Is there salvation outside the church?

Dear Staff,
Recently I heard a comment that I had heard many years ago. It has to do with the teaching of “anyone outside the church” will not go to heaven or “be saved”. I still have difficulty understanding this teaching. I guess it’s because I have family members (neices)who left the Catholic church. I also have a husband who is so involved with church activiites (comes to mass with me weekly throughout our 35 yrs of marriage, is an officer in the Men’s club, is on the building and grounds committee, established and supports the website and webcam, etc) that many people don’t realize that he is not Catholic; however, he has made it clear that becoming Catholic would not change what he does and so he has no intentions of becoming Catholic. Thanks.

It is indeed true that there is no salvation outside the Church. However “the Church” includes many who may not be explicit members of the Catholic Church. Let’s start with a few easy examples:

  1. An unbaptized person is studying in RCIA to become a Catholic. They die in a car accident before receiving baptism. Though they had not received the sacrament of baptism, they are considered to have received “baptism of desire.” (CCC 1259)
  2. An unbaptized person has a conversion to Catholicism and publicly professes their faith in Jesus Christ and His Church. This person lives in a country where this is punishable by death. He is executed for his faith and never received baptism. He is considered to have received “baptism of blood.” (CCC 1258)
  3. A person lives in an area of the world where the Gospel has not been preached. He lives his life in accordance with the natural law and truth as he knows it. Because his ignorance of Christ and His Church is no fault of his own, his invincible ignorance does not exclude him from God’s offer of salvation. (Pope Pius IX’s Quanto conficiamur moerore)

Most people, however, fall into some in between category which is often impossible for human judgment to conclude how culpable an individual is for their lack of formal membership in Christ’s Catholic Church. But we must always remember that the Catholic Church contains the fullness of Christ’s truth and what is necessary for salvation. Elements of that truth is found elsewhere, but its fullness can only be found in Catholicism. If someone, through no sinful fault, is not a formal member of the Catholic Church but adheres to the truth of Christ that he does know, he is considered to be in an imperfect communion with Christ’s Church.

More information can be found here:
Salvation Outside the Church

Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism

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