Is bullying considered a mortal sin?

I was talking to a friend about bullying and in the news a lot of teenagers have taken their lives due to bullying. Schools teach that bullying is wrong and it goes to show that bullying can ruin a life or even worse take one. I went to a catholic school when I was 8-12 and the kids were terrible to anyone different. It was a predominantly Caucasian school as well as town so they’d pick on anyone who different really. In religion class when we learned about sin we never talked about bullying really being a sin eventhough it went on a lot in the school.

My friend argued that if the victim forgives the bully then its not considered a sin at all. I told her that the bully never asked for forgiveness from the person or God so how could they be forgiven by God without confessing that they did do wrong. Chances are they won’t admit it because of pride which would be another sin to add on top of the fact they emotionally hurt someone. I figured because bullying can effect self esteem or even cause serious depression which can both ruin a person emotionally it goes beyond venial sin into mortal sin.

The other thing is that not everyone admits to what they did. Sometimes when the person is down they torment them even further making things worse. My friend said sometimes people don’t know what they’re doing but I think that is a little absurd because even if you are only name calling your intention is to hurt the person or make them feel bad. In Mark 12:31 Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Plus according to the catechism the 3 things that make a mortal sin a mortal sin is if it is a serious issue, its committed knowingly, and of its committed with full consent.

Is bullying considered a mortal sin or am I overoverreacting and my friend is right by saying as long as the victim forgives the bully they aren’t accountable for any kind of sin?

I don’t know if it’s a mortal sin or not (wouldn’t that depend on a lot of factors including the age and intentions of the bully?) but I don’t think whether or not the victim forgives the bully has much to do with whether or not it’s a sin.

Good-natured teasing is one thing and cruel and harsh bullying (even if ‘only’ with words) is a totally different thing. I think we are rightfully becoming increasingly aware of the damage and devastation that bullying can cause and I think in this day and age with smartphones and the internet it can be harder to find a refuge from the bully. A case for limiting or preventing internet access and smartphones but try telling that to the average teenager.

Most people are able to ‘get over’ being bullied but some take years to get over it and sadly, a minority never do. I don’t think the fact that most people are able to shake it off eventually and do get over it makes it any better either as how would the bully know how badly the victim might be affected? It’s done to deliberately hurt, ridicule or isolate another person, after all.

I can’t see how your friend is right when they say as long the victim forgives, the bully isn’t accountable for any sin, I think many (most?) times the bully knows full well that what they are doing is very wrong. Having said that, we must remember that the bully needs help too. Sometimes bullying is a learned behaviour, sometimes it’s actually a reaction to being bullied themselves, it’s a very difficult problem all round.

The potential is there for this to be mortal in nature.
The age of the person doing the act would need to be considered in that the person must have sufficient maturity to understand that what they have done is wrong, to will have willfully done the act even though the understand it is wrong, to understand that the act does in fact cause great emotional and social harm, to then willfully do the act with the intent to inflict such great emotional and social harm.

Theft of a person’s self esteem.
Theft of a person’s standing within the peer group.
The killing of the person’s standing within the peer group.

Theft and Killing are against the 10 commandments. The Bully would need to understand this fact.

I have yet to encounter a Bully that in their heart knew that what they were doing was wrong… the “natural laws” that are common to us make the Bully feel the guilt.

The Victim may forgive the Bully (think of breaking a window - the owner may forgive the person for breaking the window; however, the window is still broken and someone needs to pay for fixing it!). It is the higher road to forgive (and we are told to do so in the gospel so many times) and, IMHO, earns the victim many graces. It does not however relieve the Bully in any way from the debt owed to God. Only the Sacrament of Reconciliation can do this if the act reached the level of Mortal sin. If still venial then going to Mass will reconcile the Bully, IF and ONLY IF the Bully is truely sorry for the offense and desires to correct the harm done.

Proverbs 12:6
The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them.

Proverbs 18:21
Death and life are in the power of the tongue: they that love it, shall eat the fruits thereof.

Ephesians 4:29
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.


Matthew 12:36–37
36 I tell you, son the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 15:18
But the things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart, and those things defile a man.

Luke 6:45
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Matthew 5:22 (AMP)

But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice (enmity of heart) against him shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court; and whoever speaks contemptuously and insultingly to his brother shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, You cursed fool! [You empty-headed idiot!] shall be liable to and unable to escape the hell (Gehenna) of fire.

I agree. I would say that it has the potential to be mortal sin indeed. Its a case by case kind of thing. It may be venial, it may be mortal.

I too agree. It would seem to be a case where you would have to look at how much damage would be done, and if the damage is grave or not.

Ask your friend this- “If I stole something from the store, but the owner forgave me and didn’t press charges, does that mean I didn’t sin”? Or “If someone is raped, but forgives her attacker, does that mean the rapist didn’t sin”? She needs to see this put into another situation to understand that wrong is wrong, a sin is a sin, regardless if the offended/injured party forgives or not. Otherwise, she is, at best, downplaying the problem of bullying, or at worst, encouraging that kind of behavior.

Like some of the other posters have mentioned, the forgiveness aspect has nothing to do with it. If I try to kill a guy, and he survives and forgives me, that doesn’t lessen the mortal sin of attempted murder, I still need to confess that. We have to remember the person(s) primarily affected in every sin is God.

As to the type of sin, I’ll also repeat the others in saying maybe mortal, maybe venial, or even add maybe not at all, depending on what we’re talking about. Having recently heard some anti-bullying seminars, I can say that the definition is getting pretty vague. Bullying used to mean beating up some kid everyday and taking his lunch money. Now it can mean simply excluding someone from certain events. I’m sorry, but if I never invite Smelly McBoogerEater to my parties, it’s not because I am trying to demolish his soul, it’s because he really needs to develop some more social skills before I expose the rest of my guests to him. If fact, a lot of us probably learned what’s socially acceptable and became well adjusted adults because of a little teasing/correction in our pasts. So if this is what we mean by bullying, not at all.

