Atheists Can Go To Heaven? Did Pope Francis Say Something New?

Some folks in the mainstream media are worked up because Pope Francis actually said that an atheist might go to heaven.  His remarks, from an article in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, are being hyped as an example of Francis’s striking out on a new path, one different from that of his papal predecessors.  Here is a story from the UK Telegraph, linked from the Drudge Report.  This is the relevant portion quoted in the story:

The Pope wrote: “The question for those who do not believe in God is to follow their own conscience. Sin, even for a non-believer, is when one goes against one’s conscience.  To listen and to follow your conscience means that you understand the difference between good and evil.”  He said that the “mercy of God has no limits” and encompassed even non-believers.

Did the pope really say something new here?  Is he really opening up the Church in a way that departs from its past teaching?  Not really.  Here is one of the opening paragraphs from John Paul II’s encyclical, Veritatis Splendor:

Pope Francis speaks to reporters aboard his plane while returning to Rome from World Youth Day. (AP Photo/Luca Zennaro, Pool)

Pope Francis speaks to reporters aboard his plane while returning to Rome from World Youth Day. (AP Photo/Luca Zennaro, Pool)

The Church knows that the issue of morality is one which deeply touches every person; it involves all people, even those who do not know Christ and his Gospel or God himself. She knows that it is precisely on the path of the moral life that the way of salvation is open to all.The Second Vatican Council clearly recalled this when it stated that “those who without any fault do not know anything about Christ or his Church, yet who search for God with a sincere heart and under the influence of grace, try to put into effect the will of God as known to them through the dictate of conscience… can obtain eternal salvation”. The Council added: “Nor does divine Providence deny the helps that are necessary for salvation to those who, through no fault of their own, have not yet attained to the express recognition of God, yet who strive, not without divine grace, to lead an upright life. For whatever goodness and truth is found in them is considered by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel and bestowed by him who enlightens everyone that they may in the end have life”

The Telegraph also detects a change in the incoming Vatican Secretary of State’s remark that celibacy for the clergy is not a matter of Catholic doctrine:

In a further sign that the Church is edging towards more openness, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, a Vatican diplomat who will next month become the Pope’s deputy as secretary of state, said that the principle of celibacy among clergy was “ecclesiastical tradition” rather than “Church dogma” and therefore open to discussion.

The Church is changing, “edging towards openness,” because a Vatican official stated what every informed Catholic already knows and has known since long before Francis became pope?

Lesson: journalists are not competent to say what is new in the Church if they have never in the first place bothered to learn what the Church has traditionally taught.


Categories:Church News Pope Francis Theology

  • helpeachother18

    You do not get into Heaven by an “upright life” BIBLE – it is NOT by works so that any man should boast but by the sacrifice of our Lord. Salvation is ONLY through accepting Jesus as LORD aND THE SON of God. THATS IT – and THEN living a life that is pleasing to him. READ THE BIBLE !

  • Larry

    YOU CAn play guessing games with your eternity, and make God in YOUR image but I will stand on the word of God.- its REAL CLEAR !! – read it. “ooh its wrong” – right the Bible is wrong and your guesses are right – NO !! – read it you will see.

    John 3-16.

    For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

    Mark 16:16
    Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

    Romans 10:9
    If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved

    ACTS 4:12
    Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

    Acts 10:43
    All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

    John 3:36
    And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”

    John 6:40
    For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day

    Romans 6:23
    For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Mat. 25:41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.

    The TRUTH will set you free. and it ONLY found in HIM, Jesus.
    Atheist don’t want to go to heaven anyway. Yet they will if they TURN TO JESUS as the WORD promises.
    here’s another great teaching from the Word that predicts these times;
    2 Tim 4
    Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths
    The END is: the Atheist can go to heaven after turning to Christ – that’s why he was sent.

  • Clare

    I disagree on this.

  • David

    Mary Ann & others may have good intentions and I agree with her concepts but does that mean we don’t need to follow scripture anymore? It’s one thing to say “let God decide” and something else to say, you don’t need to believe in God or a bible anymore. Are we left to our own moral judgements to guide the decisions of our life and let our conscience be our guide? I am not a letter-of-the-law disciple but it confuses me to read such interpretations.

    • Maria zurita

      And Jesus while writing in the sand said”let he who is without sin be the first to throw the stone” then he said ” neither do I accuse you. Go, and sin no more”. And, as he was dying between a robber and a thief, he turned to one and said” today, you will be with me in paradise” who are we to think we can know the whole mind of The trinity?



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