Viral internet rumor scotched by Vatican

A couple of days ago, USA Today and dozens of other outlets carried the story of Pope Francis consoling a little boy whose dog died by telling him that dogs go to heaven too.

Pope Francis continues to show he's anything but traditional. During a recent public appearance, Francis comforted a boy whose dog had died, noting, "One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God's creatures."

Theologians say Francis — who took his papal name from the patron saint of animals, St. Francis of Assisi — was only speaking conversationally.

But the remark is being seen by some as a reversal of conservative Catholic theology that states because they are soulless, animals can't go to heaven, The New York Times reports.

In 1990, Pope John Paul II said animals have souls, but his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, gave a 2008 sermon that seemed to say the opposite.

Francis' comment has now sparked a new debate on the subject, and the Humane Society says it has been flooded with e-mails. If Francis does, in fact, believe animals have souls, "then we ought to seriously consider how we treat them," a rep says. "We have to admit that these are sentient beings, and they mean something to God."

As it turns out, this was an internet rumor. A previous pope, Paul VI, was the pontiff who answered the young boy's question about the destination of his dog after its death. How the mix up occurred so that even the New York Times carried the story on its front page shows the power of the internet for both good and bad.

But what about the sentiment itself? Are animals eligible for heaven? Doctrinaire Catholics say no but individual popes have allowed the possibility of animals joining humans in heaven.

The Daily Beast:

Francis’s vision for the church is certainly all-embracing—he’s willing to baptize aliens, after all—but can animals be baptized? Can they make the requisite professions of faith, be recipients of divine grace, and perform (don’t shout at me, Protestants) good works that glorify God? And if they can’t and don’t have to, isn’t that a little unfair? A number of clearly partisan studies have suggested that cats are unfeeling and sociopathic. Are sociopathic animals in while sociopathic people burn in hell?

Certainly, when it comes to the theological community, Francis is in the minority. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does make some fairly ambiguous provisos for the fate of animals in general, but these aren’t clearly distinguished from the expectations of rocks. In 2008 then Pope Benedict XVI stated quite pointedly that animals are “not called to the eternal life.” He stated—quite rightly—that animals are never mentioned in connection with eternal life in the Bible. It’s true that Noah took animals onto the ark twosies by twosies in Genesis, but it’s also true that he sacrificed a whole bunch of them once he hit dry land (if you’re wondering if this is how the dinosaurs died out, the answer is no).

The eighth-century Biblical prophet Isaiah famously described an idyllic time in the future when the “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat.” But even if heaven isn’t one big snuggle fest, attitudes to non-human animals in Christianity deserve some attention.

In an interview given before he became Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger stated, “Degrading … living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.” The mutual relationship of animals and human beings is something Catholic theologians worry about more and more.

One Catholic ethicist poiints out that our treatment of animals “is not dependent on whether [animals] go to heaven… but I think they do.”

I've always believed that the one of the few valid points made by animal rights activists is in the way we raise and slaughter our livestock. For tens of millions of chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cattle, their lives are a living hell. Animals may not be self aware, but they feel pain and suffering. We all try not to think about it - and I have no idea what to do that would alleviate their suffering  while still giving us meat we can afford - but if civilization is partly defined by how we treat the least and most helpless among us, something should be done about the conditions in which our feed animals are raised and killed.

A couple of days ago, USA Today and dozens of other outlets carried the story of Pope Francis consoling a little boy whose dog died by telling him that dogs go to heaven too.

Pope Francis continues to show he's anything but traditional. During a recent public appearance, Francis comforted a boy whose dog had died, noting, "One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God's creatures."

Theologians say Francis — who took his papal name from the patron saint of animals, St. Francis of Assisi — was only speaking conversationally.

But the remark is being seen by some as a reversal of conservative Catholic theology that states because they are soulless, animals can't go to heaven, The New York Times reports.

In 1990, Pope John Paul II said animals have souls, but his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, gave a 2008 sermon that seemed to say the opposite.

Francis' comment has now sparked a new debate on the subject, and the Humane Society says it has been flooded with e-mails. If Francis does, in fact, believe animals have souls, "then we ought to seriously consider how we treat them," a rep says. "We have to admit that these are sentient beings, and they mean something to God."

As it turns out, this was an internet rumor. A previous pope, Paul VI, was the pontiff who answered the young boy's question about the destination of his dog after its death. How the mix up occurred so that even the New York Times carried the story on its front page shows the power of the internet for both good and bad.

But what about the sentiment itself? Are animals eligible for heaven? Doctrinaire Catholics say no but individual popes have allowed the possibility of animals joining humans in heaven.

The Daily Beast:

Francis’s vision for the church is certainly all-embracing—he’s willing to baptize aliens, after all—but can animals be baptized? Can they make the requisite professions of faith, be recipients of divine grace, and perform (don’t shout at me, Protestants) good works that glorify God? And if they can’t and don’t have to, isn’t that a little unfair? A number of clearly partisan studies have suggested that cats are unfeeling and sociopathic. Are sociopathic animals in while sociopathic people burn in hell?

Certainly, when it comes to the theological community, Francis is in the minority. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does make some fairly ambiguous provisos for the fate of animals in general, but these aren’t clearly distinguished from the expectations of rocks. In 2008 then Pope Benedict XVI stated quite pointedly that animals are “not called to the eternal life.” He stated—quite rightly—that animals are never mentioned in connection with eternal life in the Bible. It’s true that Noah took animals onto the ark twosies by twosies in Genesis, but it’s also true that he sacrificed a whole bunch of them once he hit dry land (if you’re wondering if this is how the dinosaurs died out, the answer is no).

The eighth-century Biblical prophet Isaiah famously described an idyllic time in the future when the “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat.” But even if heaven isn’t one big snuggle fest, attitudes to non-human animals in Christianity deserve some attention.

In an interview given before he became Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger stated, “Degrading … living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.” The mutual relationship of animals and human beings is something Catholic theologians worry about more and more.

One Catholic ethicist poiints out that our treatment of animals “is not dependent on whether [animals] go to heaven… but I think they do.”

I've always believed that the one of the few valid points made by animal rights activists is in the way we raise and slaughter our livestock. For tens of millions of chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cattle, their lives are a living hell. Animals may not be self aware, but they feel pain and suffering. We all try not to think about it - and I have no idea what to do that would alleviate their suffering  while still giving us meat we can afford - but if civilization is partly defined by how we treat the least and most helpless among us, something should be done about the conditions in which our feed animals are raised and killed.