What to make of such a claim? We’ve all heard it, some of us shouting, “Yeah, tell it like it is, baby!” and others saying, “Hey, that seems kinda arrogant”. But what is actually the case? Is it, as some would like to think, that only Catholics may be saved, or can non-Catholics be cut some slack?
Well, in short, it’s an objective, not subjective, statement. Non-Catholics can indeed be saved, if through no fault of their own they are unaware that Roman Catholicism contains the fulness of the Truth and try, as much as they are able, to love God and do His will. To the liberals in the Church who take Ecumenism way overboard, I will say that, contrary to popular belief, the Second Vatican Council did not say that one can belong to any religion. To quote the council: “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.” However, it did recognize that other religions contain elements of Truth and, if one belongs to those with a sincere desire to do the will of God, he may be saved. And now we need to address the uber-Traditionalists: this is not a compromise on the part of Vatican II in order to make Protestants or Jews or Muslims feel better. Baptism of Desire is in the Baltimore Catechism and, more importantly, the Council of Trent. You wouldn’t call those heretical, now would you?
And here’s the thing: it’s one thing to be a non-Catholic when the majority of people are Catholic, because then the non-Catholic would be made well-aware that he’s in error. However, these days, Protestantism and other false doctrines are so widespread that whole generations will be brought up in them, believing with all sincerity that they’re right and Catholicism is wrong. Can we honestly say that our merciful God would condemn these people who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of Truth but do try to please Him? That would make God a jerk.
Anyway, objectively, outside the Church there is no salvation. But for those who honestly strive to please Our Lord, being ignorant of the errors of their faiths, we may reasonably hope for their salvation, entrusting them to the mercy of Christ. BUT, we should not, on the other hand, leave them floundering in their errors. We should do all we can to reach out to them and show them that Catholicism is the true Church.
Peace to all,