… in a letter to Eugenio Scalfari, founder of La Repubblica newspaper, Pope Francis said that non-believers are not excluded from heaven as long as they listen to 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.
“Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”
This is something that Francis has said before that seems to go against long-standing Catholic belief that atheism is a sin.
For those who are atheists, this statement does not matter in the least. But we should not be too quick to pour scorn on it and discount its importance. Those who take the idea of god and heaven seriously often worry about their loved ones’ who do not share their faith, that they will not enter heaven. The sentiment expressed by Francis may well come as a relief to them and serve to ease their anxiety and stop their efforts at conversion. For example, Charles Darwin’s wife Emma worried a lot about the fact that he was a non-believer and that therefore he would not be able to be with her in heaven. Darwin was aware of her anguish and it pained him greatly that he could do nothing about it.
But the orthodox are not going to be at all happy with this further sign of Francis’s capitulation to inclusivity and are likely to attack him for it. After all, such people like certainty while consciences are variable. What does one do when the consciences of people differ as to what is right?