is defined, primarily in Roman Catholic
theology, as the act of revealing previously unknown faults or sins of another person to a third person. This differs from the act of calumny
, which is lying about faults or sins that a person doesn't really have. While defamation
is illegal in many modern systems of law, detraction is not. A society that operated totally under Catholic principles, for example, would not have nearly the same content in news reporting as is shown in most modern societies. The exception to this rule is when telling someone about the previously unknown faults of another can prevent greater harm, such as when a person is about to be chosen for a leadership position.
As in the case of sin of stealing, while going to confession can get rid of the "hell sending" factor of the sin, most Roman Catholic theologians teach that the sin can only fully be forgiven through the performance of restitution. In the case of detraction, performing restitution is difficult, because once something has been communicated to another, it is hard to make them forget it. There is a famous story of a priest (often said to be Philip Neri) who, for a penance given to the town gossip, told her to go to the bell tower and scatter to the wind the feathers from a pillow. When the lady returned he told her to then gather up all the feathers and put them back into the pillow.