Non-Catholics in heaven?

Q. Has the Catholic Church ever considered for canonization an individual who had not been a Catholic? If not, why not? Are we still suggesting that only Catholics go to heaven? (Heber Springs, Arkansas)

A. Let me answer your last question first. The Catholic Church's teaching is most clearly expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Quoting from the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, "Lumen Gentium," the catechism states: "Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience -- those too may achieve eternal salvation" (No. 847).

This was not a new idea dreamed up by the fathers of Vatican II; St. Paul had taught in the Letter to the Romans (2:6-7) that God "will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor and immortality through perseverance in good works."

As to the question of the Church's proclaiming non-Catholic saints: Theoretically, the Church could do that, could declare its firm certainty that a particular non-Catholic is in heaven -- but it has not done so to date.

Why not? Well, the Church formally canonizes saints (normally after a lengthy study) when it declares that the person's life has demonstrated extraordinary virtue and that miracles can be documented following that person's death. In making this declaration, the Church is offering to the Catholic faithful a model worthy of imitation.

It may seem unlikely that a non-Catholic faith community would acknowledge the Catholic Church's authority by submitting one of its followers to this rigorous Catholic scrutiny, and for the Catholic Church to seize this role on its own might be resented as an overreach. But in theory, it is possible.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.

- Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service