I’m not going to post the actual email text because it is very detailed and might betray anonymity, but the gist is this:
A defrocked Catholic priest married and had children. He sexually molested his children, and children he came in contact with over the course of his career. On his death bed, he received the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (Last Rites). Before this, while in palliative care, the man had sexually groped the writer of the email who had gone to help with his care. One of his children claims that they had arranged for a “special version” of the Last Rites that not only absolved all of his sins, but also any temporal punishment or purgation – that he went “straight to heaven”, guaranteed. The writer of the email has been very troubled by this, and asked for any words of clarification that I might have.
It is a VERY good and VERY fair question. I have railed for years about the widespread and COMPLETELY JUST criticism of modern Catholics as people who are all about “gaming the system”, that is, sinning without compunction, and then just sauntering into the confessional, or, as is more common today, just thinking that they can wait until they are old and within sight of death, and THEN “have the priest say a few prayers” and BAM! All is forgiven and straight to heaven. This premeditated, cold, calculated rationale of sinning and then appealing to nothing more than legalism is what makes people sick, and rightly so. As I have said many times, my conversion and entry into the Church was delayed for YEARS by the scandal of this dynamic, with the Kennedy family being the exemplars.
The simple, blunt, direct answer to the writer’s question is this:
God is not a “system”. God is a PERSONAL BEING. And no one, absolutely no one, “plays Him”, “games Him”, or “tricks Him”. Period.
At the Particular Judgment of every human being, the human being says exactly ONE WORD. That word is, “Yes.”
For a great number of people, the “Yes” will be the acknowledgement that they are damned.
For most of the rest, the “Yes” will be the acknowledgement that they, while Redeemed by Calvary and saved by the Blood of The Lamb, are still attached to sin, and must be purged of those attachments by the purifying fire of God’s Perfect Love, because NOTHING IMPURE CAN ENTER INTO THE BEATIFIC VISION – THE COMPLETELY UNVEILED PRESENCE OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY. How God goes about this process of purification from person to person is unknown to us, but we do know for an absolute certainty that every single person in heaven will be completely and totally free from all attachment to sin. There is no sin in heaven. There is no evil in heaven. None. Zip. The Blood of the Lamb does not merely “cover” sin as the filthy arch-heretic Luther taught, it completely and totally removes it. What is essential to understand is that almost everyone dies still attached to sin in some way or ways. If a person dies with ANY attachment to sin, even though those sins are completely forgiven, the attachment to them MUST be purged before the person in question can enter into the full presence of God.
For a minuscule number of people, the “Yes” will be the response to Christ as He calls them to enter immediately into eternal beatitude.
So with regards to the man in the example above, since God’s Mercy is infinite, if the man truly repented, even his spectacularly heinous crimes certainly could and would be completely forgiven. However, it also bears mentioning that if he were NOT truly sorry, and was simply “gaming the system”, God cannot be fooled, and in His Perfect Justice would, in fact, damn the man to eternal hellfire, or perhaps said more precisely, would honor the man’s own choice to reject God and let him damn himself. This outcome, this state of the man’s deepest interior, is known only to God, and thus judged ONLY by God. Can we judge the man’s actions over the course of his life? ABSOLUTELY YES. They were sickeningly evil. Can we judge what happened in the man’s deepest interior in the hours, minutes and seconds before his death? No. It is POSSIBLE that in the man’s last breath, he was given the grace, perhaps through the very Sacramaent of Extreme Unction that he received, of recognizing the full horror of his sins and his soul cried out in contrition to God. THAT is what no one can know. But, we can know from the words of Our Lord and Savior in the Gospels that many, if not most people, are, in fact, lost to hell. Knowing this GENERAL condition, we should be filled with fear and urgency not only for ourselves and the eternal fate of our own soul, but also for others. We should think about these things, and we should explain them to others. Urgently.
I will repeat again, that this “gaming the system” mindset is a function of not having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”. I use this phrase, sadly and ironically co-opted by Protestants, without hesitation, because it cuts to the heart of the matter. The Law is nothing less than God telling man, “If you do these things, YOU WILL BREAK MY HEART. Please, please, please, do not do these things, because when you hurt yourself, YOU HURT ME.”
Think of a (morally sane) parent whose child descends into the sins of Sodom. The child almost certainly commits those sins completely out of sight of the parents. The parents are not in any way physically harmed by the child engaging in sodomy. And yet, if the parents are MORALLY SANE, the knowledge that their child is committing sins so vile, so destructive, so evil, should absolutely tear them apart inside. It should break their heart.
Almost all of us experience a kind of this vicarious pain, this heartbreak, even for strangers. Imagine witnessing a drunken man walking along a ledge – while he is staggering along, we see what is happening, and the potential catastrophe if he falls. When he does fall, we cry out in horror and heartbreak as we watch a man, a stranger, even a man mired in sin whose death is a direct result of his own sins, plunge to his death.
Imagine how God feels as He watches us, we whom He loves personally, infinitely and perfectly, drunk with sin, staggering along the ledge. This is why He gave us the Law. He gave us His Law, perfect and unchanging, NOT because He is a jerk that likes to thwart our “happiness”, but because He loves us, knows exactly what is best for us, and when we do things that hurt not just others, but ourselves as well, we break His Heart. The Law is the sign (that we ignore), followed by the locked gate (that we climb over), followed by the concertina wire (that we diligently cut with our wire cutters) before we get to the ledge.
The more we think about The Law in terms of God as the PERSONAL DEITY that He is, the more we will understand and be assured that every person in heaven will be there as a perfect manifestation of God’s Infinite Mercy AND Perfect Justice IN COMBINATION. If WE make it to heaven, when we meet other people there, including perhaps some of our own personal enemies in this life, or people that we knew by their scandal to be horrific sinners, we will not be angry, bitter or resentful to see them there. We will be OVERJOYED, and we will sing God’s praise with our entire being that these people’s sins were washed away by God’s Infinite Mercy, and their souls purged by the fire of His Love and His Perfect Justice, just as ours will have been.
I hope this helps.