In an address at the Vatican on Monday, Pope Francis spoke out strongly against what he called the “terrorism of gossip,” urging his hearers to learn to tame their tongues rather than speak badly about others in their communities.
In his meeting with a group of religious priests, sisters, and brothers, the Pope said that Christians are called to love their neighbors and in religious life the “first neighbor” is one’s brothers and sisters in the community.
“Whoever gossips is a terrorist,” Francis said. “He is a terrorist in his own community. It’s as if his words were a bomb that he tosses against this one or that one, and then walks away. This destroys! Whoever does this destroys, like a bomb, and then walks away.”
Francis recalled how, in the Bible, Saint James wrote that learning to control one’s tongue “is the most difficult virtue, the human and spiritual virtue that is hardest to acquire,” and so the person who does not sin with his words has reached perfection.
“If you are thinking of saying something against a brother or sister, of throwing a bomb of gossip, bite your tongue! Hard! There is no place for terrorism in the community!” he said.
The Pope also recognized that there may be plenty of things worth criticizing in a community, but insisted that there is a right way and a wrong way to remedy them, and gossip or backbiting is the wrong way.
Instead, Pope Francis advised, you should either tell the person directly that what they are doing isn’t good, or, if that is imprudent, take it to the person who can solve the problem “but no one else.”
“Gossip is worthless,” he added.
“If you throw the bomb of gossip into your community, this is not being a neighbor: this is going to war!” Francis said. “It divides people, provoking distances and anarchy in the community. And if, in this Year of Mercy, each one of you could avoid becoming a terrorist of gossip, it would be a success for the Church, a great success of holiness!”
In his counsel, Francis also spoke forcefully of the need for unity and harmony in the Church and in religious communities, insisting that “it is the devil who sows the seed of anarchy.”
Speaking of the virtue of obedience, the Pope said that those who insist on always doing what they feel like spread anarchy, like the devil.
“The anarchy of the will is the daughter of the devil, and is not a child of God,” Francis said. “The Son of God was not an anarchist,” but lived in loving obedience to the Father’s will.
We see perfect obedience in God’s Son, “who humbled himself and became man, up to death on the cross,” he said.
To be a prophet in today’s world, Francis told his hearers, means “telling people that there is a road of happiness, of greatness, a road that fills you with joy, and that is the way of Jesus.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.