Actual sin is committed by a person's own will. The definition of a mortal sin requires that three elements be present for a mortal sin to have been committed. The grave matter, the intent, and knowledge of the person are all important. There is, in our minds consciously or not, often a tendency to fear that our souls can be tainted without our will. Demons and man cannot impute sin to us. They can only give us the occasion of sin.
The focus here is on mortal sin, as it is near impossible to be perfectly charitable and virtuous in all interactions with others all the time. Because of original sin, we suffer the effects of a weakened will and intellect, and we show imperfections all the time. While we strive to overcome this, except for those with a higher calling, it is usually impossible succeed, but we can steadily increase in virtue and grace if we accept God's calling in our lives. One should strive at least to remove all mortal sin from one's life and remove any bad habits. Many of the issues concerning the sins of others can be related to habit, especially in social interaction.
The first personal concern about the sins of others is how we can participate in their sins.
Participating in the Sins of Others
Participating in the sins of others is an issue because sin is not a matter of mere acts, but of internal will.
The ways we participate in the sins of others are:
- By Counsel: Advising another to do evil
- By Command: Commanding another to do an evil
- By Consent: Consenting to the evil done by another
- By Provocation: Provoking another to do evil
- By Praise: Praising another for their sin (or praising the sin)
- By Concealment: Concealing the sin of another (note: this is more covering up the sin of another rather than not publishing the sin of others...this is part of the next topic)
- By Participation: By participating in the commission of a sin (essentially, aiding with the sin so the person whose sin it is can complete the act)
- By Silence: Silence when one should have spoken out. This is especially important for those who have authority over others. This is in force when silence is directly complicit with the evil being done.
- By Defense: Defending evil done by another
While these may seem to point to the ease of participating in the sins of another, intent is the key. One cannot participate, internally, with the sin of another even if we do somehow participate if we do intend to do so. Providing material means which are then misused by others when we did not know it would be misused (and it could have been used for good) is not a sin. We are not bound to go around explicitly condemning every sin of others of which we have knowledge or strive to physical interfere with every sin. For most of us, patience and silence are the proper courses of action, but occasionally, we find ourselves with authority over others or in situations where we are involved with others, and then we must make a choice to participate in the sins of others or not. Sometimes, that means defying social expectations and jeopardising relationships with others. If others find our good acts to be "evil", the sin is in them, not us. If we value relationships with others over our relationship with God, God will deny us. However, we can, and sadly often will be, close to others who are doing evil, and who know we are opposed to it. Being charitable means loving all. The sins of others are not sins against us personally, but against the same God before whom we have also sinned. Any rebuke or protest must be done in charity and prudence and not from our own personal anger or disgust.
For the most part, these can be intuitively understood by considering criminal acts and the culpability of others.
Detraction, more simply called "backbiting", is another way of sinning related to the sins of others. When others sin, the sin is against God. Detraction is the revelation to others of the sins of others unjustly in secret. That is, to reveal the sins of another without that person's knowledge. This is unfortunately very common and very enticing to do.
There are times when it is just to reveal the sins of others. For example, if we know a person is being deceived and will be injured in some fashion by the deception, revealing the deception will reveal the sin of another. This is not detraction. However, the more common situation is that we find ourselves wanting to reveal sins of others to people ignorant of them to discredit, dishonour, or otherwise satisfy an unjust desire. The fact that a sin was revealed publicly does not mean it should be spread either. The common excuse is "It was publicly revealed a while back, so there is no expectation of privacy". Detraction is not a matter of privacy. It is a matte of violating charity and other virtues.
Detraction is not a matter of privacy, nor is it a matter of veracity. Detraction, by definition, only includes the sins of others which are actual or believed to be. Lying about others is calumny.
Detraction is a major issue in "arguments". It is especially present in the fallacy argumentum ad hominem, that is, when instead of addressing the topic discussed, one attempts to discredit another. If we are discussing a particular point of theology, and I cite a theologians work to demonstrate my position, then one responds by pointing out sins committed by that theologian, that is detraction. There was no charitable reason to disclose such information to me. It is also not logical.
However, revealing sins of others is just when the disclosure has a good purpose. Pointing out that the theologian cited was in fact excommunicated because of heresy (especially concerning the theological point at hand) would reveal some sin, but it would not be detraction. Revealing sins of others when others should justly know is not detraction (ie, warning others that another is a habitual liar, thief, philanderer out of real concern for the well being of another). But, for the most part, the sins of others are sins between that person and God, just as our sins are between us and God.
Participating in the Sin of Detraction
It is a sad fact that our flesh will rejoice in anything which makes us feel good about ourselves by helping us think less of others. We may find ourselves frequently on the passive side of detraction, that is, being the one to whom the information is unjustly shared. This is a real problem as well, as many participate in detraction in this manner. We often find ourselves confronted with detractors. By silently and openly listening, encouraging or otherwise being receptive to the detraction, we too can commit the sin of detraction. Detractors should be cut short, rebuked, or otherwise let known that one did not approve of the sharing of information.
Detractors, hateful to God, contumelious, proud, haughty, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, without mercy. Who, having known the justice of God, did not understand that they who do such things, are worthy of death; and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them.