Copyright © 2007 Ottawa Citizen
ROME – Limbo has been in limbo for quite some time, but is now on its way to extinction.
The Vatican’s International Theological Commission, which spent years examining the medieval concept, yesterday published a much-anticipated report concluding that unbaptized babies who die may go to heaven. The commission issued its findings — with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI — in a document published by the Catholic News Service, the news agency of the U.S. Bishops Conference.
The move reverses centuries of Roman Catholic traditional belief that the souls of unbaptized babies are condemned to eternity in limbo, a place that is neither heaven nor hell. Limbo is not unpleasant, but it is not a seat alongside God.
Limbo, the commission said, “reflects an unduly restrictive view of salvation.”
“Our conclusion,” the commission said in its 41-page report, is that there are “serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and brought into eternal happiness.”
The commission added that while this is not “sure knowledge,” it comes in the context of a loving and just God who “wants all human beings to be saved.”
A church decision to abolish limbo has long been expected. Benedict and his predecessor, the late pope John Paul II, expressed misgivings about the concept. Benedict, when he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and the church’s top enforcer of dogma, said he viewed limbo as a mere “theological hypothesis.” Never part of formal doctrine because it does not appear in Scripture, limbo was removed from the Catholic Catechism 15 years ago.
From the Latin “limbus,” for hem or edge, limbo refers to a “state of natural happiness” outside heaven, a destination for the souls of babies who were not baptized and certain virtuous people, such as faithful Jews who lived before the time of Christ.
Catholic conservatives criticized any effort to relegate limbo to oblivion.
Removing the concept from church teaching would lessen the importance of baptism and discourage parents from christening their infants, said Kenneth J. Wolfe, a Washington-based columnist for the traditionalist Catholic newspaper The Remnant.
“It makes baptism a formality, a party, instead of a necessity,” Mr. Wolfe said. “There would be no reason for infant baptisms. It would put the Catholic Church on par with the Protestants.”
It would also deprive Catholic leaders of a tool in their fight against abortion, Mr. Wolfe said. Priests have long told women that their aborted fetuses cannot go to heaven, which in theory was another argument against ending pregnancy. Without limbo, those fetuses would presumably no longer be denied communion with God.
[…because a fetus would surely want to commune! I love this line.]