It takes some doing to get so many layers of complicated errors all folded into 11 words, but if anybody can do it, it’s HuffPo.
Let’s unpack this elaborate confection of blunders.
1. The first blunder is that what the Pope said–what he actually said, not what the headline reports–is “news” in the sense that it is some sort of startling change in Catholic teaching. It ain’t.
2. Pope Francis does not say that “all who do good are redeemed”. The reason he does not say this is because people–like HuffPo–are all too ready to assume that our redemption depends on us doing good. In fact, all who do good, and all who do evil, and all saints, and all Nazis, and pirates, and Communists and Mormons, Swedenborgians, and Satanists, and plumbers, and students who are getting Fs, and little kids and old coots, and profoundly brain-damaged folk and really brilliant scientists, and tall, and fat, and short people, and Muslims, and atheists, and Jews, and Buddhists and everybody else with a pulse are redeemed. Stalin is redeemed along with St. Damien of Molokai, Jack the Ripper and St Francis of Assisi are both redeemed. That’s not me. That’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
605 At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God’s love excludes no one: “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” He affirms that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many”; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us. The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: “There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.”
In short, the reason we are redeemed–all of us without any exception whatsoever, even Hitler and Judas Iscariot–is that Jesus Christ died for every human being without any exception whatsoever. That has nothing to do with our “doing good”. It has to do with the overwhelming generosity of God to us even when we are not good at all–even when we are pounding nails through his hands and feet.
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man–though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. – Romans 5:6-8
So the offer of salvation is extended to all–including atheists, not because of our goodness, but because of God’s grace. However, that does not mean it is a slam dunk that the offer will be accepted by all.
3. Francis *does* say that atheists are capable of doing good, for the simple reason that they are and always have been able to do good by virtue of the fact that the natural law is accessible to any human being. That is true but not news–except to Huffpo.
So at the end of the day, the pope said… well, what the Church has pretty much always said. Which is kind of the job description.