- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2013

Pope Francis has sparked a religious debate with comments made earlier this week confirming atheists can indeed go to heaven.

Christian teaching generally holds that belief in Jesus, and not good deeds, grants eternal life.

But the pope, in a morning Mass on Wednesday, suggested that belief and faith weren’t the biggest factors. He said, CNN reported: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ — all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone. ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone. 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 comments were welcomed by Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

“I gather from this statement that his view of the worlds’ religious and philosophical diversity is expanding,” Mr. Speckhardt said, in a CNN report. “While humanists have been saying for years that one can be good without a god, hearing this from the leader of the Catholic Church is quite heartening.”

The Vatican, on Thursday, was forced to issue a statement of clarification.

The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a spokesman for the Vatican, said those who have knowledge of the Catholic Church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her,” CNN reported. He also said that “every man or woman, whatever their situation, can be saved. Even non-Christians can respond to this saving action of the Spirit. No person is excluded from salvation simply because of so-called original sin.”

• Cheryl K. Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com.

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