If you believe The Huffington Post, the Holy Father preached the other day that atheists can all go to Heaven by doing good, never mind repentance, forgiveness, the Sacraments, or growth in faith. If you really think that the Holy Father preached that, I have some ocean front property on the top of Clingman’s Dome that I would love to sell you at a premium price.
Here is the article from Catholic News Agency about what Pope Francis actually said in his Wednesday morning homily at Casa St. Martha, where he has taken to celebrating a public Mass with Vatican workers and visiting clergy every morning.
Here is the record of the Holy Father’s words on the matter of atheists, as he recalled a conversation that he once had with a priest in Argentina who was under the mistaken notion that only Catholics could do any real good:
Every human person despite his or her beliefs can do good, and a sharing in good works is the prime place for encounter among those who disagree, Pope Francis said at his Mass today.
“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 avoid evil. All of us,” the Pope taught in his homily May 22 at St. Martha’s residence in the Vatican.
“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.”
During his homily, the Bishop of Rome reflected on Christ’s response to his disciples, who thought that anyone outside their group could not do good.
“If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” This viewpoint, Pope Francis said, “was wrong…Jesus broadens the horizon.”
He went on to explain that all human persons are created in the image of God, who is goodness himself and the source of goodness.
“But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him.”
The pontiff called this view, that only Catholics can do good, an intolerance and a “closing off” that can lead to war and blasphemy. Blasphemy, he explained, includes “killing in the name of God.”
He emphasized the universality of Christ’s saving act on the cross as a compliment to the universal call to holiness, regardless of religious belief.
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone.”
“Even the atheists. Everyone,” Pope Francis stressed.
He said that the saving blood of Christ “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.”
The Pope said that because to do good is inscribed on the human heart and does not derive from creeds, “it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because he has made us in his image and likeness. And he does good, always.”
What is the Pope talking about? He is talking about “doing good” and he is talking who Christ’s saving act on the cross applies to, and it applies to everyone, including atheists. The Holy Father did not say that atheists are going to heaven regardless of whether or not they embrace the truth of the saving act of Christ, but neither did the Pope say that atheists will not be in Heaven. It isn’t our place to judge who will and will not be in Heaven, because God is the only individual qualified to place judgment on a person’s soul. The Holy Father is absolutely right that the desire to do good comes from the fact that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and they carry with them the dignity that comes with that. The Pope’s exact words (thank you Deacon Greg Kandra of the Diocese of Brooklyn for finding this) as it relates to the importance of doing good and how even atheists play into God’s plan through doing good were these:
“The root of this possibility of doing good,” which we all have, “lies in creation. 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, he is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. ‘He cannot.’ He must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, such ‘closing off’ [of the mind], which makes us think that all those outside [of our group] cannot do good, is a barrier that leads to war as well as to what some throughout history have thought [possible], namely killing in the name of God, [the idea] that we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply put, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”
“On the contrary, the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in our heart: Do good and do not do evil. The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, what about the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us first class children of God! 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, with everyone doing his 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 meeting: 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 shall meet there.”
The “there” where we shall meet the unbeliever is in the doing of good. Catholic lay commentator Jimmy Akin has written an excellent commentary about the Pope’s homily in light of the confusion caused by the secular media’s misreporting of it, however unintentional such misreporting might have been. It is my personal opinion (and let me emphasize that) that Jimmy has hit the right nail on the head in terms of what the Holy Father has said as opposed to how the secular media is reporting what he said and how some people are taking what the Pope said:
The press latched onto this, taking the phrase “we will meet one another there” as a reference to heaven.
They then inferred that the pope was saying that if atheists merely “do good” then they will go to heaven.
This, in turn, alarmed some in the Protestant community, who thought that the pope was saying that atheists can get to heaven by “good works.”
We can deal with the possibility of salvation for atheists in another post, but first we need to ask a question . . .
If so, you wouldn’t know it from the transcript of what he said.
Let’s back up a bit. Remember, Pope Francis was just talking about the duty to do good:
“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.”
So if everyone does good, we have a path toward peace. That’s the goal.
“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.”
Note the parallelism between the phrases. Pope Francis is talking about a path “toward peace” and wants us to “meet there” by doing our part and doing good so that we build “that culture of encounter” and “meet one another doing good.”
He’s not talking about heaven at all.
He’s talking about earth.
Catholic media sources are doing an excellent job at reporting what Pope Francis is teaching us, as well as explaining that teaching so that we can apply it.
The lesson here is that one should not rely on secular sources alone if you want an accurate rendering or an accurate portrayal of the teachings, preachings, and doings of Francis, or whoever occupies the Chair of Peter.