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I’m not sure I understand the remarks Pope Francis recently made about Athiests being redeemed as long as they’re good people and do good things. Doesn’t the bible clearly state that only those who believe in Christ have redemption?


There is nothing new in what the Pope said. The Church has always taught that Christ redeemed the whole of humanity through his sacrifice on the Cross. Christ died for all. If you look at theCatechism it says:

“605 At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God’s love excludes no one: “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”410 He affirms that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many”; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us.411 The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: “There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.”412”

If you look at what the Pope said he merely affirmed what is in the Catechism.

Whether or not we accept this gift of our redemption then depends on our own decisions. The Church accepts that those who are not formal members can still acheive salvation, even though it is more difficult without the help of the sacraments and the guidance of Church teaching.

If you look at the last section of paragraph 19 of the Vatican II document Guadium et Spes it says that in some cases the lack of faith can in some cases be due to external factors that make it difficult for some to believe.

“Moreover, atheism results not rarely from a violent protest against the evil in this world, or from the absolute character with which certain human values are unduly invested, and which thereby already accords them the stature of God. Modern civilization itself often complicates the approach to God not for any essential reason but because it is so heavily engrossed in earthly affairs.

Undeniably, those who willfully shut out God from their hearts and try to dodge religious questions are not following the dictates of their consciences, and hence are not free of blame; yet believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation. For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.”

Christ is indeed the only mediator and the Church is the means to salvation, but for those outside the Church salvation is still possible. This was explained in a document published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Jesus. First, it affirms the role of Christ and the Church.

“20. From what has been stated above, some points follow that are necessary for theological reflection as it explores the relationship of the Church and the other religions to salvation.

Above all else, it must be firmly believed that “the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door”.77 This doctrine must not be set against the universal salvific will of God (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); “it is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for this salvation”.78″

Then, it explains how some can be saved even though they are not in the Church.

“For those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, “salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit”;81 it has a relationship with the Church, which “according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit”.82”

The pope didn’t go into much detail, but you need to take into account that his words came during the Gospel reflection at daily mass. He is giving these reflections as part of the mass and they are not formal declarations of Church teaching, with all the footnotes and doctrinal explanations, merely a brief exhortation based on the readings of the day.

Further Reading:

  • Click here for an explanation by Fr. Lombardi about the Pope’s daily homilies.