Reputation and Rash Judgment
By Father Kenneth Wasilewski
Issues relating to a person’s reputation fall under the Eighth Commandment. Our reputation is essentially how we’re seen publicly, especially in terms of our character. 
One’s reputation is typically based on a combination of our own choices and what others say about us. Every person has a right to a reputation that honestly reflects his or her character, especially in terms of virtue. 
Since virtues (and vices for that matter) come from the repeated choices we make, our character, and hence our reputation, can be be formed by those same choices. However, living in the imperfect world we do, there can often be a disconnect between the reputation people have and the actual choices they’ve made. 
For example, someone who makes many poor moral choices might still enjoy a good reputation and be esteemed highly either because those bad choices remain hidden or the loudest voices are only heard saying good things about him or her. 
On the contrary, it’s also possible that someone who consistently makes virtuous choices might still end up with a poor reputation. This might happen because a single poor choice (or a few of them) ends up being widely known — even if such choices are the exception rather than the rule. In such a scenario, a major contributor to a poor reputation is often what others end up saying about the person — whether or not what is said is fair or accurate.  
The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists three ways in which a person’s reputation can be harmed unjustly through the actions of others (CCC 2477-2479). The wrongdoing in each of these can easily grow in gravity based on the circumstances involved. The first of these three will be discussed in this column, while the other two will be discussed in the next. 
The first possible offense listed is “rash judgment.” This is when we assume the worst about someone. We are quick to assign fault or blame, even without sufficient evidence. It might mean that we interpret a story we hear about them in the worst possible light, or we’re quick to believe gossip or rumors without knowing the situation firsthand or hearing their side of the story. Maybe we take partial bits of information about someone and “fill in the blanks” with nefarious details from our own imagination. 
Any time we fail to give someone the benefit of the doubt, we might be guilty of rash judgment. And once we’ve decided to believe something about that person, we might find it difficult to believe anything else, even if evidence to the contrary exists. In other words, we might easily find ourselves in a place of “perpetual rash judgment” toward someone. 
A certain blindness can set in and it becomes difficult to imagine anything other than what we’ve already decided. The less favorably we’re disposed to someone in the first place, the easier it becomes to fall into this sin and the more it must be guarded against. 
If our rash judgment contributes to, or leads to, the harming of someone’s reputation, it becomes a very serious sin. What’s worse, sometimes those guilty of rash judgment believe themselves justified in thinking or saying the things they do. Thus they may not accept responsibility for actions motivated by such a judgment nor seek forgiveness or atonement for them. A certain “hardening of the heart” frequently coincides with rash judgment. 
What are we to do if we find ourselves susceptible to this fault (assuming we do come to see it as a fault)? The catechism includes some practical wisdom from St. Ignatius of Loyola. He reminds us that our default for any person should always be to interpret things in as favorable a way as possible — to begin by believing the best about someone, rather than the worst. And even if the worst ends up being true, to seek the person’s correction and conversion instead of their condemnation or downfall.