Question: Do the souls in heaven know our sins, or is that knowledge reserved to God alone?
— Peter Tate, Long Beach, California
Answer: We are in the realm of speculative theology when it comes to answering questions like this. However, it does not seem to pertain to God’s justice that he would reveal our sins to others (even the saints in heaven), especially our more hidden sins. We are not to reveal to others the sins of people we might know, except in certain rare situations. Only those who really need to know for a just reason should be informed. So in justice, it seems unlikely that God would reveal the details of our sins, even to the saints in heaven, since they do not need to know such things.
Some will refer to Hebrews 12:1, which refers to the saints in heaven as a “great cloud of witnesses.” But the context there is that they are witnesses to us of their life and the power of faith to transform, not that they are watching us like spectators.
There is another text that says, “For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light” (Lk 8:17). But here, the context is not our hidden deeds but the truth of the Gospel that comes out of the darkness to dawn on the minds of believers.
There are other verses that seek to console us in our oppression. For example, “Therefore do not be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known” (Mt 10:26). But here, the context is that unrepented sins will one day be revealed, not that a camera is running and the saints in heaven are seeing it as it happens now. Saints know our expressed needs and intercede for us (Rv 5:8; 8:3-4) but that does not mean detailed knowledge of our immediate actions.
If there is to be a detailed revealing of sins committed, that would seem to wait for the Last Judgment. St. Paul says, “do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness” (1 Cor 4:5). How detailed this revelation will be is not certain, but the distinction between the just and the unjust will be clear. The Lord implies that significant detail will be reveled at the last judgment: “Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light” (Lk 12:3).
Question: Does the Catholic Church ever declare Jews or non-Catholic Christians to be saints? For example, I have in mind Old Testament figures like Moses and Elijah.
— Robert Noonan, Rockton, Illinois
Answer: Actually, Moses and Elijah are termed saints, most commonly in the Eastern Churches — St. Moses, St. Elijah, et al. Non-Catholics are not officially declared saints, more out of respect for their denominational status and not because the Church does not consider sanctity likely outside the realm of official Catholicism.
There are some ways that non-Catholics are honored short of official and personal canonization. Pope St. John Paul II officially recognized Martin Luther King as a martyr of the faith some years ago. St. Charles Lwanga and those martyred with him were not all Catholic, some were Anglican; yet on their feast day, no distinction is made.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.