Is it a mortal sin to laugh at a racist joke?

I didn’t make a racist joke but someone else did. I laughed at it but then realized that this was wrong. About two hours ago, I went to confession and I concealed this because I thought that at the most it was a venial sin. Now I’m panicking. Did I commit two mortal sins, one being the laughter at the racist joke and the other being to conceal it?


A laugh is most often an involuntary response. So, I would not say that it is a sin since, judging by what you are saying, you weren’t expecting it and weren’t intending to hurt anyone.



1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture, became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.

1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

1856 Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation:

When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object . . . whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery. . . . But when the sinner's will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial.

1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.” The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.

1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.

1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

1862 One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.

1863 Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.”

While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call "light": if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession.

1864 “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.

Useful links:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Catechism of the Catholic Church: Compendium
Scrupulosity And How To Overcome It

If you have to ask, it’s not a mortal sin. For a sin to be mortal the following are required:

  1. Grave Matter
  2. Full Knowledge (of the gravity of the act)
  3. Free consent of the will.

I don’t think laughing at a joke in this case could even rise to the level of grave matter, as laughter is a generally fairly automatic reaction, one of the emotions. And even if it were a grave matter, again, as it is an emotional reaction, you’ve hardly consented to the act. It took reflection upon it later to realize that it might be a bad thing, and thus you did not have full knowledge at the time the act was committed. Perhaps you should have said something at the time the joke was told, perhaps you should have corrected the person afterward–the joke may not been so bad as you think, that’s even a possibility, particularly with someone who suffers from scruples.

So be at peace. You committed no mortal sin to begin with, and thus you could not have deliberately concealed a mortal sin. If you have to ask, it’s not a mortal sin.



But it is manners and decency to be aware that jokes don’t offend people around you…

Thanks guys. I had a feeling it wasn’t but my scruples can get me to at times.

Best answer and I agree.

I’d be more concerned that you “concealed” any sin, on purpose.

This stood out for me, too. While we aren’t required to confess venial sin, I’ve always been encouraged to do so because the goal is to overcome all sin, not just mortal sin. We may not remember all our venial sins, but to be aware of one and not cite it anyway struck me as odd.

He said, “and I concealed this because I thought that at the most it was a venial sin.”

We aren’t required to confess venial sin and, according to his description, it was in fact a venial sin if a sin at all. If he had concealed it while being sure in his mind that it was a mortal sin (whether mistaken or not) then maybe that might be different because then his intention would have been what was sinful. But, in this case, I still think it is scrupulosity for both parts of his question since he was thinking it was at most a venial sin when he decided not to mention it.

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