In the following quote from the Catechism, it seems to imply that you can repent of a mortal sin after death. How does that fit with the standard "Once damned always damned after death" view that the Catholic church teaches elsewhere?


2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.

Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

I'm curious about the phrase "salutary repentance". Does this mean that someone in Hell can repent?

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    As I noted in my response to you, you've asked two questions since you chose to include the specific case of suicide as an embedded part of the question. I think they can be answered in a bundled fashion, so I attempted to so do. Feb 2, 2017 at 19:38

2 Answers 2


Short answer: For the general case, no.

Your question asks about both the general case, and an outlier case of suicide. That series of articles in the Catechism addresses in part whether or not the disordered act of suicide is with full consent of the will, or is not with full consent of the will. If it is not then it may not meet the gravity of mortal sin during judgment. That's in the hands of our Lord.

General case: the point of repentance is to turn toward God during this life.

CCC 1021 Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.

The hope for salutary repentance is an edge case, as this repentance is something that can only be given by God. How this may happen is neither known nor taught by the Church. It's in God's hands.

  • All repentance (especially for a grave sin) comes from God. We are incapable of contrition without grace (from @AthanasiusofAlex comment)

CCC 2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

If there is a hope for salutary (beneficial) repentance, it would logically happen at particular judgment. We (the faithful) don't know. We can only hope and pray. (It never hurts to ask).

CCC 1037 God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance":

At judgment, will Jesus make a judgment that this soul has willfully turned away from God, to the last, or not? The truth cannot be hidden at judgment.

CCC 1033 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice.

Did the suicide willfully separate themselves from God by their own free choice? Jesus will see the truth of the matter, and judge accordingly.

Once the person is dead, all that the Church can do is pray for them. This includes the Church Triumphant (most importantly Mary, Mother of God) to whom prayers of intercession are offered with great frequency.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

This intercessory prayer asks Mary to make an appeal to her Son for the sake of a sinner; this is an appeal to show mercy. Jesus sits on the throne of judgment. Mercy is within His authority.

  • Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy), Christe eleison (Christ have mercy)

The basic question

I'm curious about the phrase "salutary repentance." Does this mean that someone in Hell can repent?

From the above, salutary repentance (if given) would happen at judgment. Once particular judgment is completed, alea iacta est. Since one does not go to Hell until after particular judgment, it would then follow that once in Hell the chance for repentance (of any sort) is moot.

To be clear, any assumption that the soul (suicide) in question is in Hell before a chance at that possible salutary repentance is unsupported by current Catholic teaching. Judgment comes first, and then one is either with God, or is not.

1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

The question whose answer is known only to God and the person now dead is whether or not the person was in friendship with God (perhaps imperfectly purified) or if that person had, in their heart, willfully turned their back on God and remained unrepentant to the end.

I. The Particular Judgment

CCC 1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification or immediately, or immediate and everlasting damnation.

The willful act of turning away from God and obstinately refusing to turn back toward Him is the surest way to damnation.

In a particular case, is it possible to be offered the chance to turn back toward God when facing particular judgment? With God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)

Jesus will know the truth of what is in one's heart. Whether or not salutary repentance is given is wholly in the hands of God. All we can do is pray for God's mercy.
So we do.
We Catholics offer prayers for the dead.

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    Looks good. The particular judgment is simultaneous with death, in case that wasn’t clear. After death, we are capable of seeing God as He is, and we will either love Him, without being able to withdraw from Him (i.e., be saved), or hate Him and desire to leave His presence forever (i.e., be condemned). What leads up to that is decided in this life, no matter what, even if it is moments before death. Another thing to keep in mind is that all repentance (especially for a grave sin) comes from God. We are incapable of contrition without grace. Feb 3, 2017 at 6:38

Is it possible to repent after death in Catholicism?

The short answer seems to be possibly yes immediately after death.

There seems to be a pious belief amongst some Catholics that immediately after death Our Lord gives sinners a final chance to repent of their sins.

Here I will let Padre St. Pio do the talking:

"I believe that not a great number of souls go to hell. God loves us so much. He formed us at his image. God loves us beyond understanding. And it is my belief that when we have passed from the consciousness of the world, when we appear to be dead, God, before He judges us, will give us a chance to see and understand what sin really is. And if we understand it properly, how could we fail to repent?" - Close encounters of a special kind with Padre Pio: The Souls in Purgatory, The Guardian Angel, the devil.

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