The following is taken from the following article: Pope Says Atheists Are A-OK By God.

Referencing a passage from the Gospel of Mark in his homily, the Pope recounted the story of a priest who told an inquiring Catholic that Jesus redeemed everyone, even atheists, and all he asks in return is that people "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!" the Pope quoted the priest as saying.

"Father, the atheists?," the skeptical Catholic responded. "Even the atheists. Everyone!" the priest replied, and added: "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."

The Guardian notes that Pope Francis's ongoing efforts to unite all people, both believers and nonbelievers, stands in stark contrast to approach of his predecessors — particularly Benedict, "who sometimes prompted complaints from non-Catholics that he seemed to see them as second-class believers."

Catholic Online has already embraced the newly christened Pope's message, taking it a step further by declaring that atheists can "go to heaven too."

Is universal reconciliation now the official belief in Catholicism?

  • Just that you know, some people think it is a mistranslation. Pope did not speak in English and as usual media took it to mean what they want it to mean. And in THIS matter as @svidgen pointed out pope does not have the authority to change. Commented May 25, 2013 at 4:31
  • @JayarathinaMadharasan - I'd thought of the translation issue myself. Sometimes I ask a question just so that someone can post an answer that clarifies things. I was pretty sure that the gawker.com perspective would be an atheistic one, and was likely a misrepresentation. I asked here because I knew there would be good answers refuting the misrepresentation. ;-) Commented May 25, 2013 at 5:14

3 Answers 3


The short answer is No.

The misconception that Pope Francis has in any way changed Church teaching or turned us into universalists was explicitly addressed by quite a few Catholic bloggers recently. In particular, Fr. Dwight Longenecker states states it like this:

Unfortunately for those who wish to paint Pope Francis as a lovable liberal, in fact, the Pope is simply affirming certain truths that any somewhat knowledgable Catholic will uphold. First, that Christ died to redeem the whole world. We can distinguish his redemptive work from the acceptance of salvation. He redeemed the whole world. However, many will reject that saving work. In affirming the universality of Christ’s redemptive work we are not universalists. To say that he redeemed the whole world is not to conclude that all will be saved.

The Catholic Church, not unlike other Christian groups, has always taught that Christ's redemption is for all. It's always taught that the "Mystical Church" extends beyond the visible Church. And while the visible Church is the "normal means" for salvation, God is not limited by those means.

To be clear, atheism is still a sin according to the Catholic Church — and always will be. But, all of us are sinners. And the best any of us can do is continually re-submit ourselves to God. The "gotcha" that the Pope may have intended to highlight is simply that God is big, transcendent, and mysterious: He doesn't operate exclusively under the name of "God."

Even within the scope of scripture and Catholic literature, God is known by a lot of names, each of which tends to arise for the purpose of meeting sinners "where they are." An atheist may be averse to "God" so-called by Christians because of our hypocrisies, not realizing that our God (Christ) and their Truth, Source, Life, or Love are alluding to the same being.

The role of the Church is not to condemn. It's to continually recognize the truthiness and goodness already in people and draw them deeper into truth. This is exemplified by Paul in Acts 17:22-34, wherein he recognizes and elaborates on a single shred of truth the Athenians confess, the idol to "an unknown god."

And it's important to remember, we're all on a truth spectrum. None of us, presumably, are living in a state of complete knowledge or complete ignorance. According to Catholic theology, it's less important where we are on the spectrum than it is in which direction we're actively trending.

  • I would not be as hard: Atheism can be a (mortal) sin. For a mortal sin to be committed (a sin that makes you go to hell), you need to (at least partially) realize that it is a sin you are about to commit. Therefore someone who never heard of God or Jesus cannot, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, commit the mortal sin of atheism if he or she follows his/her own conscience. However, switching from Catholicism to Atheism is, like all apostasy in almost all religions, a mortal sin. Catechism of the Catholic Church Compendium §391-400
    – Yves
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 13:44
  • @Yves Hopefully my answer is clear in that atheism is always a sin. The mortality of that sin is precisely what we cannot speak to.
    – svidgen
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 14:12
  • Of course and your answer is completely correct. I wrote that comment because only mortal sins can (alone) stop you from entering heaven and you emphasized on the "atheism is a sin" which is fully relevant regarding the question only if you consider the mortality of the sin (which you do but without stating that word). btw the last sentence of your comment sums it up well.
    – Yves
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 14:18
  • What about George Pell's statment?youtu.be/y8hy8NxZvFY?t=41m15s
    – Dan
    Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 17:50
  • @daniel Do you interpret Cardinal Pell's statement as incompatible with this answer?
    – svidgen
    Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 0:17

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says

2125 Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion. 61

61: Cf Rom 1:18

Sin can be expiated, of course, so those who are currently atheists may reach heaven. But heaven will [does] contain no atheists.

In saying “But do good: we will meet one another there,” the Pope means that people will meet each other in doing good, not necessarily in heaven. That is, there is common ground in altruism.

In saying “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!” the Pope is stating a truth, expressed also in the Catechism (my emphasis):

851 Missionary motivation. It is from God's love for all men that the Church in every age receives both the obligation and the vigor of her missionary dynamism, "for the love of Christ urges us on."343 Indeed, God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth";344 that is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the prompting of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God's universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary.

343: 2 Cor 5:14; cf. AA 6; RMiss 11.
344: 1 Tim 2:4.

But in order for atheists to be saved, they need to come to the knowledge of the truth. The Church needs to impart that knowledge (because it is the Church to whom the truth has been entrusted). Once they have knowledge of the truth, they will no longer be atheists.

The starting-point is the common ground of doing good together, and the Church may say that the innate knowledge that doing good is good is God-given; and that good acts are prompted by the Spirit. “Those who obey the prompting of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation.”

Rom 1:18 — “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.”
2 Cor 5:14 — “For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.”
1 Tim 2:4 — “[God our Savior,] who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

  • Ha! I've just read the Catholic Online article and found I've more-or-less restated their analysis, which they handily sum up as "These latest comments are consistent with Pope Francis' efforts to reach out to people of other faiths and of no faith at all. By emphasizing our common bonds, our Holy Father breaks down artificial barriers so that we may see, and love, one another more clearly." Commented May 24, 2013 at 9:33
  • Atheism is a sin, but does it forbid the Atheist to enter heaven ?
    – Yves
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 14:05
  • @Yves Atheism/unbelief is the greatest sin which even purgatory cannot take away. Plus, in order to enter heaven, one must at the very least believe God exists and that He rewards the good and punishes the evil.
    – Geremia
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 0:23

A theist is someone who looks to an external God. Atheists are sometimes described as people who have no belief in a God somewhere out there in the Universe. But this also describes the teaching of many Christians. If an Atheist believes in God within them, which is the way I read the Pope's comment, and if they follow their conscience, they could be saved. A friend who was a Sister superior at the time explained that a native who knew nothing about Jesus, but who followed his conscience and lived a Godly life, could find salvation. This has been a teaching of the Church fathers of the 3rd. Cent. Today, the Church is a way for men and women to learn to follow their conscience (to trust God) and to lead a Christ-like life. It is possible to learn to trust God without going to church, but most people need the Church to support them on their journey.

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