Q. I have heard it said or read that the only path to salvation is through the Catholic Church. Is this true? If so, how may the many good Christians in other faiths obtain salvation?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The question of salvation outside the Catholic Church concerns not only non-Catholic Christians, but non-Christians as well. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear on this matter: “The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.… The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude” (No. 1257). This reflects Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “No one can enter the kingdom of God witout being born of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5).
However, the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) teaches, “Since Christ died for all…we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery” (No. 22; see also Catechism, No. 1260).
Our faith believes lex orandi, lex credendi: the Church prays as it believes (see Catechism, No. 1124). Thus, on Good Friday, we pray for those who believe neither in God nor Christ “as they walk … in sincerity of heart.” God’s mercy is unbounded, and although baptism in the Church is the “ordinary” means of salvation, the Catechism reminds us, “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel … but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved” (No. 1260).