Q: In Matthew 26:24, Jesus says, “The
Son of Man indeed goes, as it is
written of him, but woe to that man by
whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would
be better for that man if he had never
In John 13:27 we read, “After he [Judas
Iscariot] took the morsel, Satan entered
him. So Jesus said to him, ‘What you are
going to do, do quickly.’”
From preachers and others, I have heard
different views as to whether Judas is definitely
in hell or perhaps was forgiven. Is
there biblical justification for one opinion
or the other?
A: In some ways, this might seem
the easiest judgment of all to
make. Judas betrayed Jesus, our savior,
leading to his passion, death and resurrection.
Judas obviously made a terrible
Although we need to be clear about
the objective content of any decision
(for example, the unlawful taking of
innocent human life is murder), it is
another thing to say that we know all
the factors relevant to that decision
and can, therefore, pass God’s judgment
as accurately as God can.
That is a form of blasphemy, in effect
shoving God out of the way as though
we fear that God cannot be trusted to
make the right decision.
God’s judgment must always remain
God’s judgment. We try to grow toward
seeing things as God sees them, but
if we cannot be sure that we see our
own actions as completely as God does
(and we cannot be 100-percent sure of
that), then we cannot be absolutely
certain that we see someone else’s
actions as clearly and accurately as God
Shouldn’t it tell us something that
after careful examination the Catholic
Church is quite willing to say that a
certain individual is definitely in
heaven, yet refuses to say that someone
else is certainly in hell? I am not
aware that any Christian group has
drawn up a formal list of individuals
who are certainly in hell. Dante’s
Inferno makes for interesting reading,
but it does not necessarily reflect God’s
judgment. Anyone’s list could be mistaken.
Although it is quite clear that some
actions are very sinful, “grave matter”
is one of three conditions for identifying
a mortal sin. The other two are
“full knowledge” and “full consent.”
Only God can judge with absolute certainty
the presence or absence of those
Two things must be kept in mind: If
I deny that eternal separation from
God is a possibility, I would be guilty of
heresy. If I claim to know absolutely
that a particular individual is in hell, I
would be guilty of blasphemy, of claiming
as mine a knowledge that belongs
to God alone. Human judgments do
not give God a day off.
There is ample biblical justification
for saying that what Judas did was
gravely wrong. The same Bible, however,
cautions us to leave God’s judgment
of individuals to God.
For the good of society, we must
make prudential judgments about how
to handle people who murder, individuals
who steal and so on. But those
are human judgments and should not
be assumed to reflect God’s definitive
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the Church prays that
no person be lost. It also reminds us “that God ‘desires all men [sic] to be
saved’ (1 Timothy 2:4), and that for
him ‘all things are possible’ (Matthew
The story of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus
is important for Christians to know,
but they can keep growing as disciples
without knowing if Judas is, in fact, in
hell. We can hope that he repented
even if we are not sure that he did.
Can a Bishop Seize Property?
Q: Your November 2006 issue included
an article by John Fink about St.
Theodora Guérin. One subhead reads “Battles
With a Bishop” and details efforts by
Bishop Celestin de la Hailandière of Vincennes,
Indiana, to control the Sisters of Providence religious community.
If a bishop seizes property belonging to
a religious community, does that group
have any recourse according to the
A: Yes, it does have recourse. In
fact, Bishop Hailandière did
not seize property belonging to the Sisters
of Providence, but rather delayed
giving them legal ownership of property
that he had provided for their
The Western Church’s Code of Canon
Law establishes the general framework
of rights and obligations within the
Church. Canons 1254 through 1310
address ownership issues. The Code of
Law for the Eastern Churches spells out
the procedures followed within those
Churches. Church law defers to civil
law on property ownership.
A religious community could present
a property dispute to the Congregation
for Institutes of Consecrated Life
and Societies of Apostolic Life. If its
decision went against the local bishop,
he could appeal it to the Apostolic Signatura,
the Catholic Church’s highest
Q: Before Jesus was crucified, were
people who died totally dead,
that is, without any consciousness? After
Jesus’ death, did they have a choice
between heaven or hell?
What does the Catholic Church teach
A: Most Jewish people at the time
of Jesus did not believe in
heaven, as Christians use that term.
Instead, they believed in Sheol, a state
of existence that was neither joyful
nor sad. In their terminology, both
Hitler and Mother Teresa would have
gone to Sheol where neither of them
would have had an advantage over the
Christian art for centuries has included
representations of Jesus Christ
leading the righteous dead into heaven
after his crucifixion. That would
include both Jews and gentiles.
The idea of a personal existence
beyond earthly life was starting to
grow within Judaism by the time Jesus
was born, but it was a minority position.
The author of the New Testament’s
Letter to the Hebrews was a Jewish
Christian who believed in the afterlife.
After recalling the faith of Abel,
Abraham and Sarah, the author writes:
“All these died in faith. They did not
receive what had been promised but
saw it and greeted it from afar and
acknowledged themselves to be
strangers and aliens on earth, for those
who speak thus show that they are
seeking a homeland.
“If they had been thinking of the
land from which they had come,
they would have had opportunity to
return. But now they desire a better
homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore,
God is not ashamed to be called their
God, for he has prepared a city for
The issue of timing is natural for us
because we live within minutes, hours
and days. God, however, is not limited
in that same way.
Q: Jesus Christ in his glorified body has ascended into heaven. In the
Apostles’ Creed we pray, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the
right hand of God, the Father Almighty.” Does Jesus do that in his
humanity or in his divinity?
A: Once the Second Person of the Trinity became a human
being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, we need to speak of
him afterward as fully divine and human, even in his present
It is true that the Church has taught about Jesus’ human knowledge
and his divine knowledge or about Jesus’ human will and his divine will.
To separate Jesus’ humanity and divinity as if each were a person would
repeat the error of Nestorius, whose teaching on this subject was condemned
by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. The bishops there
affirmed that Jesus was a single person with two natures, divine and
“Regarding this item
in the January 2007 ‘Ask a Franciscan’
column, I have never been at Mass
where there was anyone talking and
laughing during the distribution of
“The priest should say something to
the congregation, but he should not
have to do that. If he cannot or will
not do anything about it, I would go
to another church.
“I am 84 years old and have never
ever seen this disrespect in church. I
am sure our priest would let us know
about it. I can hardly believe what I
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be
mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.