Looking into the Pope's heart

limboReligion reporter Ruth Gledhill of The Times (U.K.) has a notable wit and attitude that she brings to her job and her blog. That snappy style didn't serve her so well in a story about the Roman Catholic concept of limbo. Amy Welborn wants to nominate the headline alone as the worst ever:

Pope tries to win hearts and minds by saving souls of unbaptised babies

The Pope hasn't stated any such motivations and I doubt highly that Gledhill, her coauthor Richard Owen, or the unidentified headline writer have secret knowledge of same. The headline is indefensible. Gledhill and Owen try to support the claim, however, in their opening graphs:

The Pope will cast aside centuries of Catholic belief later this week by abolishing formally the concept of limbo, in a gesture calculated to help to win the souls of millions of babies in the developing world for Christ.

All the evidence suggests that Benedict XVI never believed in the idea anyway. But in the fertile evangelisation zones of Africa and Asia, the Pope -- an acknowledged authority on all things Islamic -- is only too aware that Muslims believe the souls of stillborn babies go straight to Heaven. For the Church, looking to spread the faith in countries with a high infant mortality rate, now is a good time to make it absolutely clear that stillborn babies of Christian mothers go direct to Heaven, too.

Oh calm down, Times writers. They later concede that the belief was never a formal doctrine, but after using words like "cast aside" and "abolishing" that imply otherwise. And again they characterize the motivations of the church as calculating. Reporters should consider incentives and motivations to help them get to the bottom of the story, but they shouldn't speculate publicly on them without proof.

This week a 30-strong Vatican international commission of theologians, which has been examining limbo, began its final deliberations. Vatican sources said it had concluded that all children who die do so in the expectation of "the universal salvation of God" and the "mediation of Christ", whether baptised or not.

The theologians' finding is that God wishes all souls to be saved, and that the souls of unbaptised children are entrusted to a "merciful God" whose ways of ensuring salvation cannot be known. "In effect, this means that all children who die go to Heaven," one source said.

The commission's conclusions will be approved formally by the Pope on Friday.

Oh really? I'm no John Allen Jr., but something tells me that it's usually a bad idea to say that something in the Vatican will definitely happen -- even if the consensus supports the conclusions. The International Theological Commission has been working on this and other issues for a while. But it has drafted documents before that weren't approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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