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I'm interested in a Catholic answer only; I want to know what the Catholic church teaches about this matter.

I know that the Catholic Church says that only God is the judge, and that we are the ones who will choose God based on our love we have for him.

Many Protestants, even very good ones, appear to have committed what Catholics believe to be mortal sins: for example using contraception, or cohabiting before marriage.

In addition, Protestants do not generally believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist; but Jesus said,

Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

(John 6:53, New American Bible Revised Edition)

With this understood, how is such a person treated at the individual judgment (i.e., at the moment of death), having apparently died in a state of mortal sin? I know God forgives and look at the intentions, but I question whether someone who lives in mortal sin will retain the ability to recognize God in Heaven.

Does Catholic doctrine teach that at the individual judgment, at the moment of death, Protestants will all choose Hell for lack of the ability to choose to love the true God—or perhaps for some similar reason?

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What Catholics (laymen) believe and what the hierarchy officially teaches are not always the same. Probably a lot of layman do believe Prots are all going to hell, while the hierarchy now officially teaches Prots ain't all going to hell. –  david brainerd Jul 11 at 2:23

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I'm trying not to give an answer that's purely a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but the matter is discussed so well there that there isn't much I feel I can add to it:

816 "The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it.... This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him." [Lumen Gentium 8, section 2]
...
817 In fact, "in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church—for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame." [Unitatis Redintegratio 3, sec. 1] The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ’s Body—here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism—do not occur without human sin. ...

818 "However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers.... All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church." [Unitatis Redintegratio 3, sec. 1]

819 ... Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him.

(emphasis added)

It appears, then, that these other Christians will be treated as Catholics will, and will no more be "unable to choose to love the true God" than Catholics will.

Please comment on anything you feel I might be able to add to my answer.


Note: I was asked to comment on an answer elsewhere which quotes a papal bull written by Pope Eugenius IV and included among the documents of the Council of Florence, to the effect that pagans, Jews, and other non-Catholics will burn in Hell. I've read the document (not just the quote), and certainly have my own views on it, which I'll be glad to discuss with anyone in chat. However, the question requested official Catholic teaching. I will therefore say this: The quotations I've provided above from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an official teaching document of the Catholic Church, indicate the current state of the Magisterium, and thus allow for the possibility that Protestants can be saved. As Unitatis Redintegratio (section 3) states,

For [those] who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect.

This appears to answer the statement of Pope Eugenius.

I'd just like to wrap up with a final quote from Unitatis Redintegratio (section 4):

All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials. But let all, according to the gifts they have received enjoy a proper freedom, in their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in their different liturgical rites, and even in their theological elaborations of revealed truth. In all things let charity prevail. If they are true to this course of action, they will be giving ever better expression to the authentic catholicity and apostolicity of the Church.

Please see also the accepted answer to "Has the Church stated any advantages or reasoning or prompting to re-formulating positively the Catholic Church's salvation doctrine?". The Church has two formulations to its salvation doctrine, and they should be understood together.

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I'm familiar with these passages from the Catechism. The Catholic Church won't pass judgement on those "born into" Protestantism. I however, have continued in Protestantism by choice, even in knowledge (and especially because of knowledge) of the body of Catholic doctrines. It seems that the Catholic Church does indeed exclude from "the church" anyone who teaches contrary to their doctrines. The goal of the council of Trent was specifically to condemn those who accept certain doctrines associated with Protestantism. –  Andrew Jul 10 at 21:19
    
Nevertheless, look at paragraph 819, which states that even within churches which have separated from the Catholic Church, the Spirit will move to provide salvation for people, leading people (as the paragraph says) to Christ. –  Matt Gutting Jul 10 at 22:31
    
As per the quote in another answer of Pope Eugine IV at the Council of Florence, "all those who are outside the Catholic Church [...] cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the Devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Church before the end of their lives." Do you mean to imply that "the Church" here does not subsist entirely within the Catholic church, and contradict 816, or do you mean to contradict Pope Eugine IV's statement that "nobody can be saved [...] unless he has persevered in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church"? –  Andrew Jul 10 at 23:29
    
This is turning into a theological discussion, not a discussion about the question; tomorrow I'll be in a position to discuss in chat. Briefly, the answer depends on the theologian :-) –  Matt Gutting Jul 11 at 1:03
    
I don't mean it as a theological discussion (I'm not catholic, and am happy to hear you contradict some Catholic doctrines) but directly about the question- my objection was to the validity of this answer's interpretation of the sources it cites in light of the other source (Pope Eugine IV) that comments on this topic. As it is, it seems to contradict at least one of them. –  Andrew Jul 11 at 1:07

Yes because it is Dogma. (Modern adherents to Vatican II will dispute this).

Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, 1441, ex cathedra:“The… Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the Devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Church before the end of their lives; that the unity of this ecclesiastical body is of such importance that only for those who abide in it do the Church’s sacraments contribute to salvation and do fasts, almsgiving and other works of piety and practices of the Christian militia produce eternal rewards; and that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed blood in the name of Christ, unless he has persevered in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church

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How does one shed blood in the name of Christ, I wonder? –  Andrew Jul 10 at 22:02
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@Andrew, Its obviously a reference to martyrdom. –  david brainerd Jul 11 at 2:32
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@davidbrainerd I don't find it obvious. "Shed blood" is an English idiom which in my experience nearly always means to violently dispatch another. Google gives both definitions, so I think it's obviously worth clarifying which one this refers to. Besides, the document wasn't written in English. –  Andrew Jul 11 at 2:47

Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus:"outside the Church there is no salvation".[ (cf. The Church: The Church, the necessary means of salvation | New Advent]

Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Outside the Church there is no salvation"

846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.

847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.

Simply, if you have heard of the Gospel as preached by the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and you obstinately refuse to believe [sinning against the Holy Spirit], you will be condemned.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." [cf. Mk 16: 15-16]

But it is really never that simple as:

but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. [cf.Ac 10:35]

Those who sincerely seek God find him. The proof of the 'good' Protestants 'who fear him and do what is right' is their being led eventually to the Catholic Faith, enriching the Church with the good they bring in from their varied backgrounds.

It is the Church's teaching that those who do not visibly belong to the Church may be saved. So, how does God do it since he is the one who saves and established the Church, the necessary means of salvation? This is how:

God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. [cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1257-1261]

Please note the distinction between 'will be saved' [cf. virtue of hope] vs. 'may be saved'.

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