Unbaptised children out of limbo, Benedict rules
In a long-awaited document published on Friday, the Vatican says that the traditional view of limbo as the destiny of those who die unbaptised is based on an "unduly restrictive view of salvation" and that God "wants all human beings to be saved".
The result is that, with the approval of Pope Benedict, the Vatican's International Theological Commission has effectively buried the concept of limbo, the International Herald Tribune reports.
The thumbs-down verdict on limbo had been expected for years and the document, called "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised," was seen as most likely to be final since limbo was never formally part of Church doctrine.
According to the Catholic News Service report, the 41-page document says the theologians advising the Pope concluded that since God is merciful he "wants all human beings to be saved."
It says grace has priority over sin, and the exclusion of innocent babies from heaven does not seem to reflect Christ's special love for children, Catholic News Service, which is owned by the US Catholic Bishops Conference, quoted the document as saying.
Limbo, which comes from the Latin word meaning "border" or "edge," was considered by medieval theologians to be a state or place reserved for the unbaptised dead, including good people who lived before the coming of Christ.
"Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered ... give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptised infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision (of God)," the document said, according to Catholic News Service which is part of the US Catholic Bishops Conference.
The Church teaches that baptism removes original sin which stained all souls since the fall from grace in the Garden of Eden.
The Commission has been working on the document for some time and members have said in the past that it would recommend that the concept of limbo be scrapped.
In writings before his election as Pope in 2005, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger made it clear he believed the concept of limbo should be abandoned because it was "only a theological hypothesis" and "never a defined truth of faith."
The Catholic Church's official catechism, issued in 1992 after decades of work, dropped the mention of limbo.
In his Divine Comedy, Dante placed virtuous pagans and great classical philosophers, including Plato and Socrates, in limbo.
Commenting on the document Jesuit Fr Luis Ladaria, who is the Commission's secretary-general, said "we can say we have many reasons to hope that there is salvation for these babies."
Catholic Church buries limbo after centuries (Reuters, 20/4/07)
Vatican reconsiders limbo for unbaptised babies (Irish Examiner, 20/4/07)
Vatican Abolishes Limbo (Sydney Morning Herald, 21/4/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Limbo (Catholic Encyclopaedia 1910)
International Theological Commission
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Reprieve for limbo after theologians meet (CathNews, 9/10/06)
Limbo under threat from Vatican theologians (CathNews, 4/10/06)
Vatican theologians to shine "light of God's mercy" on Limbo conundrum (CathNews, 29/11/04)
23 Apr 2007