A new Netflix series about Jeffrey Dahmer has garnered attention from viewers as well as criticism from victims’ families. A listener asks Father Dave about if the serial killer could gain eternal life. Kim asks, “I saw in an old interview where [Dahmer] admitted he got baptized in a Christian church while in prison. He also stated that he believed Jesus Christ took away all his sins, and that he would be forgiven and go to heaven. Can this be true, even if he was genuinely remorseful?”
Father Dave expresses the Church’s teaching that even those who have committed terrible crimes can be saved, assuming that the conversion in that person’s heart is genuine. “That’s exactly the definition of Christianity. And God goes to great pains throughout the Old Testament and New Testament to assure us that there is no sin so great that it is outside of God’s mercy, if we come before God and genuinely repent.”
“Those of us who try our best to live the right way oftentimes don’t like to hear that,” he says. Father Dave compares it to Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. The story describes a landowner who pays all of his workers the same daily wage, despite some arriving later in the day. “He pays everybody the same amount, and the early workers all get upset,” he says, “And Jesus describes the landowner saying, ‘I agreed with you at the beginning of the day for the usual daily wage. Why am I not free to be generous with my own money?’” Father Dave says how this is an allegory for God’s generosity regarding salvation, that one can receive eternal life whether they’ve been a lifelong Catholic or have a conversion on their deathbed.
Returning to the Dahmer example, Father Dave says, “If he was genuinely remorseful and doesn’t receive God’s grace, there’s no hope for any of us. We don’t know if he was saying this for the cameras or to get parole. But if he says he was baptized in a Christian church while he was in prison, and believes that Jesus Christ took away all his sins, and that he would be forgiven and go to heaven – if we don’t believe that, then we are not Christian. We absolutely do believe that that’s how it works.” He also expresses that God knows our hearts and if one’s conversion and remorse is genuine.
“Christ died on the cross so that everybody, even the Jeffrey Dahmers, could be saved,” Father Dave says.
If we are uncomfortable with this idea, he assures us that these feelings are rooted in our humanity and the transactional way we often view God’s mercy. “In heaven, we won’t experience these things that limit us on earth,” he says. “All of us will be new creations in the heavenly kingdom.”