Bishop Warns Against Slander, Lack of Charity on Social Media

Says Prayer, Confession are Antidotes in Pastoral Letter for Lent

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In his pastoral letter for Lent to be read in parishes of the diocese Sunday, Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, England, asks everyone to examine their consciences as to how they respect the Eighth Commandment (“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”) in today’s internet age.

“How do I use Facebook or Twitter? Am I charitable when blogging? Do I revel in other people’s failings?” All this can be grave matter, he added. We must avoid “calumny, that is, slurring and damaging people, and not spread abroad their sins and failings”. Yet, he said, when we think of today’s news media and TV, magazines and blogs in which “fallen celebrities are pilloried, reputations shredded and people’s sins exposed, it sometimes seems popular culture thrives on breaking this Commandment.”

The title of the Pastoral Letter is “Sin, Lent, Redemption.” Bishop Egan admits that some will find the subject he is dealing with difficult, “a very serious matter,” although one he sees as appropriate to Lent, a “time of Christian warfare.”

He notes how the Bible distinguishes mortal and venial sin. A mortal sin is “as its name suggests, lethal … deserving the eternal death of hell,” whereas a venial sin is a “disorder that wounds and impairs our communion with God.” He discusses the three conditions necessary for mortal sin, whilst acknowledging that in some cases, full consent may be lacking because of “external pressures, disordered emotions and pathological or addictive patterns of behaviour.”

He then discusses the Eighth Commandment. We must “exercise discretion, respect others and their privacy, and not engage in slander, gossip and rash judgment.” We must avoid calumny, he added: “slurring and damaging people.” We must not “spread abroad their sins and failings.”

This Pastoral Letter is Bishop Egan’s seventh since he became the Bishop of Portsmouth in September 2012. “In Lent, we think about serious things, our choices, our sins, our redemption.” Lent is a time when the Church invites us to purify our desires, especially the moral decisions we make. We cannot make moral decisions, the Bishop argues, on utilitarian principles. That is, “we cannot choose simply on the basis of what gives us pleasure and what causes us pain.” We need to take account of our values “of what is right and what is wrong, recognizing that often, to do the right thing involves self-sacrifice.”

This is why, he continues, “to purify our desires, to be happy in life, to be psychologically healthy, we must be people of prayer.” We “cannot be saved unless we pray.”

The Letter concludes with an impassioned plea to the priests and people of the Diocese of Portsmouth this Lent to go confession. “There is no better way to effect Lenten renewal than to meet Jesus One to one, Face to face, in the Sacrament of Penance, burying our sins in Him and rising with Him to new life.” Indeed “we will not reach Jerusalem unless we make a good confession,” and so “I urge you to find time to celebrate this therapeutic Sacrament now.”


On the NET:

Full text of Bishop Egan’s Pastoral Letter

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