It was reported in the New York Times, that in responding to a little child’s grief at his dog dying, Francis told a crowd at St. Peter’s Square that, indeed, “paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
This message sent theological scholars and humane societies across the world into a frenzy, the former trying to figure out exactly what the pope meant, the latter rejoicing in the great news that dogs and all animals can go, and merit going to heaven, and in fact, have souls. Such marvelous news.
A few days later, the New York Times, published a clarification about the remarks attributable to Pope Francis, saying they misstated the original intent:
An article on Friday about whether Pope Francis believes that animals go to heaven — a longstanding theological question in the church — misstated the pope’s recent remarks and the circumstances in which they were made.
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[Pope Francis] spoke in a general audience at the Vatican on Nov. 26, not in consoling a distraught boy whose dog had died. According to Vatican Radio, Francis said, in speaking of heaven, “The Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.” He did not say: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” Those remarks are reported to have been made by Pope Paul VI to a distraught child.
An article on Nov. 27 in Corriere della Sera, the influential Italian daily, compared Francis’ comments to Paul’s, and concluded that Francis also believed that animals go to heaven. A number of subsequent news reports then mistakenly attributed both quotations to Francis; The Times should have verified the quotations with the Vatican.
Before seeing this clarification and in reading through the reports about this “divine” decision, it was learned that it wasn’t until 1854 when papal infallibility was actually inscribed in that faith by Pope Pius IX who also supported the doctrine that animals have no consciousness, hence have no place in heaven, and even worse he tried to stop the founding of an Italian chapter of the SPCA. But back in 1990, Pope John Paul II seemed to reverse Pius when he said that “animals do have souls” and are “as near to God as men are.” This position wasn’t well advertised by the church. Unfortunately John Paul was followed by the stricter more conservative, Benedict who reverted back to Pius’s position.
In Laudato Si’, from the Vatican Encyclicals, Francis talks about animals and eternal life saying, “Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all.”
The editor of Catholic magazine, the Rev. James Martin, who is also Jesuit, like the pope, said that he believed that the pope was at least asserting that “God loves and Christ redeems all of creation,” and adds that “he’s reminding us that all creation is holy and that in his mind, paradise is open to all creatures, and frankly, I agree with him.”
While it is not such as surprise that Pope Francis, who took his papal name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, might take a humane, enlightened position, it is a remarkable gift he has given to all animal lovers.