You have criticized chisme in the past, saying that it can kill, that it fills the heart with bitterness, that it keeps humans from being holy. You even cautioned hairdressers (90 percent of whom in the United States are women) not to give “into the temptation of gossip that can easily creep into your work environment, as we all know.” And your disdain for chisme was quite evident at the Angelus on September 6, 2020, when you said in discussing unity and fractures in the Church: “The biggest gossiper is the devil, who is always saying bad things about others, because he’s the liar trying to disunite the church, to push away the brother and to not create a community. Please, brothers and sisters, let’s make an effort not to gossip, gossiping is a plague worse than COVID, worse.”
But in a Church where men have the most power to speak—both in homilies and in official writings—paying attention to chisme is a must. It shouldn’t be condemned as evil. So I would like to raise some points about the significance of chisme, and how it can help us understand life and ultimately lead us to God-talk.
First, engaging in chisme shows human finitude. Chisme often includes how one person has fallen short of what we believe is necessary to live one’s best life.
Second, chisme allows us to understand ourselves better. It compels us to be self-reflective. Chisme upsets the daily rhythms of life, because it is usually based upon questionable behavior. It can be an interpretative tool that forces us to reexamine ourselves within certain normative contexts. Some say we are always discerning what God asks of our lives. Because chisme makes us engage and interpret moral behavior, it can help us with that discernment.
Third, chisme provides a way for us to express in daily life that we are humans filled with contradictions. Chisme allows us to check our experiences against those of others and so functions as a language of the people.
Finally, chisme involves both intimacy and vulnerability. We share chisme with people we trust and with whom we wish to build closer relationships. Carmen Nanko-Fernández beautifully made this point about intimacy and vulnerability in discussing the untranslated title of your encyclical on the Commonweal website (“What Francis Means by ‘Fratelli Tutti’”), suggesting you wished to express the title in the language of those you hold dear.
Again, I know chisme can be hurtful. But I am asking you to consider more than just dialogue as a mode of communication in acknowledging the fragility of life and elevating human dignity. As you write in Fratelli tutti: “When the dignity of the human person is respected, and his or her rights recognized and guaranteed, creativity and interdependence thrive, and the creativity of the human personality is released through actions that further the common good” (22).
For all of these reasons, muy querido papa Francisco, and because you call for “a love that integrates and unites,” I beg you to reconsider your stance on chisme.
This article appeared as part of a symposium on Fratelli tutti in our December 2020 issue, alongside “Freedom & Equality Aren’t Enough” by Charles Taylor; “Many and One” by Vinson Cunningham; and “Radical Truths” by William T. Cavanaugh.