Can someone be saved without being a member of the Catholic Church? Most Irish Catholics today would say “yes”. But, are they right? No, they’re not! Here’s why …
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created by God in the State of Grace. This means that they had the supernatural life of God in their souls, making them children of God and heirs to heaven. But because this life was supernatural, it wasn’t natural to them. It was a pure gift of God that wasn’t owed to them in any way.
Then, Adam and Eve sinned and they lost this supernatural life, for themselves and for us. We are each born with Original Sin, which means that we are not children of God. On our own we cannot get back that supernatural life which would make us children of God and heirs of heaven.
However, God devised a plan to redeem us from Original Sin (and our own actual sins), even though He owed us nothing. This plan was to send His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for us on the Cross.
But, since this redemption is a free gift of God, we have to obey the conditions He has attached to it. The main condition is that we become members of the Catholic Church which Jesus Christ founded. As a result, anyone who refuses to join the Catholic Church through Baptism (and then follow its teachings and commandments) cannot be saved. The Church is the Ark which Christ built – everyone outside it will drown.
So, that means that all non-Catholics are automatically damned? As far as we know, yes. However, only God can ultimately judge an individual soul. Someone who remains outside the Catholic through no fault of their own, who lives their life according to the Natural Law, and who would become a Catholic if a missionary told them about its existence, will not be deserted by God. But, that is all we know.
But, we do know what Christ (who is God and knows what He is doing) said to the Apostles: “Teach all nations, baptising them”. He did not say: “Tell everyone to act according to their conscience and they will be saved”!