Pope Francis said on Wednesday during his morning Mass in his residence that atheists can go to heaven, adding that they should be seen as good people as long as they do good. His comments would appear to be consistent with the pope's past gestures toward people of other faiths.
"This 'closing off' that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God," said the pope. "And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy."
The first Latin American pontiff went on to say that nonbelievers should "just do good and we'll find a meeting point" in a hypothetical conversation in which Francis imagined someone who told a priest that they were an atheist.
"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord," he said, "and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart, do good and do not do evil. All of us. 'But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.' Yes, he can... The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone!"
It is not the first indication of the pope's tolerance for schools of religious thought differing from those of the Catholic Church. Since the mid-1990s, the pope has been close friends with the Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who he met during a celebration of Argentine independence at a Buenos Aires cathedral. The two are so close that Rabbi Skorka wrote the prologue to El Jesuita, a book of interviews with the then-Cardinal published in 2010; this month, a UK publishing house will release another book of interviews between the two religious figures. And on the evening before his inauguration as pope in March, Francis called his old friend in Buenos Aires and told him, "They trapped me here in Rome and won't let me come home."