What Pope Francis really said about atheists

Pope Francis raised a lot of eyebrows Wednesday after saying all people who do good works, including atheists, are going to heaven.

At least, that’s how the Huffington Post interpreted Pope Francis’ Wednesday morning homily.

Here’s what Pope Francis really said about atheists:

Pope Francis

Stephen Driscoll / CNA

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter  that so much. 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. [Read more here]

Apparently, HuffPo doesn’t understand the difference between redemption and salvation because here’s how they reported on the pope’s remarks:

Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists…

Of course, not all Christians believe that those who don’t believe will be redeemed, and the Pope’s words may spark memories of the deep divisions from the Protestant reformation over the belief in redemption through grace versus redemption through works.

Reuters interpreted the pope’s comments in a similar way:

Atheists should be seen as good people if they do good, Pope Francis said on Wednesday in his latest urging that people of all religions – or no religion – work together…

He told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists had been redeemed by Jesus.

“Even them, everyone,” the pope answered, according to Vatican Radio. “We all have the duty to do good,” he said.

“Just do good and we’ll find a meeting point,” the pope said in a hypothetical conversation in which someone told a priest…

Francis’ reaching out to atheists and people who belong to no religion is a marked contrast to the attitude of former Pope Benedict, who sometimes left non-Catholics feeling that he saw them as second-class believers.

No more than an hour went by and an inquisitive Presbyterian friend of mine emailed me with a link to the HuffPo story. “So doing good on its own is enough for salvation in Catholicism?” he asked. In response, I sent him two links that clarified the pope’s words.

The first link I sent him was this blog post by Fr. Dwight Longenecker. Here is what he wrote:

The Pope is simply affirming certain truths that any somewhat knowledgable Catholic will uphold.

First, that Christ died to redeem the whole world. We can distinguish his redemptive work from the acceptance of salvation. He redeemed the whole world. However, many will reject that saving work. In affirming the universality of Christ’s redemptive work we are not universalists. To say that he redeemed the whole world is not to conclude that all will be saved.

Secondly, the Pope is also affirming that all humans are created in God’s image and are therefore created good. Yes, created good, but that goodness is wounded by original sin.

Thirdly, he is affirming that all men and women are obliged to pursue what is beautiful, good and true. Natural virtue is possible–even obligatory, but natural virtue on its own is not sufficient for salvation. Grace is necessary to advance beyond natural virtue to bring the soul to salvation. The Pope does not say atheists being good on their own will be saved. He says they, like all men, are redeemed by Christ’s death and their good works are the starting place where we can meet with them–the implication being “meet with them in an encounter that leads eventually to faith in Christ.

The second link I sent him was this one from Catholicism.org’s Brian Kelly, who was actually writing in response to a Catholic Online article whose headline read: “Pope Francis says atheists can do good and go to heaven too!”

Here is what Mr. Kelly said in response:

Pope Francis did not say that an atheist who does naturally good things can be saved if he dies an atheist. Yet that is the impression given by Catholic Online’s half truth headline…

The Pope… simply reminded the faithful that there can be, and is, goodness, or natural virtue, outside the Church. And that Christ’s death on the Cross redeemed all men. He paid the price so that every man could come to God and be saved.

If Catholic Online is insinuating that Pope Francis has “reformed” the irreformable dogma, outside the Church there is no salvation, then that is shameful and disingenuous.

At the end of the day, could Pope Francis have been a little clearer about what he was trying to say? Sure. That’s the risk of delivering off the cuff sermons. The real fault, I think, lies with the theologically-illiterate press corps, whose understanding of basic Catholic doctrine is so infinitesimal that it is increasingly unable to report on the Catholic Church without completely embarrassing itself.


Categories:Breaking News Pope Francis

135 thoughts on “What Pope Francis really said about atheists

  1. Isaiah Teneza says:

    John 3 16: “For God so loved the world and gave His only son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

    Gal 2:21 “If we can be acceptable to God by obeying the Law, it was useless for Christ to die.”