On the other hand, if we’re harassing someone to the point of them contemplating suicide, that’s obviously mortal.

So again, it really depends on the situation.

I think that bullying is by definition constant, or occurs over a long period of time. It takes many forms but basically serves to.humiliate, isolate and frighten the victim. It can (& often is) performed by many people against one. People can exclude someone, play mind games with them, talk about them such that everyone is in on the joke, except the victim, act disrespectfully towards the victim or alternately be openly hostile, & lie about them & what the victim has supposedly done. The key with bullying is that it is not just a once off fight, but it is prolonged without a seeming end to it & there is always some sort of power imbalance in favour of the bully(ies). Bullying amounts to emotional abuse. I cannot see how this could not be mortal. The aim of bullying is to basically destroy the other person in every sense without actually killing them.

As someone who was bullied as a child, I would like to weigh in.

I was bullied for several years at my Catholic elementary school by a group of girls and one of the teachers–who was a nun, no less. I grew up thinking I was defective somehow. I remember staring into a mirror for a long time, trying to figure out what it was about me that people disliked so intensely. I wanted to ask what it was, but I was afraid it was something I couldn’t fix.

And then one day, quite by accident, I found out what the problem was. I overhead some of my tormentors talking about me behind my back, about how much they hated me. And you know the reason why? They were envious, admitting to each other that they just couldn’t stand that I was prettier than they were. I remember one saying, “You can tell she’s going to be really beautiful when she grows up.” This took me completely aback because of course they had told me I was ugly.

Even so, it took me years to get over the pain. The only way I was finally able to do so was by taking the pain they had caused and offering it up for the intention of their souls.

Was it a mortal sin? In the case of a bunch of eighth grade girls, I highly doubt it. It seems to me they were lashing out due to their own insecurity. As for the nun, I cannot judge what was going on in her heart. I hope she took it to Confession. At any rate, I found that forgiveness was the only way I way I could keep their actions from having any more power over me. :slight_smile:


I respect your opinion, but how is one to ever know at what point harassment is causing someone to contemplate suicide?   Your premise means well, but it is so dangerously faulty.   

Sometimes it is that last little bit of “social correction” as you put it, pushed the person over the edge. To me, that idea you put out about social correction is twisted. Not everyone has thick skin - I’m assuming- like you do, and they aren’t always easy to spot. Some people seem tough, but they are not at all. Holy Scripture says to correct with love. Calling a person a name, does not fit this description. Its meant to ostracize and embarrass and shame. The only time shame is a good thing to do is when a person is doing pure evil** and knows it**. I"m pretty sure eating boogers and smelling badly is not evil. Have you ever worked with those with mental disabilities? Do you know the history of how they were treated throughout the centuries? Do you understand how they were handled? IF you treat the ones with minor problems in such a manner, how would you treat those with major ones?

Luke 14:13
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Well seeing that bullying is intended to inflict emotional and or physical pain upon another I personally would believe its a mortal sin - its not like you don’t know what your doing and its innocent.Even worse the pleasure of inflicting and watching another suffer which is seen in the eyes of the bully.

Given the definition of “bullying” in the dictionaries I just checked it seems like it coud be. Below, St. Ephrem describes certain behaviors commonly associated with bullying and treats them like a mortal sin:

[quote=St. Ephrem] If you love derision, you are altogether as Satan; and if you mock at your fellow, you are the mouth of the Devil; if against defects and flaws, in injurious names you delight, Satan is not in creation but his place you have seized by force. Get you far, O man, from this; for it is altogether hurtful; and if you desire to live well, sit not with the scorner, lest you become the partner of his sin and of his punishment…Where Satan lodges, Christ will in nowise dwell; a spacious dwelling for Satan is the man that mocks at his neighbour; a palace of the Enemy is the heart of the mocker. Satan does not desire to add any other evil to it. Mockery is sufficient for him to supply the place of all. Neither his belly nor yet his purse can (the sinner) fill with that sin of his. By his laughter is the wretch despoiled, and he knows not nor does he perceive it. For his wound, there is no cure; for his sickness, there is no healing; his pain, admits no remedy; and his sore, endures no medicine.

Sorry, I may have been unclear. I didn’t mean to imply that it was okay to harass someone just up to that point, harassment at all is wrong. And I wasn’t suggesting we should call people Smelly McBoogerEater, that was just my characterization of some super awkward kid. My whole point was trying to show two extremes. One where bullying obviously was a mortal sin, and another where it wasn’t a sin at all because of what we’re starting to consider bullying. Having worked in high schools I’ve seen that some people can see bullying in anything. I think not inviting a super weird kid to a party is not bullying. (Again, you’re not teasing him or making fun of him, you just left his name off the invite list) And my point was that if we had it some people’s way where no one was ever excluded, that everyone was accepted just as they are (no matter how many boogers they wipe on your sofa) then no one would ever better themselves. We have a pretty big wussification going on with our youth, combined with a healthy dose of “I’m okay, your okay” attitudes, and they need to start manning up. Again, one last time, I’m not talking about people who are really being bullied, just those who cry when you raise an eyebrow at them.

Well if you ever heard of the Amanda Todd story she was bullied to the point where she did attempt suicide. The people bullying her actually teased her more and told her to do it. They were so enraged by the things that she did and they hated her and wanted her dead. Some bullies can have intentions like that. Another group of bullies about 10 years ago they had beaten her up so badly they’d killed her. Bullying can lead to far worse things than just name calling :frowning:

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