The boy, Emanuele, stepped up to the microphone during a Q&A session but had trouble getting his question out. The Pope told him to come whisper it in his ear, which the boy did, and the situation was later shared with the audience (with the child’s permission):
He revealed that Emanuele was crying for his father, who had recently died. The boy told the pontiff that his dad was an atheist, but a good man who had all four of his children baptized.
“Is Dad in heaven?’” the boy asked the pope.
Your heart has to go out to that poor child, and the pope said what you’d expect the Catholic leader to say: He told the audience that anyone who gave birth to a child like that, one who has the “courage to cry in front of all of us,” must have been a good man. The Pope added that he must have had a good heart, too, since he baptized his children.
But what about Heaven? That answer generated a lot of positive headlines but deserves closer inspection:
“What do you think? A father’s heart. God has a dad’s heart. And with a dad who was not a believer, but who baptized his children and gave them that bravura, do you think God would be able to leave him far from himself?”
“Does God abandon his children?” the pope asked. “Does God abandon his children when they are good?”
The children shouted, “No.”
“There, Emanuele, that is the answer,” the pope told the boy. “God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier as a believer to baptize your children than to baptize them when you are not a believer. Surely this pleased God very much.“
That’s a beautiful response… and a complete dodge of Catholic teachings.
Catholics believe you must accept Christ’s divinity in order to get to Heaven. The Catechism also says the window of Heaven is also open to those “who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart.”
What about atheists who are aware of Catholic teachings but still reject them? What about people like the boy’s father, who may live in a culturally Catholic society but who has no use for irrational dogma?
It doesn’t matter if you went through the ritual of baptizing your kids (and we have no idea why Emanuele’s father did that). It doesn’t matter if you were a good person. If you actively rejected the Church’s teachings, Catholics say you’re not in Heaven.
Barring a deathbed conversion — the sort of thing that only ever exists in the minds of religious apologists — the boy’s father, according to the Catholic faith, is now in Hell. That’s why the kid was freaking out in the first place; ever since his father died, he’s been under the assumption daddy’s getting tortured. That’s what Catholicism did to him.
What Pope Francis did, then, was protect a child from the actual teachings of the Catholic faith.
So call it beautiful. Call it heartwarming. But don’t forget to also call it dishonest.
The boy’s father isn’t in Heaven. But here’s the good news: He’s not in Hell, either. However, if the kid grows up to be a kind, decent person — the sort of man his father apparently was — that’s a way of letting his legacy live on. In that way, his father is never truly gone.
The Pope could’ve said something like that without being a hypocrite and without really answering the question. Instead, he offered a platitude that may have sounded nice on paper but isn’t even accurate by his own religious rules.
(Thanks to Loren for the link)