TO the malice of detraction calumny adds that of falsehood. It is a
lie, which is bad; it is a report prejudicial to the character of
another, which is worse; it is both combined, out of which combination
springs a third malice, which is abominable. All the more so, since
there can exist no excuse or reason in the light of which this sin may
appear as a human weakness. Because slander is the fruit of deliberate
spite, jealousy and revenge, it has a character of diabolism.
The calumniator is not only a moral assassin, but he is the most
accomplished type of the coward known to man. If the devil loves a
cheerful liar, he has one here to satisfy his affections.
This crime is one that can never be tolerated, no matter what the
circumstances; it can never be justified on any grounds whatsoever; it
is intrinsically evil, a sin of injustice that admits no mitigation.
When slander is sworn to before the courts, it acquires a fourth
malice, that of irreligion, and is called false testimony. It is not
alone perjury, for perjury does not necessarily attack the neighbor's
good name; it is perjured calumny, a crime that deserves all the
reprobation it receives in this world--and in the next.
To lie outright, deliberately and with malice aforethought, in
traducing a fellow-man, is slander in its direct form; but such
conditions are not required to constitute a real fault of calumny. It
is not necessary to be certain that what you allege against your
neighbor be false; it is sufficient that you be uncertain if it be
true. An unsubstantiated charge or accusation, a mere rumor given out
as worthy of belief, a suspicion or doubt clothed so as to appear a
certainty, these contain all the malice and all the elements of slander
clearly characterized. Charity, justice and truth alike are violated,
guilt is there in unquestioned evidence. Whatever subterfuge,
equivocation or other crooked proceeding be resorted to, if mendacity
in any form is a feature of the aspersions we cast upon the neighbor,
we sin by calumny, purely and simply.
Some excuse themselves on the plea that what they say, they give out
for what it is worth; they heard it from others, and take no
responsibility as to its truth or falsehood. But here we must consider
the credulity of the hearers. Will they believe it, whether you do or
not? Are they likely to receive it as truth, either because they are
looking for just such reports, or because they know no better? And
whether they believe it or not, will they, on your authority, have
sufficient reason for giving credence to your words? May it not happen
that the very fact of your mentioning what you did is a sufficient mark
of credibility for others? And by so doing, you contribute to their
knowledge of what is false, or what is not proven true, concerning the
reputation of a neighbor.
For it must be remembered that all imprudence is not guiltless, all
thoughtlessness is not innocent of wrong. It is easy to calumniate a
person by qualifying him in an off-hand way as a thief, a blackleg, a
fast-liver, etc. It is easy, by adding an invented detail to a
statement, to give it an altogether different color and turn truth into
falsehood. But the easiest way is to interpret a man's intentions
according to a dislike, and, by stringing in such fancies with a lot of
facts, pass them on unsuspecting credulity that takes all or none. If
you do not think well of another, and the occasion demand it, speak it
out; but make it known that it is your individual judgment and give
your reasons for thus opining.
The desperate character of calumny is that, while it must be repaired,
as we shall see later, the thing is difficult, often impossible;
frequently the reparation increases the evil instead of diminishing it.
The slogan of unrighteousness is: "Calumniate, calumniate, some of it
will stick!" He who slanders, lies; he who lies once may lie again, a
liar is never worthy of belief, whether he tells the truth or not, for
there is no knowing when he is telling the truth. One has the right to
disbelieve the calumniator when he does wrong or when he tries to undo
it. And human nature is so constructed that it prefers to believe in
the first instance and to disbelieve in the second.
You may slander a community, a class as well as an individual. It is
not necessary to charge all with crime; it is sufficient so to
manipulate your words that suspicion may fall on any one of said class
or community. If the charge be particularly heinous, or if the body of
men be such that all its usefulness depends on its reputation, as is
the case especially with religious bodies, the malice of such slander
acquires a dignity far above the ordinary.
The Church of God has suffered more in the long centuries of her
existence from the tongue of slander than from sword and flame and
chains combined. In the mind of her enemies, any weapon is lawful with
which to smite her, and the climax of infamy is reached when they
affirm, to justify their dishonesty, that they turn Rome's weapons
against her. There is only one answer to this, and that is the silence
of contempt. Slander and dollars are the wheels on which moves the
propaganda that would substitute Gospel Christianity for the
superstitions of Rome. It is slander that vilifies in convention and
synod the friars who did more for pure Christianity in the Philippines
in a hundred years than the whole nest of their revilers will do in ten
thousand. It is slander that holds up to public ridicule the
congregations that suffer persecution and exile in France in the name
of liberty, fraternity, etc. It is slander that the long-tailed
missionary with the sanctimonious face brings back from the countries
of the South with which to regale the minds of those who furnish the
Bibles and shekels. And who will measure the slander that grows out of
the dunghill of Protestant ignorance of what Catholics really believe!