The Catholic Church has a process to canonize someone, to declare that they are a saint, that they are

truly in heaven and worthy of public veneration and imitation.

(Cf. Canonization - United States Catholic Catechism for Adults).

If the Church can declare that someone is "truly in heaven", why do they not also have authority to declare that someone else is likewise damned and truly in hell?

  • Just for the sake of argument: How, do you suppose, the Church could prove that someone was in Hell? If your assumption is that the Church just makes up a case for canonization out of thin air, you're mistaken: a case is based on evidence. To make a case for the other thing would also require some form of evidence. – workerjoe Mar 2 '18 at 21:18

That is because Jesus gave Peter the keys to heaven and earth (Matthew 16:19). Not keys to hell. In other words, Peter (and his successors) can bind and loose on earth and heaven (Matthew 18:18) not in hell. They do not have authority on beings outside of the church. And people in hell are outside of the Church.

P.S: Christ alone has the keys to hell (Revelation 1:18)

PPS: One can never be certain that another is for ever damned since there is always a chance for someone to be converted, even at the last moment of their lives. This is a matter between God and the dying person.


The Popes as successors of St. Peter hold the keys to bind and loosen things on earth as well as in heaven (Matthew 16:19 and 18:18). The Popes have not even pronounced on the question as to the demise of the apostle Judas Iscariot and we all know the grave words that Jesus spoke about him shortly before the Passion: "Better for this man that he had never been born" (Mark 14:21).

Michelangelo (1475-1564) in his Last Judgment placed the Papal Master of Ceremonies, Baigio da Cesene (1463-1544) in hell. When he complained about his image being in hell, it is widely believed that Pope Paul III (1534-1549) responded: "That his jurisdiction did not extend to hell and the portrait would remain" as it is!


But wait, is it not that Atheists and Agnostics are going to hell? Why not declare them, once dead, officially members of Hell?

(a self-made rethoric question just to bring up two more reasons)

No, for two reasons:

  1. Declaring someone to be in Hell is equivalent to say that God's forgiveness was not sufficient enough to save that person. It is clear that the Catholic Church has no capacity to decide this. It is ultimately God's will (view which I think does not imply universalism).

  2. A person, just before dying, could have expressed faith, repented of her/his sins, asking God for forgiveness. This ultimately rests on the conscience of individuals, to which the Catholic Church has no access.

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