Media Claims Pope Gave Atheists Pass into Heaven

Outlets misunderstand Catholic doctrine.

Pope Francis made waves on Wednesday when he said that atheists can do good; but some media headlines jumped on the chance to portray the new pontiff as bucking Church teaching. 

Preaching on Christ’s words that “Whoever is not against us is for us,” Pope Francis emphasized that Christ died to redeem all men, “even atheists,” and insisted we can’t assume non-believers cannot do good.  Such people can do good, he said, and “must,” because of “this commandment at heart: do good and avoid evil.”

 In fact, it seems Francis wasn’t going to let atheists off the hook if they failed to do good just because they don’t believe in God: “We must meet one another doing good,” he said, and answered the hypothetical question, “But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’” with the emphatic reply: “But do good: we will meet one another there.” His words were consistent with Church teaching that God offers redemption to all and each individual must choose to accept it.

Of course, that’s not how some media outlets saw it. Judging by the headlines, one would think the Pope just cut 2,000 years of Catholic doctrine out of the books. The Huffington Post announced Francis had declared atheists “redeemed,“ and claimed the Pope’s homily “rocked some religious and atheist minds today.”  Salon’s took it a step further, saying that Francis thought “Atheists Are Alright,” telling atheists that the Pope is “on their side” and “that’s a cool thing for all of us.” MsnNOW headlines read that “Pope Lets Atheists Off The Hook” and that the “big guy in the sky” is really “ok with everybody.” The Gawker joined the crowd and declared: “Pope Says Atheists Are A-Ok By God.”

But that wasn’t the worst of it.  Bill Press on Al-Jazeera’s Current-TV mocked the Pope’s words. “Pope Francis said, anybody can go to heaven--even atheists!” he laughed, “Well, then, what’s the point?” Press claimed that the Pope’s words got rid of “all the ‘tra la la’ of going to church and doing the ceremonies and giving money to the church.”  

No matter to the media, of course, that Pope Francis basically repeated Church doctrine--that God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4)--and what Jesus Christ said in the Gospel for the Wednesday Mass--that “whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40), so if an atheist is doing good deeds he shouldn’t be shunned.  

Then again, it’s pretty typical for the media to misunderstand the pope. After all, they’ve never been fans of fact-checking their comprehension of Catholicism, so why should that stop them now?