Pope Francis: God’s mercy extends to atheists and agnostics

I have never been able to make myself believe, despite being one, that only Christians will make heaven. There is something about that notion that just does not work for me as a person. Which is why hearing things like this from the Pope helps set my mind at ease.

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In an lengthy front-page letter to the Italian secular newspaper La Repubblica, Pope Francis shows his willingness to discuss tough topics when he writes that God’s forgiveness extends to anyone who has a ‘sincere and contrite heart.’


BY / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Pope Francis reached out to non-believers in a 2,500-word open letter to La Repubblica.  “The question for someone who does not believe in God lies in obeying one’s own conscience,” Francis wrote.  “Sin exists, even for one who does not have faith, when one goes against conscience.”

FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Pope Francis reached out to non-believers in a 2,500-word open letter to La Repubblica. ‘The question for someone who does not believe in God lies in obeying one’s own conscience,’ Francis wrote. ‘Sin exists, even for one who does not have faith, when one goes against conscience.’

In an unexpected and unprecedented move, Pope Francis told atheists and agnostics that God’s mercy extends to non-believers.

The pope, whom Catholics believe holds the keys of heaven, used the front page of a secular Italian newspaper to proclaim that God’s forgiveness is “unlimited if directed to someone with a sincere and contrite heart.”

The 2,500-word open letter was splashed on four pages of the liberal daily La Repubblica on Wednesday, under the simple byline “Francesco.” It was a response to editorials by the paper’s atheist founder Eugenio Scalfari, who asked the pontiff about God’s attitude toward non-believers.

Scalfari told the Telegraph that he had no idea that the 76-year-old pope would actually respond. He was even more surprised that Francis had replied “so extensively and so affectionately, with such fraternal spirit.”

“The question for someone who does not believe in God lies in obeying one’s own conscience,” Francis wrote, according to a translation provided by CNS. “Sin exists, even for one who does not have faith, when one goes against conscience. To listen to and obey it means, in fact, to choose between what one perceives as good or as bad. And on this choice is staked the good or evil of our action.”

Francis also wrote that faith grows “in respectful coexistence with others” and that truth requires “humility and openness in order to be sought, welcomed and expressed.”

It is rare for a pope to write an editorial for a secular newspaper, especially when addressing such controversial topics. In December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI wrote an article in Britain’s Financial Times about the meaning of Christmas.

But the Italian Union of Atheists and Agnostics aren’t buying what they call the Pope’s “nice words.”

“Why should a non-believer seek legitimization from the Pope?” the association asked. “What interests non-believers is certainly not ‘forgiveness’ from an entity whose existence we do not trust.”

Francis has been lauded by people inside and outside of the Catholic Church for his efforts to reach out to the poor and to those who don’t share his beliefs. Although he has never veered away from established Church doctrine, his open style and willingness to talk about taboo topics is seen by many as a breath of fresh air.

 

But some of his off-the-cuff remarks have caught members of the Vatican off guard. During a homily in May, Francis said that even atheists would be welcomed in heaven if they “do good,” CNN reports. Those remarks traveled quickly through the web and prompted the Vatican to quickly issue explanatory notes emphasizing that people who are not members of the Catholic church “cannot be saved.”

And although the Catholic Church still considers homosexuality a sin, Francis has said that he would not judge priests for being gay.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis said during a conversation with reporters in July.

On Sept. 8, the Vatican’s incoming secretary of state also showed signs that he welcomed open discussions. Archbishop Pietro Parolin said that he the church’s long-standing practice of priestly celibacy is a Catholic tradition and not unalterable church dogma, NPR reports. But he said breaking from this tradition might cause divisions within the Catholic Church.

“[Celibacy] is not a church dogma and it can be discussed because it is a church tradition,” Parolin told the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal. “We can talk, reflect on these subjects that are not definite, and we can think about some modifications, but always with the consideration of unity, and all according to the will of God.”

ckuruvilla@nydailynews.com


 

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