Recently Pope Francis hinted that dogs go to heaven. The charismatic pope has also given hope to gays, unmarried couples, and advocates of the Big Bang theory. Now, he has endeared even dog lovers, animal-rights activists, and vegans.
One little boy was distraught over the death of his pooch. Pope Francis consoled the boy and told him in a recent public appearance on St. Peter’s Square that “paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
It may be unclear whether the pope’s words helped soothe the child, but they were appreciated and welcomed by groups like the Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who saw them as a rejection of conservative Catholic theology that says animals cannot go to heaven because they have no souls.
“Almost immediately, everybody was talking about it,” said Christine Gutleben, senior director of faith outreach at the Humane Society, the largest animal protection group in the US.
According to Charles Camosy, an author and professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University, it isn’teasy to know what the pope meantexactly, since he spoke “in pastoral language that is not really meant to be dissected by academics.” But when asked if the words had caused a new debate on whether animals have souls, suffer, and go to heaven, Camosy said, “In a word: Absolutely.”
In his relatively short term as the pope, he has repeatedly caused a stir among conservatives in the church. He has given more lenient perspective on issues like homosexuality, single motherhood, unwed couples, and evolution.
The pope has also cited biblical passages that affirm that animals do not only go to heaven, but also get along with one another when they get there. The pope was quoted in the Italian news media saying: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large of America, the Catholic magazine, said he believed that Francis was at least asserting that “God loves and Christ redeems all of creation,” although conservative and purist theologians have said animals are not allowed in paradise.
“He said paradise is open to all creatures,” Martin said. “That sounds pretty clear to me.”
Whether animals go to heaven has been emotionally debated throughout the church’s history. Pope Pius IX, who served from 1846 to 1878, strongly backed the conservative doctrine that dogs and other animals have no consciousness –no souls. He even sought to stop the founding of an Italian chapter of the SPCA.
While Pope John Paul II seemed to disagree, he reversed Pius in 1990 when he said that animals do have souls and are “as near to God as men are.” Unfortunately, the Vatican did not widely publicize his assertion since it directly contradicted Pius, who was the first to declare the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1854.
John Paul II’s successor, Benedict XVI, seemed to insistently reject his view. In a sermon in 2008, he asserted that when an animal dies, it “just means the end of existence on earth.”
According to Gutleben of the Humane Society, Francis’ reversal of Benedict’s view could have a big effect.
“If the pope did mean that all animals go to heaven, then the implication is that animals have a soul,” she said. “And if that’s true, then we ought to seriously consider how we treat them. We have to admit that these are sentient beings, and they mean something to God.”
Laura Hobgood-Oster, professor of religion and environmental studies at Southwestern University and an expert on the history of dog-human interaction, said she believed that there would be recoil from religious conservatives and purists, but that it would take time.
“Historically, the Catholic Church has never been clear on this question; it’s all over the place, because it begs so many other questions,” she said. “Where do mosquitoes go, for God’s sake?”
Source: The Blade