Duty to publicly correct our public scandals, even those we caused innocently

When we mislead other people – even innocently – we must correct the harm we caused by telling them (i.e., warning them) of our previous error.  This is like crashing into our neighbor’s car with our own car.  Justice requires that we must restore the loss we cause our neighbor, even if we caused the accident innocently.

Similarly, if we recommend a handyman to a neighbor (who is looking to hire one) and then we discover that handyman is a thief or is incompetent, we must warn that neighbor and not ignore this duty on the excuse that we did not know of the handyman’s dishonesty or incompetence at the time we made our innocent recommendation.  In other words, we caused our neighbor the harm of receiving false information and we must correct the harm we caused.

Not only does justice require us to correct the harm we caused when we misled someone (however innocently), but charity also requires this, because we would want our neighbor to do this for us.  We must love our neighbor as ourselves. 

Just as we have this duty to one person when we harm one person with false information, likewise we have the duty to many people, when we give false information to many.  Similarly, when we publicly give false information (however innocently), we must correct the harm we caused the public by correcting our error publicly.

St. Thomas Aquinas, greatest Doctor of the Catholic Church, teaches this truth: viz. that everyone has a duty to publicly correct his public errors.  Here are his words:

A public fault calls for a public remedy.[1]

Notice that St. Thomas does not teach that a public retraction (correction) of our public error is only required when we knowingly and culpably committed the public error.  We must publicly correct our public falsehoods, misleading statements, and other wrongs even when we commit them innocently.

[1]           St. Thomas Aquinas, quoting the Benedictine abbot, Blessed Rabanus, in Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, translated by M.F. Toal, D.D., Henry Regnery Co., Chicago, © 1957, vol. 4, page 313 (emphasis added).