Someone once said something about this topic, along these lines:
“If I am in invincible ignorance of the Gospel, then I am not responsible for following the teachings of Christ. I don't need to listen to the Church, nor am I bound by her regulations. I don't need to listen to the Bible either! Also, because I do not know that what I am doing is a sin, then I am not sinning. I am INCAPABLE of sin!
Therefore, I can only conclude that God CURSED me by bringing the Gospel to me and making me aware of what sin is.
Woe is me!”
I think we can re-state the assertion that our anonymous author made in a different way, so that the same meaning is brought out, but it is more evident what exactly is being said:
“If I am in invincible ignorance of the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then I am not responsible for following the way of Life and Truth itself. Nor do I need to listen to the Church that God established as a universal means of salvation for mankind, nor am I bound to obey her rules ordered to this end. I don't need to listen to the inspired word of God either! Also, because I do not know that what I am doing is an offense against God, then it cannot be accounted to me as sin. NOTHING can be accounted to me as sin!
Therefore, I can only conclude that God CURSED me by bringing me Life itself, and making me aware of what offense against God is.
Woe is me!”
This should put things in perspective.
It is clear from reading this that the writer falls right into the category that Ratzinger described: “We are too much like the workers taken on in the first hour whom the Lord talks about in his parable of the workers in the vineyard. When they realized that the day's wage of one denarius could be much more easily earned, they could no longer see why they had sweated all day. Yet how could they really have been certain that it was so much more comfortable to be out of work than to work?”
The important sentence is the last one. The objector is assuming that it really is much better to not have to be subject to the Church, to be spiritually out of work, than to be in it. This is false in two ways: First, there is an implicit assumption that both states are equal in regard to the possibility of attaining salvation. Second, even if the two states were equal in regard to that possibility, it is false that it would not be better to belong to the Church.
The first assumption is false. The mere fact that it is possible for members of other religions to be saved does not mean that members of other religions have the same likelihood of being saved, objectively speaking. A man who is brought up and taught that there is no God, that he should give into his passions, that fornication is acceptable, that abortion and contraceptives are acceptable; how hard for such a person it will be to try and follow the natural law within himself, and do what is right, when he is being opposed by so many external forces. This is not to deny that God could give such a person the grace to do what is right. Nevertheless, objectively speaking, such a person is in a very difficult situation with respect to salvation. This is stated clearly in Dominus Iesus:
“Certainly, the various religious traditions contain and offer religious elements which come from God, and which are part of what “the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures, and religions”. Indeed, some prayers and rituals of the other religions may assume a role of preparation for the Gospel, in that they are occasions or pedagogical helps in which the human heart is prompted to be open to the action of God. One cannot attribute to these, however, a divine origin or an ex opere operato salvific efficacy, which is proper to the Christian sacraments. Furthermore, it cannot be overlooked that other rituals, insofar as they depend on superstitions or other errors, constitute an obstacle to salvation.” (Dominus Iesus 21)
“With the coming of the Saviour Jesus Christ, God has willed that the Church founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity. This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world, but at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism “characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that ‘one religion is as good as another'”. If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation. (Dominus Iesus 22)
It is clear that it is not the intention of the Church to assert that every religion has the same value. There is one true religion, which possesses the fullness of the means of salvation. Nevertheless, God is not bound by the means he has established for salvation; he can act outside the visible Church, and even in a salvific way.
Therefore, in considering the possibility of God acting outside the visible Church, we must avoid the mistake of thinking and believing that therefore all men are completely equal regardless of what means to salvation they have at their disposal. Someone who is fully within the unity of the Catholic Church is objectively in a much better position than someone who is not.