“Judas could have left as many disciples did,” the pontiff explained. “Indeed, he should have left had he been honest. Instead, he stayed with Jesus, not out faith, nor out of love, but with the secret desire of taking revenge against the Master. Why? Because Judas felt betrayed by Jesus, and decided in turn to betray him. Judas was a Zealot; he wanted a winning Messiah, one who would lead a revolt against the Romans. However, Jesus did not live up these expectations. The problem is that Judas did not leave, and his fault is that of falsehood, which is the mark of the devil. For this reason, Jesus told the Twelve: “Yet is not one of you a devil?” (John, 6:70).
My picture of Judas has always been unconsciously influence by the portrayal of him in Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth: a well-meaning mid-20th century English liberal sap with vague ideas of social improvement who got played for a sucker by reptilian bureaucrats. He is a deeply tragic figure who doesn’t so much sin as commit epic failures of judgment as a bumbling and thoughtful product of 20th century thought who just can’t quite focus. You feel great pity for his suicide, but you don’t really believe he is the sort of person–Himmler, Hitler or Charles Manson–that one could plausibly say ”It would have been better for him if he had never been born.” You emphatically don’t believe that Jesus would call him a “devil” (and, in fact, Jesus never does, in the film). You certainly don’t think him a “son of perdition”. He’s a sap. A sucker. A ninny who gets manipulate not because his soul is consumed with black evil, but because he’s just too dim to realize that the real bad guys–ice cold bureaucrats scheming for Jesus’ death–are that bad. You come away thinking that he will meet Jesus in purgatory in a day or two, tell him how ashamed and stupid he feels, and beg for forgiveness which he will readily receive.
In contrast, the biblical account (and Benedict’s) suggests that Judas is damned because he is damnable: a vindictive, bitter man whose will to stay and punish Jesus for disappointing him is a kind of hellish parody of Peter’s faith. Do such people exist? You know they do. The feminist scholar Mary Daly promoting goddess worship and hatred of the faith at a Catholic college out of pure spite instead of leaving. John Dominic Crossan using his Catholic credentials to teach that Jesus’ corpse was eaten by wild dogs. There are people who leave the Church because they hate it. There are also people who stay in the Church because they hate it more deeply still and wish to do whatever they can, from within, to hurt it in its vital organs. Judas “looked for an opportunity to hand him over”. Unlike the movie Judas, that’s not because he was a clueless git who had no idea what would happen to Jesus once his enemies got ahold of him. It’s because he knew perfectly well.
Of course, as is often the case, the vengeance tasted like ashes in his mouth and he felt remorse about betraying innocent blood. There is a wisp of a chance that this remorse might have issued in repentance and a desire for mercy. So we can’t say for certain that he is in hell and there is no doctrine that we much believe he is. But it doesn’t look good for Judas. If he just stuck with his pride and spite and directed it away from Jesus and toward himself then he cut himself off from the love of God. And to do that is to choose Hell. We may never know how he chose. But we can make sure we don’t make that choice by asking for the grace to believe in, love, and obey Jesus.