    Eph 2: 8-10″For it is by GRACE you have been saved, through FAITH, and this not from yourselves it is the gift of God, NOT BY WORKS!!! so that no one can boast. For we are Gods handiwork, created in CHRIST JESUS to do good works, which God prepared in ADVANCE for us to DO.”

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

    John 14:6 “Jesus answered , I am the way The truth and the life no one comes to the father except through me.”

    in order to be saved, you must receive Christ Jesus, in your heart, you can accept God’s free gift of eternal life through a simple prayer SURRENDER YOUR LIFE NOW IN CHRIST! HE LOVES YOU SO MUCH… Note: pray it with all your heart mind soul and strength..

    “Lord Jesus, I need you. I confess that I am running my life on my own, But today Lord I quit! I believe that you died on the cross to pay for all my sins . and rose on the third day declaring your victory on winning the humanity, I ask you to come into my life as my Lord and Savior. I humbly accept your Free gift of eternal life. Please help me live my life Your way starting today. Thank you Lord, From now on I am yours and I belong to you! In Christ Jesus name I pray Amen!”

  2. Alan says:

    You say that the popes were appointed by God as his representatives on earth a mediator between God and man, but Jesus himself is the only mediator between God and man read 1 Tim 2:5
    Jesus said whoever believes in me shall be saved but whoever does not believe in me is condemned already Mark 16:16. Lets not forget that Jesus was the word of God made flesh and the bible states that he is the same yesterday today and forever.
    For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it Heb 4:2
    Again you say that the popes were appointed by God as his representatives on earth, therefore they would filled with the Holy Spirit yes and led into all truth by the Spirit of God were the inquisitions Holy Spirit led, the burnings the horrendous torture they exacted on there victims was that Spirit led? When Jesus clearly said that we were to love our enemies. Is forbidding priests to marry led of the holy spirit when the word of God teaches the opposite in 1 Tim 4:3 Perhaps this ungodly law is why many of your priests turn to paedophilia or sexual assaulting children because they were not called by God to abstain from marriage but you made them do it, but will you recant.
    Was praying to Mary or any saints ever advocated by Jesus or any of the Apostles or any disciple? I am not saying that there are not any catholic’s that are saved there are, Martin Luther was one of them. Why did John Paul 11 have to apologise to the world for the hundreds years and hundreds of years of atrocities perpetrated by the catholic church it was really only the reformation that stopped it. And while being true that Jesus died that the whole world might be saved but the whole will not be saved because Jesus said that whosoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life.
    Look to Jesus for this is the stone which the builders rejected who has become the head the cornerstone and there is salvation in no other name given under heaven among men by which we can be saved.

    1. Chris says:


      I’m sorry but you’re simply wrong here.

      Jesus specifically pointed out the believing in him is not simply believing he is god, and clarified if you love him, you will follow his commandments.

      Jesus was clear in what belief was. It is following his commands, loving him.


      You can quote Mark until the cows come home, it is semantics, which James clarified on for a reason. This clearly shows the belief in god can be equal to the devil and his angels.

      So what makes belief true belief? Love of God.

      What makes you love God? Only one thing, and please note in this quote, is specifically says if you do not love me, you won’t keep my commandments.


      Now, when Jesus talked to his disciples he told them to preach his word, that they had the Holy Spirit, and that they were for the world not of the world.

      No person has this authority other than his disciples. He then says the jaws of death will never prevail over his church.

      Jesus told his disciples they would never leave the world and gave only them the Holy Spirit, and specifically told them to testify.

      The bible was not the church of god. His disciples were told to testify because they were god’s testimony.

      John 15

      You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

      When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

      Read all of John 14 to 16

      12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

      This is god explicitly saying many will believe he is god, and that is not belief.

      Also, these areas show god told them they will never leave the world, and they must testify with the Holy Spirit, and they were chosen. He gave them authority no others had.

      If you believe any other church could be the remnants of god, list the church. Did Jesus lie when he said they would never leave the world?

      But off of that: on belief in Jesus the Catholic Church is 100% accurate to the bible.

