But a perpetual sentence of punishment can be lifted by a judge (like how people are pardoned) And, the Catholic Encyclopedia (1912) says:
“In itself, it is no rejection of Catholic dogma to suppose that God might at times, by way of exception, liberate a soul from hell. Thus some argued from a false interpretation of I Peter 3:19 sq., that Christ freed several damned souls on the occasion of His descent into hell. Others were misled by untrustworthy stories into the belief that the prayers of Gregory the Great rescued the Emperor Trajan from hell. But now theologians are unanimous in teaching that such exceptions never take place and never have taken place, a teaching which should be accepted.”
So according to the teaching of the Catholic Encyclopedia it is not a rejection of dogma to suppose God sometimes liberates souls from Hell and the teaching that this never happens is described as the teaching of “theologians” – not the teaching of the magisterium, let alone an infallible Council or infallible papal teaching. Furthermore the same article cites some contemporary (contemporary to 1912) “Catholics” who argued that some souls could be freed from Hell:
“Among Catholics, Hirscher and Schell have recently expressed the opinion that those who do not die in the state of grace can still be converted after death if they are not too wicked and impenitent”
Apparently, this pre-Vatican II Catholic Encyclopedia considers these two gentleman still to be “Catholics” even though they express the opinion that some can be converted after death.
The great Jacques Maritain btw held to a form of the apocastastasis (natural happiness for those in hell):
“In a “reverie” circulated among friends but not published until after his death, the philosopher Jacques Maritain included what he called a “conjectural essay” on eschatology, in which he contemplates the possibility that the damned, although eternally in hell, may be able at some point to escape from pain. In response to the prayers of the saints, he imagines, God may miraculously convert their wills, so that from hating Him they come to love Him. After being pardoned, they will then be delivered from the pain of sense and placed in a kind of limbo. They will still be technically in hell, since they will lack the beatific vision, but they will enjoy a kind of natural felicity, like that of infants who die without baptism. At the end, he speculates, even Satan will be converted, and the fiery inferno, while it continues to exist, will have no spirits to afflict. This, as Maritain acknowledged, is a bold conjecture, since it has no support in Scripture or tradition, and contradicts the usual understanding of texts such as the parable of the Last Judgment scene of Matthew. But the theory has the advantage of showing how the Blood of Christ might obtain mercy for all spiritual creatures, even those eternally in hell.”
A saint who expounded a similar theory:
“Mr. Grigor is correct in pointing out that our contemporaries are offended by the doctrine of eternal punishment. But the difficulty is hardly novel. It was already felt by Origen and others in the early centuries. The eternity of hell was energetically discussed in England in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The Catholic lay theologian St. George Mivart wrote an essay on “The Happiness of Hell,” propounding a theory similar to the “reverie” of Maritain mentioned in my article. The damned, he conjectured, might experience “an eternal upward progress, though never attaining to the supernatural state which would no doubt be most unwelcome and repugnant to such souls.” The Holy Office condemned Mivart’s theory, and he expressed his total and sincere submission in 1893. If the doctrine of eternal punishment really proved anything against the nature of God as a loving Father, Jesus would surely have felt the contradiction. But he did not shrink from uttering “hard sayings” on this point, as on others. While Jesus spoke in metaphors that we cannot translate into literal language, I would not wish to minimize the severity of his warnings.”
It’s not clear whether the “submission” St George Mivart gave to the Holy Office was external submission of obedience or whether he actually changed his mind about the matter – anyone know? It’s also not apparent what kind of condemnation of the doctrine the Holy Office gave. The Holy Office could have merely said for example that it cannot be “safely” taught – which would be a far cry from say heresy.