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

  • Atheist

    I love how you bible thumpers pick and choose the parts of the scripture that are ‘valid’. Leviticus and Deuteronomy anyone? Get real kids.

  • Eric

    Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” [John 14:6] So if the Pope or anyone else says otherwise, they are calling Jesus Christ a LIAR.

    Regarding this notion that we are “all God’s children”. That is also FALSE. Who are God’s children? [John 1:12] says plainly “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” You don’t become a child of God until you are born again and believe in Jesus Christ.

    Those who actually love JESUS and love GOD’S word more than human tradition should see the errors the Pope is making. Those who love the traditions of men more than God and his word, will be deceived. Who do you worship? Jesus Christ? Or the Church itself? Did the Pope die for your sins? Or was that Jesus Christ?

    [Galations 1:9]
    “As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

    I want my loyalty to be with JESUS CHRIST and HIS WORD. If the Pope is going to go against God’s word in some misplaced attempt at befriending the world. Be warned.

    [James 4:4] “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”


  • Joannie

    This whole business of having all of his statements having to be clarified on a weekly if not daily basis is ridiculous. Please do not give all the blame to the media because Francis himself is giving them all of the ammunition needed anymore.

  • Cary

    While the argument that the Pope is merely expressing a position of the RCC, that does not make the position valid. Scripture says that anyone who denies God is without excuse, regardless of opportunity to hear the teachings from some ecclesiastical authority. To with: Romans 1:18-25 (ESV)
    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

    • Cary

      *to wit, not “to with”

    • eric

      Pope Francis obviously has a different vision of God, based on the teachings of Jesus.

    • neil danz

      “While the argument that the Pope is merely expressing a position of the RCC, that does not make the position valid. Scripture say”

      As if scripture is valid at all itself. Laughable.

      Scripture also says that the first male human was made from dirt and a sacred cough. Not true.

      Scripture says that light was made without a source. Not true.

      Scripture says that leprosy is a divine curse. Not true. It’s an infection.

      Scripture says you are to perform blood sacrifices to cure it. Not true. It takes medicine.

      Scripture says that (what in reality are mold spores) are another divine curse. Not true.

      Scripture claims that the Isrealite army attacked Cannan and destroyed it all. Not true. Cannan was 31 foritified city states. It took 800 years for Canaan to fall. Many attacks and campaigns. Furthmore, archaeology has proven much of Canaan was destroyed by revolting Canaanites. Many of the 31 states have ZERO evidence of ever being attacked by an outside force.

      Scripture says thousands of isrealites had a mass exodus from Egypt and wandered the desert for 40 years. Not true. Concretely refuted by archaeology.

      So much that scripture says is already proven not true.
      Yet you hold it up as if its some valid, even infallible piece of information. It isn’t.

      Get a clue.

      • Greg

        Neil, you’re mistaken about a few things. Without debating all of Genesis 1-2 (there are plenty of resources for that), I’d like to point out that (1) all our bodies are ultimately made from the dust of the ground, not just Adam’s. (2) Scripture does not say the first light had no source. It has been noted that at the reference point of the Spirit hovering over the waters, during the early part of earth’s formation and condensation light was at first not getting through. As days (and much debate is on the English translation “day”) 1-3 are to a fair degree paralleled by 4-6, the creation of the sun, moon and stars is mentioned on day four, at which point they could be seen from the surface of the earth as the dust cloud settled.
        Leprosy and mold spores are not a curse but they could be part of one (e.g., on Miriam). Blood sacrifices were not meant to cure a disease but for ceremonial cleansing.
        Scripture makes it clear that though much of Canaan was conquered by Joshua, many lingered on. The Israelites were fighting them for a long time. Furthermore, I am very curious about your claim of conclusive archaeological evidence that the Israelites did not wander the desert for forty years. Please share.

      • eric

        Good luck using rational thought. The writers in the Bible made the assumption that God exists and that God caused everything to occur. Remove that assumption and everything falls into place rationally. As an example, remove the God concept from the story of Noah and the Ark and you end up with Noah being a rational man who knew that floods occur where he lived so he built a boat, put a male and female of several animals on that boat so that they would reproduce and provide food for his family. Pretty simple really. Add God to that story and it becomes irrational.

  • eric

    Pope Francis reminds us all that each and everyone of us is God’s children.

  • Chris

    I think the previous generations of journalists deliberately spread misinformation about Church teaching, and the current generation is truly ignorant and only learning the accurate Church teaching now for the first time.



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