      Also: When Jesus says to the apostles I am in the father like you are in me, etc he is telling the apostles they have god in them. They have the authority to forgive sins. Did you miss that authority? Jesus also said none can judge man but god, and suddenly, he tells the apostles they hold the keys to heaven. These people are the mediator. When Jesus says you are my friends, and I am in you like I am one with the father, he is telling them they are the mediator, they are the authority. You have to ignore the bible in order to not believe this was said. I hope peace shows you my words are true, and you end your attack of god, and his friends, the apostles living on in the Catholic Church, the only church that has been around since Jesus and the only church which could be the current day promise fulfilled.

    2. Chris says:


      Some additional comments: name one, atrocity signed off on by the Catholic Church. One.

      Martin Luther was not a catholic. He was excommunicated January 1521.

      This is the devil acting in you. Part of why I converted was seeing this, and then consulting history regarding the Catholic Church.

      I finally realized I have never seen so much twisting of history, or word vomit regarding any Christian religion, other than Catholicism.

      The crusades are still shown as violence by Catholics. Are you aware what those wars were? Muslims decimated Catholic lands, murdered, raped, etc. Finally Catholics said they would take the lands back. All the church did was say, ok, if you do that, we will pardon you for sin.

      Do you know why?

      Fighting in war is a sin. Basically the Church was like ok you can fight back against the Muslims, who are killing you and taking your land, and you won’t go to hell.

      I bet money, you didn’t know this. It is not to call you stupid that I say that comment. Think about why you don’t know. The answer is an evil that has been after the Catholic Church for some time.

      In this day and age support of gays marriage is even encouraged by most Christian religions. Do you know what the bible says about that?

      Romans 1:26-32.

      Read it.

      Each and every catechism uses multiple references of the bible to back it up.

      There is no constant set of rules for any Christian church. It is all up to interpretation, and try regularly actually do twist the religion. The Catholic Church does not.

      Documents showing rules that are not to be changed, etc.

      Do research. The only Christian church is the Christian church, which is the Catholic Church.

    3. Chris says:

      Also, Thessolonians 1.

      In this section they specifically say that the gospel is not in the bible alone. It is in god’s apostles.

      The bible is very clear that his disciples continued the work of Jesus. It is also clear they were ordered to and they would never disappear. There is only one church that can be.

  3. Macrina Herrera says:

    Jesus said ” Thou shalt love thy
    God and thy neighbor as thyself.”

    This pope is saying “Love thy neighbor and loving God will take take care of itself. See you in heaven”

    There is a big difference here which is not sitting well with me. The lives of the saints all
    show them loving God first
    and by doing so, received the grace of loving their neighbor.

  4. Jeff Bowden says:

    For who shall call upon the Name of Jesus Christ and believe that he died and rose again Shall be saved.
    Enough said

  5. Seth says:

    I refuse to believe, as does one of my Christian friends does, that only saved Christians will be redeemed. I live in a place where some religious zealots believe Catholics are going to hell because they worship The Virgin Mary. They think it is idolatry. One man actually said to me that everyone who isn’t a Christian (Meaning according to his beliefs.) is going to hell! I asked him: So millions of Hindus, even if they love God and are righteous, are condemned”? He answered, “Yes.” What struck me about his answer was the tone of his voice. There was no sadness in his words. As a christian, this would make me grieve and pray for everyone’s redemption. There is much I do not understand but I feel that the Pope’s words come from divine inspiration: From God himself.

    Joseph Campbell, in one of his lectures, said that if we don’t see we all worship the same God, but with different names that relate to local cultures, we will end up blowing ourselves up. And for the first time in history, we have this capacity. Even the name Jesus, is a translation of a translation. We are judged by our love for God and our fellow man, not by the name we use for God.

    We are not here to judge anybody, including professed atheists. Jesus knows what’s in everyone’s heart and possesses wisdom beyond our comprehension. Can anyone imagine that he would punish someone for being filled with doubt? Even Jesus, while being crucified, had a moment of doubt. He uttered the saddest words ever ever heard. In a loud voice he said: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27.45-50 “King James Version.

  6. whether they call it declaration or whatever, this man is right. Yeah what ever. For heaven being real it must not be control by any body on earth rather will have only one PRINCIPLE and GOAL which must be BE GOOD TO ONE ANOTHER.

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