It’s difficult to know who to feel more sorry for this week. Atheists such as myself, who having been granted salvation by Pope Francis on Wednesday morning had our redemption revoked the very next day by the Vatican who clarified that we are still instructed to go directly to hell, while not passing ‘Go’ and certainly not collecting 200 pounds or, the beleaguered Catholics themselves who, still trying to come to terms with the Vatican’s flagrant disregard for papal infallibility, opened their papers the following Tuesday to find that Anthony Murphy had been granted an op-ed column in the Irish Times with which to further undermine any good the church may reasonably lay claim to.
Last Wednesday’s homily during which Pope Francis declared “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone,” came as something of a surprise to many, not least Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, who cautiously welcomed the Pope’s comments as ‘quite heartening’.
“‘Father, the atheists?'” Pope Francis continued, “Even the atheists. Everyone”.
“If other religious leaders join him,” Speckhardt later responded, “it could do much to reduce the automatic distrust and discrimination that atheists, humanists and other nontheists so regularly face”.
Indeed, Pope Francis clarified his position further, “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”.
It goes without saying that such generous ecumenical utterances were not as gratefully received within the Holy See. Quick to respond to the allegations that atheists might pollute the waters of heaven with reason and impromptu folk songs, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a spokesperson for the Vatican was quickly dispatched with an “explanatory note on the meaning to ‘salvation'”.
“They cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her”.
Burning in Hell it is then.
Concerned that this message might yet be misconstrued, Catholic bloggers the length and breadth of the Lord’s Kingdom posted articles frantically elucidating what Pope Francis really meant to say for those of us who struggle to comprehend simple sentences.
We are ever grateful to Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, or “Father Z” as he prefers to be known, for clarifying matters. After opening his blog with a salient warning against assuming insight by taking fervorini out of context without being privy to the rest of the delivery, Rev. Zuhlsdorf proceeds to do precisely that and sagely declares,
Francis was clear that whatever graces are offered to atheists (such that they may be saved) are from Christ. He was clear that salvation is only through Christ’s Sacrifice. In other words, he is not suggesting – and I think some are taking it this way – that you can be saved, get to heaven, without Christ.
The austere furnishings of Casa Santa Marta must surely be made infinitely more bearable with the knowledge that Rev. Zuhlsdorf is on hand to interpret the Holy Father’s views ‘in other words‘ (chiefly his own) for those of us seeking further analysis. Unfortunately, I fail to see where Francis indicated so clearly that salvation would come only through Christ’s sacrifice and contrary to what the ‘Rev. Z’ suggests, it would appear to me that Pope Francis was suggesting most markedly that one may be saved through a willingness to do good and without so much as a curtsey in Christ’s direction, hence the rapid response from the Vatican itself.
It seems to have gone without notice that this intervention simultaneously eradicates not only the notion of papal infallibility but also papal supremacy in one fell swoop.
Paragraph 882 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful. For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered”.
Irrespective of the hubristic rebuke from his office, Pope Francis is to be commended for his latest attempt to reach out to secularists, following on as it does from previous homilies urging greater inter-religious cooperation and dialogue with nontheists alike.
With regard to my own salvation, I continue to throw my lot in with Vaclav Havel who considered our salvation to lie “nowhere else but in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility”. Sadly, the power to reflect, meekness and responsibility are attributes the Holy See has shown itself time and again to be entirely incapable of.