Atheism, the Catholic Church, and Eternal Salvation
May 28, 2013
[Rev. Thomas Rosica’s clarification of the eternal dwelling-place of atheists, in response to Pope Francis' recent statement that good atheists go to heaven:]
"...A non-Christian may reject a Christian’s presentation of the gospel of Christ. That however, does not necessarily mean that the person has truly rejected Christ and God. Rejection of Christianity may not mean the rejection of Christ. For if a given individual rejects the Christianity brought to him through the Church’s preaching, even then we are still never in any position to decide whether this rejection as it exists in the concrete signifies a grave fault or an act of faithfulness to one’s own conscience. We can never say with ultimate certainty whether a non-Christian who has rejected Christianity and who, in spite of a certain encounter with Christianity, does not become a Christian, is still following the temporary path mapped out for his own salvation which is leading him to an encounter with God, or whether he has now entered upon the way of perdition...."
Unfortunately, nuance has been missing from most of the coverage of this story.
Not so fast: Vatican says Pope Francis got it wrong, atheists do go to hell
The Washington Times
May 30, 2013
The Vatican has issued a new statement running counter to Pope Francis‘ recent suggestion [see story below] that good deeds can earn atheists entrance to heaven.
The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said in what was described as an “explanatory note” that those who know about the Catholic Church “cannot be saved [if they] refuse to enter her or remain in her,” United Press International reported.
Father Rosica also added, UPI reported: Those “who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ and His church, but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience, can attain eternal salvation.”
Some see Father Rosica’s statements as running contrary to what Pope Francis said on May 22.
Then, the pope said that redemption was available to all — “not just Catholics,” but “even the atheists. Everyone,” UPI reported. He then went on to speak of doing good to others, talking specifically to atheists when he added: “But do good — we will meet one another there [in heaven].” UPI reported.
After the Vatican issued its “explanatory note,” noted British scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins wrote on Twitter: “Atheists go to heaven? Nope. Sorry world, infallible pope got it wrong. Vatican steps in with alacrity.”
And author Neal Donald Walsch, who wrote “Conversations With God,” said to UPI that “it was regrettable that the hidden hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church chose to officially retract the recent statement on eternal damnation bravely made by its new leader, Pope Francis.”
Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics
Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists.
During his homily at Wednesday Mass in Rome, Francis emphasized the importance of "doing good" as a principle that unites all humanity, and a "culture of encounter" to support peace.
Using scripture from the Gospel of Mark, Francis explained how upset Jesus' disciples were that someone outside their group was doing good, according to a report from Vatican Radio.
“They complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation.”
Pope Francis went further in his sermon to say:
"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can... "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!".. 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.”
Responding to the leader of the Roman Catholic church's homily, Father James Martin, S.J. wrote in an email to The Huffington Post:
"Pope Francis is saying, more clearly than ever before, that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for everyone. That's always been a Christian belief. You can find St. Paul saying in the First Letter to Timothy that Jesus gave himself as a "ransom for all." But rarely do you hear it said by Catholics so forcefully, and with such evident joy. And in this era of religious controversies, it's a timely reminder that God cannot be confined to our narrow categories."
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.
The pope's comment has also struck a chord on Reddit, where it is the second most-shared piece.
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.
The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics made his comments in the homily of his morning Mass in his residence, a daily event where he speaks without prepared comments.
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: "But I don't believe. I'm an atheist."
Francis's 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.