Cyber-crimes, the Confessional, and the Catechism

I have no more energy right now to think about libel in the internet. In the days when there are only few newspapers and books, it is easy to pinpoint the culprit and charge him in court. Now, with the explosion of social media, how would the government police the internet, unless it wants to be like Communist China? I think the solution is not a new civil law but the rediscovery of the law of conscience: no one charges the person with libel except his own conscience. He then goes to the priest in the confessional and tell the priest the sins he committed in the number and kind. Then the sinner awaits the judgement of the priest who will give him his penance–pray the rosary, go to mass, ask forgiveness from his neighbor, etc. Then the sinner says the Act of Contrition and the priest absolve his sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church has 2,000 years of experience of thinking about thinking, and She has classified every conceivable sin in its minute detail according to gravity of the matter, fullness of the consent, and fullness of knowledge. What is needed therefore is not a new civil law but ethics education in all public and private schools–an ethics education based on Ten Commandments as taught by the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

For example, internet libel falls under the 8th commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Under this commandment are the the following sins listed in the Catechism (articles 2475-2482): false witness and perjury, rash judgment, detraction, calumny, boasting, lying. The use of Social Communications Media is covered articles 2493-2499. Some excerpts:

2497 By the very nature of their profession, journalists have an obligation to serve the truth and not offend against charity in disseminating information. They should strive to respect, with equal care, the nature of the facts and the limits of critical judgment concerning individuals. They should not stoop to defamation.

2498 “Civil authorities have particular responsibilities in this field because of the common good…. It is for the civil authority… to defend and safeguard a true and just freedom of information.” By promulgating laws and overseeing their application, public authorities should ensure that “public morality and social progress are not gravely endangered” through misuse of the media. Civil authorities should punish any violation of the rights of individuals to their reputation and privacy. They should give timely and reliable reports concerning the general good or respond to the well-founded concerns of the people. Nothing can justify recourse to disinformation for manipulating public opinion through the media. Interventions by public authority should avoid injuring the freedom of individuals or groups.

2499 Moral judgment must condemn the plague of totalitarian states which systematically falsify the truth, exercise political control of opinion through the media, manipulate defendants and witnesses at public trials, and imagine that they secure their tyranny by strangling and repressing everything they consider “thought crimes.”

Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is all there.

About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

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