When the Pope Hears Gossip

(You may visit Mary Beth Bonacci's website at www.reallove.net.)

And I’ve noticed that often, when I’m making small talk, I’m inclined to pass on little tidbits of information I hear about other people. It’s so easy to let gossip slip into a discussion — it becomes a normal part of “making conversation.” But it can do tremendous damage to someone else’s reputation, and it’s wrong. So I decided to make a concerted effort to eliminate gossip from my conversation. Shortly after I made this decision, I learned that someone has been gossiping about me. And not just in ordinary conversation.

He was gossiping about me to the Pope.

Someone sent me a copy of a small newsletter I’d never seen before. Inside was an excerpt from a very harsh letter which was apparently written to Pope John Paul II describing a talk I recently gave at a parish. The Holy Father was told, among other things, that I gave a “blunt and explicit talk on sex” inside a Catholic Church, within which I sprinkled “minimal Catholic doctrine;” that I spoke about condoms and oral sex; that I “never once” encouraged teens to talk to their parents or to a priest; and that I gave “inaccurate and misleading” medical information.

That would be pretty appalling if it were true. But it wasn’t. Most of the information was patently false, and what was true was twisted into a context that made it sound sinister. It was an ugly, gross mischaracterization of what had been a respectful talk on the beauty of God’s plan for human sexuality.

Fortunately, the newsletter was sent to me by a woman who had been in the audience that night, and she was as appalled as I was. Along with the newsletter, she enclosed a letter she had written to the editors of the newsletter, clarifying what really happened that evening.

Here is what she said: First of all, the talk was to teens and their parents. This was a deliberate effort to help open the lines of communication between teens and parents — an effort the parents were very grateful for. Additionally, the teens were specifically encouraged to talk to their parents about these issues. I also emphatically stressed the importance of talking to a priest about their sins in the sacrament of reconciliation.

The talk itself was not about how sex works, but about living the virtue of chastity. I never discussed (nor do I ever discuss) any of the biological details of human sexual functioning. I spoke about why God created sex, about the meaning of sexual expression, and about the importance of keeping it in the context of marriage. My medical information is all fully documented and available for anyone to see. She didn’t ever recall hearing me speak about oral sex. (Nor do I remember discussing it — I never do unless specifically asked about it.) I did (gasp!) talk about condoms. I said that they don’t work, they can’t prevent emotional and spiritual consequences, and they’re a bad idea.

But the “minimal Catholic doctrine” part was my favorite. The talk I gave was based completely on John Paul II’s own “Theology of the Body.”

Was it an honest mistake, or did someone deliberately lie about me? I don’t know. And in the end, it doesn’t matter. The damage to my reputation is the same either way. Anyone who read (and believed) this article would get a very distorted view of my work. This kind of misinformation could do tremendous damage to me, to my reputation, and to my ministry. Maybe someone who was considering bringing me out to speak would decide against it. Teens who would otherwise hear this message wouldn’t. And I don’t even want to think about how I’d feel it the Pope believed these lies about me.

I’m not telling you all of this just to defend myself. I’m sure very few people actually read this little newsletter. (And of the few who do, many have called me, laughing at how ludicrous the whole story is to anyone who knows me.)

I tell this story to illustrate a point: gossiping is dangerous. It does damage to another person, and that damage can go on and on through their lives and through the lives of others. That is sinful.

So do me a favor. Don’t start gossip. Don’t spread gossip. And whatever you do, don’t believe gossip when you hear it. I’m sure the Pope doesn’t.

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