Babies in paradise

My family and I were on the train recently when we met a priest of a schismatic group called the Palmarian Catholic Church which follows its own pope in Spain and broke away because of Vatican II and the belief that John Paul II was too liberal. In our conversation, the priest told me that the recent pronouncement from Rome on limbo was the latest example of how the Roman Catholic Church had lost its way. I had not read the pronouncement nor had he.

The question of limbo or more specifically of the fate of infants who die without being baptized is not for me an abstract issue. I often refer to Christian and Rose, two of the three children of Elaine and me, as “our babies in heaven.” Both infants died through miscarriage. I have relatives who were aborted, to the deep regret of the women who made that decision. Through my job in the public policy office for the Catholic Church in Massachusetts, I am familiar with government initiatives promoting research that will lead to the industrial creation and destruction of human embryos.

I finally had the chance to read “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized,” a document released in April by the International Theological Commission, which I will refer to as the ITC. This is a body of theologians appointed to advise the pope and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on various questions in theology. Pope Benedict XVI approved the document for publication in an audience with members of the commission and Archbishop William Levada, the head of the Doctrine of the Faith, last January.

Contrary to reports in the secular media, Rome did not declare as an anathema the belief in the existence of limbo. The new document describes limbo as “a state which includes the souls of infants who die subject to original sin and without baptism and who therefore neither merit the beatific vision [in my words, seeing God face to face] nor yet are subjected to any punishment because they are not guilty of any personal sin.” According to the ITC, limbo “remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis.”

However, the document argues that a belief in the existence of limbo is not a fundamental teaching that commands acceptance. Nor is it the only theological theory that plausibly can address both the fact that embryonic children have not rejected God through personal sin and the fact that nonetheless they are subject to the burden of original sin.

“The Hope of Salvation” surveys the history of Catholic teaching on the destiny of unbaptized infants. The document concludes that we really don’t know nor can we know with any certainty based on Scripture what happens to these children, because revelation does not directly address the topic. Nonetheless, there is a valid basis for the hope that unbaptized children will see God face to face and experience divine love directly.

The ITC recounts the theological developments concerning the role of sacramental baptism in the economy of salvation, whereby it is understood as the “ordinary” but not exclusive means by which God removes original sin. Baptism of blood and of desire are accepted as two other means, though they are not directly analogous to the circumstances involving infants who have yet to develop the capacity to reason. The practice of infant baptism, though too not directly analogous, since baptism is administered, offers yet another avenue for reflection.

The document refers to what the commission describes as the fundamental Christian beliefs that God wills all to be saved, that all humans are related to Christ and His salvific power in some mysterious way, and that God is not limited by the sacraments in the ways that He opens salvation to all. This leads to the observation by the ITC that “[a] major weakness of the traditional view of limbo is that it is unclear whether the souls there have any relationship to Christ.”

In addition, “[w]e wish to stress that humanity’s solidarity with Christ (or, more properly, Christ’s solidarity with all of humanity) must have priority over the solidarity of human beings with Adam and that the question of the destiny of unbaptized infants who die must be addressed in that light.”

This does not mean that the Church and its sacraments are unnecessary. They are, and the ITC offers a careful explanation of how that is. The document then asserts that a theological preference for a theory of infant destiny different from that positing the existence of limbo “should not be taken as qualifying the necessity of baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament.”

Though the ITC does not explain in depth the basis of this continued obligation to “go and baptize,” it makes sense to me that besides its effectiveness in removing original sin, the baptismal sacrament, as an action by and on behalf of the Church, is of critical value to those participating in and witnessing it. The Church urges its celebration not just for the infant’s sake, but for ours.

Reading “The Hope of Salvation” strengthened my own hope that my two deceased children are babies in paradise. The document clarified a troubling issue in a way that will help many others to renew their hope in God’s mercy. It is well worth reading.

Daniel Avila is the Associate Director for Policy & Research of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.

Cardinal beatifies 22-year-old Romanian as 'martyr to chastity'

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A 22-year-old Romanian peasant has taken a step closer to sainthood as a "martyr to chastity," six decades after she was murdered ...

Maryland attorney general will review church records on child sex abuse

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- In a Sept. 24 letter to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop William E. Lori informed priests and deacons that the ...

People helping people is what attracted actor to 'God Friended Me'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Television audiences may recall seeing actor Joe Morton as Eli Rowan Pope, the father of professional Washington fixer Olivia Pope, ...

Pa. bishops support creating fund to compensate survivors of sex abuse

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- The bishops of Pennsylvania's eight Roman Catholic dioceses are supporting creation of an independent fund to compensate survivors ...

CRS sells fair trade coffee, supporting Mexican farmers and land

Baltimore, Md., Sep 24, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Catholic Relief Services is now offering fair trade coffee beans that will benefit local farming communities ...

The Jesuit who survived the KGB

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 24, 2018 CNA.- When Pope Francis visited a former KGB building in Vilnius, Lithuania Sept. 23, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius ...

Next step toward artificial reproduction violates human fundamentals, ethicist warns

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Artificial human reproduction appears to be on the horizon with Japanese scientists’ claim to ...

Update: Scandals create outrage, but there is time for conversion, pope says

TALLINN, Estonia (CNS) -- In what is probably the least religious country in Europe, Pope Francis said he is surprised by how many people hold firm to ...

Catholic leaders oppose administration's plan to limit green cards

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders are speaking out against a Trump administration proposed rule announced Sept. 22 that would deny green cards to legal ...

Head of Georgetown Prep urges renewed commitment to being 'men for others'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a letter to the school community, the president of an all-boys Jesuit high school in suburban Washington emphasized the schools' ...

Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to ...

Stay close to the suffering, forgive one another, pope tells Latvians

AGLONA, Latvia (CNS) -- What would Mary do? was the question Pope Francis, in effect, asked Latvian Catholics gathered at their nation's popular Marian ...

Joy, hope contagious for Encuentro participants as they discern priorities

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Joy, hope, energy and a spirit of continued collaboration are contagious among the participants of the Fifth National Encuentro, ...

Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and ...

God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub ...

Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced. Pope ...

Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to ...

Ospino: Encuentro reflects 'energy, maturity' of a church 'here to stay'

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- The thousands of Hispanic Catholic ministry leaders gathered in Texas for the Fifth National Encuentro shared views on the maturity ...

N.J. cardinal won't attend synod, asks to remain home at 'time of crisis'

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark told the people of his archdiocese Sept. 21 that Pope Francis has granted his request that he ...

Detroit Archdiocese welcomes investigation into Michigan dioceses

DETROIT (CNS) -- Michigan's attorney general has opened an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by clergy in all of Michigan's seven Catholic ...

Catholics believe in God but 'don't believe in us,' Miami archbishop says

MIAMI (CNS) -- The crisis the Catholic Church is facing is not "a crisis of faith" or "mainly about a crisis of sexual abuse by clergy," but is "a crisis ...

Update: Disney animator says grounding in Catholic schools led to success

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Ron Clements is a renowned animator, screenwriter and producer-director of award-winning Disney films, including the blockbuster ...

#WhyImCatholic movement aims to share hope at difficult time for church

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension has launched a new social media campaign called #WhyImCatholic to offer "hope and unity" for Catholics by inviting ...

Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic ...

Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions ...

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...