Was Benedict XVI right in declaring that nonbelievers can go to heaven?

Pope Benedict XVI declared
“Whoever seeks peace and the good of the community with a pure conscience, and keeps alive the desire for the transcendent, will be saved even if he lacks biblical faith”

What is the source of the quote?

It was posted on Zenit’s website, so it is extremely reliable for truth.


Benedict XVI, General Audience (Vatican Website)

Let us entrust ourselves to St Augustine for a further meditation on our Psalm. The great Father of the Church introduces a surprising and very timely note: he knows that there are also people among the inhabitants of Babylon who are committed to peace and to the good of the community, although they do not share the biblical faith; the hope of the Eternal City to which we aspire is unknown to them. Within them they have a spark of desire for the unknown, for the greater, for the transcendent: for true redemption.

And Augustine says that even among the persecutors, among the non-believers, there are people who possess this spark, with a sort of faith or hope, as far as is possible for them in the circumstances in which they live. With this faith, even in an unknown reality, they are truly on their way towards the true Jerusalem, towards Christ.

And with this openness of hope, Augustine also warns the “Babylonians” - as he calls them -, those who do not know Christ or even God and yet desire the unknown, the eternal, and he warns us too, not to focus merely on the material things of the present but to persevere on the journey to God. It is also only with this greater hope that we will be able to transform this world in the right way.

It goes to show that Pope Francis hasn’t been saying anything different than what our last Pope has said. Apparently, the secular media didn’t hear it said when it was said before. But, as before, there is still no blanket statement saying that all atheists will go to Heaven. Of course, they can go to Heaven if they seek God with humility. But, how many of today’s atheists do this? And is someone still an atheist if they are humbly seeking God? I agree with post #3 about Zenit’s website being reliable. I don’t consider Zenit to be part of the secular media.

Zenit summed up their thinking on what Benedict meant, but nowhere in the article did they quote him as actually saying that. In other words, this is not a direct quote from Benedict, and when I read what he actually said, it’s not what I take from it.

Can they be saved? Quite possibly. They are on the journey to God…and note that Pope Benedict also indicated they could mess up on that path. Nowhere does he indicate that for certain they will be saved, any more than he would say that Christians would with certainty be saved.

No one knows with certainty who is going to Heaven or who is going to Hell, that includes a Pope. Anything is possible with God, His ways are not our ways. God is a mystery.

This was the journalist’s comment and may not accurately reflect the Holy Father’s words. As well, Benedict XVI was speaking of a tiny segment of non-believers: those who are seeking and open, even if they do not yet believe.

Right. There’s no way he could have been talking about the militant atheists who hate the God they don’t believe in.

Speaking of which, GK Chesterton quipped “Without God, there could be no atheists.”

I’ve noticed even the best Catholic journalists put words in a Pope’s mouth.
Seems to be when the journalist hears what he wants to hear.
Kind of like when John Paul ll said “animals have souls” many journalists
interpreted that to mean the Church views eating meat as a sin. That
Christ intended everyone to be vegetarians. I have difficulty with that
thought because Jesus was like us in all things except sin and he was
known to enjoy a good lamb dinner and was a champion fisherman.

Well said. :thumbsup:

Do you think he was alluding to those who might be invincibly ignorant and live a good life?

It appears so, Thistle.

I don’t see how you can know that. The God they don’t believe in is pretty clearly a false idol, as is evident from the way they describe Him. It would say something very bad indeed about their spiritual state if they believed in such a god.

I don’t think it’s possible to say of anyone with certainty that they are going to hell. It’s certainly very bad for our own souls to indulge in such speculation. That doesn’t mean that we stop believing that truth matters desperately. Turning away from Truth is always deadly to the soul.


I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around what the popes mean when they say a non believer can get to heaven (catholicvote.org/atheists-can-go-to-heaven-did-pope-francis-say-something-new/) .

What I’m having trouble with is how a self described atheist can get to heaven? Even if all the “ifs” stated above are fulfilled, anyone who vocalizes and professes to be an atheist has denied their conscience and has denied God. And aren’t self described atheists blasphemizing the Holy Spirit (unforgivable sin) because they don’t believe in the forgiveness of sins?

Why should I suffer all the ridicule of being a Jesus/God defender if it’s not a strict requirement to believe in him after being exposed to him? I left the Protestant churches because I felt sola fide was a perpetual balancing act similar to a pogo stick, where as Catholics were teaching salvation to be like a three legged stool that balances perfectly with no effort. Each leg being,1) communion with Christ through the Eucharist, 2) good works for the poor and/or weak 3) admitting of sins. Without number 1, 2 and 3 are relative.

How should I feel about the popes comments? Are him and I in agreement and I’m just not understanding his words? Or is the seat of St. Peter denying Jesus once more, in favor of being acceptable to others, like he did to Jesus three times before.

FYI, I love and pray for the Pope so don’t think I’m trying deny his infallibility.

Some people’s faith is more implicit in nature, shown by their deeds more than their words (James 2 comes to mind here)-and the Good Samaritan might be a good example.

Maybe this is best clarified through examples.

First, not everyone who professes to be an atheist has denied their conscience and God. Remember that faith is a gift from God. It is not a law written in our hearts.

For an example of someone who might be saved (and note, the Church doesn’t say that atheists will definitely be saved), my sister is an atheist. But she wants to believe in God. She’s just having difficulty believing. Yet I don’t know anybody, including my Christian friends (and myself) who tries so hard to make sure the things she is doing are morally right. And she is so filled with love. To me, she appears filled with God, but she just doesn’t realize it.

So what happens to someone like her? We just don’t know. My guess would be that in the end she will given that gift of faith. Maybe it will be in the last moments of life, who knows? I only know that when you read the fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians, she has them. She must be full of God. So God will not abandon her. (This is quite different from those who deny God out of pride or even vindictiveness.)

Then you said this:

“Why should I suffer all the ridicule of being a Jesus/God defender if it’s not a strict requirement to believe in him after being exposed to him?”

You would be willing to suffer for Him because you know He exists, so you cannot deny Him, and because you know His great love for you, and you love Him. You can’t deny Him once you love Him. And don’t forget; your faith is a gift from Him.

The Church is basically saying that we have trust in God’s mercy, and that we can’t point our fingers at any one person and say that person is going to hell. We don’t know the state of any person’s soul in their last seconds, and we know that God loves us with such a great love that He gives us every opportunity, even in our last seconds, to belong to Him.

I believe that non-believers cannot go to Heaven. In Romans 1, Paul talks about how we have all seen God through his invisible qualities. Thus, we have no excuse for non-belief. If someone knows there must be a God somewhere and worships that God as best they can, but never hears the gospel, I believe God will measure the intents of their heart. However, anyone who has heard the gospel in any form and does not believe cannot go to heaven. Acts states, “Whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will be save, he and his household.” Elsewhere, we read that “We were dead in our sins and transgressions.” Without accepting the atoning sacrifice of Christ, it is impossible to enter heaven because we have earned hell with our sin. Thank God for his infinite mercy to us that we are able to reach heaven! Without him, we would be doomed.

I am guessing you have never known anybody who strongly desires belief, but does not believe. They do exist. I would be very surprised if God did not show them mercy. It might be that He shows Himself to them in their last seconds of life so that they can believe…I don’t know if He does or not…but God is merciful.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.