A Question about Self-Disclosure

As I mentioned in my original note I am struggling with a moral question and I hope you can help clarify my thinking.

A few months ago people close to me discovered evidence of past events that occured because of sins I committed. At the time, I quickly reconciled these sins and put them behind me. Recently, I was asked about it and although I was technically truthful, it was by liberally stretching the meaning of my carefully chosen words. I was very evasive and purposely avoided revealing my actions of the time.

I understand that we are obligated to be completely truthful when the inquirer has a right to know about the requested information.

How can I judge whether these folks have the right to know about what I've done? What criteria do I apply? Was my deception sinful?

Thanks again,



Dear John,

Sorry I have been so slow in getting a response back to you. Without knowing the exact circumstances, my tendeny would be to say that no one (except maybe your confessor) would have a "right to know" about your past sins. I say that partly because we live in a society which has greatly exaggerated that supposed right.

About self disclosure: Have you read Paul Johnson's Intellectuals? One he analyzes is J.J. Rousseau. In his Confessions he makes some embarrassing disclosures of his own past actions. At the time everyone marveled at his honesty. Now it turns out that he was actually covering up the most shameful things about his own life. Something like that is happening in our present "tell all" society. I would be leery of self-disclosures anywhere but in the secrecy of the confessional.

I have a priest-friend who is great just keeping quiet when someone asks something they have no right or need to know. That's a hard discipline, but it is amazing how quick people can come up with other topics for conversation.

About whether you committed any specific sin. I would advise you to read (or re-read) the section in the Catechism on the Eighth Commandment. If it doesn't answer your question, you may want to talk to a priest or spiritual adviser about it.

Let me know if you have a further question on this. It is very important because honesty is the most undisputed foundation for the moral law.

God bless,

Fr. Phil