This article originally appeared on God Discussion on September 14, 2103.
In a letter this week Pope Francis made the bold and controversial statement that atheists can go to heaven if they are good and follow their conscience. This goes against many biblical scriptures that state clearly that the only path to heaven is through Jesus Christ.
This announcement seems to have upset many in the Catholic Church and around many Christian communities who hold the scriptures as true and refuse to believe any non-believers can go into heaven. Though some have welcomed the Popes acceptance of all human beings and see this as a positive step in repairing the image of the church.
Atheists however seem unimpressed with this announcement. In what looks like an olive branch from the Pope to make amends with non-believers, atheists are not worried about the possibility to get into heaven, as an atheist does not believe in the concept to begin with.
What does this mean for atheists and the Catholic Church? Nothing really. Offering atheists a reward they do not believe is coming does not undo the centuries of damage caused by the Catholic Church and does not negate the problems still being caused by the church. Continued allegations and cover-ups of child sex abuse will not be forgotten simply by an offering of heaven. Rather than promises of heaven, atheists would rather see priests brought to justice, same-sex marriage endorsed and condoms accepted to help reduce the worldwide AIDS epidemic.
This does however signal a new tone from the Vatican. This is not the first time the Pope has specifically mentioned atheists and shows that he is possibly trying to change the image of the Catholic Church.
According to The Guardian the Pope is also signaling to a change in the church’s celibacy laws for priests. Pietro Parolin, an Italian archbishop, has raised eyebrows by acknowledging that “modifications” to the law of priestly celibacy might be possible under Francis’s reform agenda. In comments to the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, Parolin – who is the outgoing nuncio, or papal ambassador, to the Latin American country – said that as celibacy was a “church tradition” as opposed to dogma, it could be legitimately discussed.
So what does this Pope’s views hold for the future of the Catholic Church? This remains to be seen, he has still only been Pope for six months but judging from the amount of controversy surrounding his announcements, it appears his future with the church signals a great deal of changes, many will be most needed.
Dan Arel is a freelance writer, speaker and secular advocate residing in San Diego, CA. He writes on secular and humanist values on subjects such as secular parenting, church and state separation, education reform and secularism in public policy.
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