Yesterday, I posted about something interesting Pope Francis said in a recent homily — namely, that even atheists could be “redeemed” if they were good people:
“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, if we 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: we need 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.”
We all knew that sense of one-ness and actions-speak-louder-than-prayers wasn’t going to last very long. As the Pope’s words made their way around the world, a Vatican spokesman had to do some damage control and remind everybody that atheists, in fact, are going to hell unless they accept Jesus:
On Thursday, the Vatican issued an “explanatory note on the meaning to ‘salvation.’”
The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who know about the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”
(That’s what she said.)
Okay, okay, so that’s what we were expecting all along. Atheists, according to Christians, are going to hell unless we accept Christ’s divinity. We already knew that. It was still an unusual and welcome gesture from the Pope to recognize that everyone, regardless of beliefs, can do good and “be saved” — at least it was a step up from what we’re used to hearing.
***Update***: Many news outlets have since pointed out that CNN’s attribution of Rosica being a Vatican spokesperson is wrong. Rosica is just a religious leader with no formal ties to the Vatican. That doesn’t change the fact that Catholicism still teaches that atheists are going to hell, but there you go.