In comments likely to enhance his progressive reputation, Pope Francis has written a long, open letter to the founder of La Repubblica newspaper, Eugenio Scalfari, stating that non-believers would be forgiven by God if they followed their consciences.
Responding to a list of questions published in the paper by Mr Scalfari, who is not a Roman Catholic, Francis wrote: “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.
In May, however, relaxed remarks during a homily, which appeared to imply that non-believers could be "saved" if they did good, prompted a swift clarification from the Vatican that he meant nothing of the kind.
The pope had had "no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation", it said, adding: "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."
I've got the impression that having Pope Francis doing his thing is, in the eyes of the rest of the Vatican, like herding cats. This isn't the first time he's said something only to have a spokesman jump in and try to distract everyone from it.
Maybe they need to revive the notion of the SUPLEX priest?
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