Heaven for Atheists? Better Read the Fine Print
This week, the new Pope Francis raised quite a ruckus when he said:
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone,” the pope told worshipers at morning Mass on Wednesday. “‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”
Francis continued, “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Was he really saying that atheists are not necessarily doomed to eternal hellfire? That would be … quite a change.
Or is this just a misunderstanding of the Roman Catholic terms of service?
On Thursday, the Vatican issued an “explanatory note on the meaning to ‘salvation.’”
The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who aware of the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”
At the same time, Rosica writes, “every man or woman, whatever their situation, can be saved. Even non-Christians can respond to this saving action of the Spirit. No person is excluded from salvation simply because of so-called original sin.”
Rosica also said that Francis had “no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation,” during his homily on Wednesday.
Although the pope’s comments about salvation surprised some, bishops and experts in Catholicism say Francis was expressing a core tenant of the faith.
“Francis was clear that whatever graces are offered to atheists (such that they may be saved) are from Christ,” the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, a conservative Catholic priest, wrote on his blog.
“He was clear that salvation is only through Christ’s Sacrifice. In other words, he is not suggesting - and I think some are taking it this way - that you can be saved, get to heaven, without Christ.”
Chad Pecknold, an assistant professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, agreed with Zuhlsdorf, pointing out that the pope’s comments came on the Feast of Saint Rita, the Catholic patron saint of impossible things.
See? That’s why you always need to read the fine print.