation where others are gossiping, we must not participate in the sin ourselves. Rather, we can attempt to change the conversation, or to say something good about the person to direct the conversation in a different direction. We can also show displeasure over what is being said. Gossip thrives on an attentive listener. If we act bored with what is being said, or appear saddened by what we hear (rather than enthralled with the juicy details), the detractor may realize that we are not the appropriate audience. If all else fails, we should leave the conversation. If we struggle with gossip on the internet, shut it off.

A good rule of thumb is: “Would I say this if the person I’m speaking about were standing in front of me?” Or, as Christ says in Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” If the words about to escape our lips are words that we would not appreciate being said about us, zip it. It isn’t very hard to tell if you’re slipping from innocent conversation into detraction – if you can insert the words “Can you BELIEVE he/she did/said that!?” into the conversation rather seamlessly, then it is likely detraction.

Many have fallen by the mouth of the sword, but not as many as have perished by their own tongue. ~ Sirach 28:22 

In addition to the sinfulness of detraction, relationships are destroyed and feelings are hurt by gossip. We attack those whom we should be assisting along their path towards holiness. St. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” Let us banish gossip from our hearts and our tongues. Instead of sowing seeds of contention through gossip, let us sow seeds of peace through charity in our words, for Christ said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”


Note: There ARE times where it is permitted to reveal the faults of others; however, they are few and far between. I refer you to Fr. John Hardon’s writings on detraction.


* I apologize to those who are not mothers of toddlers for the potty training reference. Feel free to mentally insert a different example, such as an incident with a coworker.
** All examples in this post are hypothetical, especially the sister-in-law part. No sins of detraction were committed while writing.


This is the second part in a series of posts on the 8th Commandment. Part One can be found here.