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As far as I know, according to Catholic doctrine we can't be sure that any particular soul is in Hell. I understand the reasons (one can repent in the last moment, which is not observable by others), and I found some related doctrines (existence of Hell and whether it could be empty), but nothing indicating where in the levels of Catholic teaching the prohibition of proclaiming people to be condemned stands. I am almost sure it is not a dogma, but I've heard there are some canons against proclaiming that someone is in Hell, so it seems to be on some of the higher levels. If there really are such canons, I would like the answer to point to them.

EDIT: is it part of the infallible doctrine? If not, how strong is the view that calling someone condemned is a sin among Catholic moral theologians?

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Answer

This isn't so much about "a level of teaching" than that the knowledge that someone is in hell does not belong to "Sacred deposit" of the faith (the depositum fidei) [= Sacred Scripture and [Holy] Tradition]. Cf. CCC 84.

What the Church's competency is and what she teaches is faith & morals contained in "Sacred deposit" of the faith which in every generation she receives from the previous generation all the way to the Apostles. Only truths in sacred deposit or connected to these truths can be Church Doctrine or Dogma. This knowledge is not part of the sacred deposit.

Support for the answer

At the General Audience of Wednesday, 28 July 1999, Pope St. John Paul II [the Great] said:

Damnation remains a real possibility, but it is not granted to us, without special divine revelation, to know which human beings are effectively involved in it.

Please note that from point 4. from which this quotation is taken states that some spiritual beings [angels now turned demons] have already said "no" and this statement is part of the faith. It has not been revealed to the Church which men have said "no".

To me there is a distinction between:

The Church/the faithful are prohibited from proclaiming people to be condemned, and this is a teaching to be held by all the faithful or that this is ancient teaching traceable to the Apostles.

(And the Church cannot do this because according to the saintly Pope, someone can have this knowledge via special divine revelation, though such a revelation will not be binding upon the faithful. Cf. Private Revelation and this answer.)

And

It has not been revealed to the Church who the damned men are.

If the truths in the former were contained in the Sacred deposit, then that teaching is what ends up as Church Doctrine [=Teaching] and some of these doctrines end up as dogma [= truths formally proposed]. Cf. My answer to What is the difference between a dogma, a doctrine, an infallible statement, an ex cathedra statement, etc.?


Cf. This answer to Why can the Catholic Church declare one person a saint but has never declared another damned?

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In Catholicism, we learn the teachings of Christ in the Mass as part of our Liturgy. We pray for all peoples, not just Catholics but all, that they find their way to fullness of the faith. Even at the highest positions of the church, or the lowest depending on your perspective, the authorities, those who watch over our souls (Heb 13:17) have a responsibility not to pronounce judgement, but to guide. There is only one who can pronounce judgement.

Be humbled in the sight of the Lord: and he will exalt you. 11 Detract not one another, my brethren. He that detracteth his brother, or he that judgeth his brother, detracteth the law and judgeth the law. But if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge, that is able to destroy and to deliver. 13 But who art thou that judgest thy neighbour? (James 4:10–13).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines presumption this way.

PRESUMPTION: An act or attitude opposed to the theological virtue of hope. Presumption can take the form of trust in self without recognizing that salvation comes from God, or of an over-confidence in divine mercy. (CCC Glossary)

Paul also makes his position very clear concerning even his own security.

LET a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God. Here now it is required among the dispensers that a man be found faithful. But to me it is a very small thing to be judged by you or by man’s day. But neither do I judge my own self. For I am not conscious to myself of anything. Yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. 1 Corinthians 4

This is a far cry from suggesting that he is justified once by the cross, he continues..

Therefore, judge not before the time: until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts. And then shall EVERY man have praise from God.

As for dogma:

God, by His eternal resolve of Will, has predetermined certain men to eternal blessedness.

God, by an eternal resolve of His Will, predestines certain men, on account of their foreseen sins, to eternal rejection.

From the work of Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma

Now, it is different to say that if you sin, and continue to sin, you are in danger of being separated from God's love. That is an example of teaching. Stating that a person is in hell or will go to hell, is pronouncing judgement, a thing reserved only to God. A priest can teach you what actions are condemnable and guide you to repentance; he cannot, however, condemn your soul.

  • You gave some reasons indicating that this doctrine is likely to be infallible (another one: proclaiming that someone is in Heaven requires a long process including at least two miracles, there's nothing like this for Hell). However, these are indirect proofs, while I'm looking for a direct one. See how I edited my question and if you can find anything better, add it and I will probably accept this answer. – Pavel Jan 5 '16 at 19:11
  • @Pavel Catholic Dagma, is about as direct as it gets, infallibility doctrines there are only Two, The sin of presumption, that is, taken away from God which is Gods alone, is dangerous. I look forward to anwers from others, I will search for solutions that might better my answer. – Marc Jan 5 '16 at 21:54

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