The news networks are abuzz with stories saying that Pope Francis has said pets go to heaven.
They’ve even “helpfully” noted how this contrasts with the position of his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
But the thing is . . . the whole story is false.
Here are 7 things to know and share . . .
1) What is being claimed?
Among other things:
Pope Francis has declared that all animals go to heaven during his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square.
The Pope made these remarks after he received two donkeys as early Christmas presents. During his discussion, Pope Francis quoted the apostle Paul as he comforted a child who was mourning the death of his dog.
Francis quoted Paul’s remarks as, “One day we will see our animals again in eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all God’s creatures.” [Source.]
In his weekly audience in St Peter’s Francis quoted the apostle Paul who comforted a child who was crying after his dog died.
“One day we will see our animals again in eternity of Christ’, Francis quoted Paul as saying. The Pope added: “Paradise is open to all God’s creatures.” [Source.]
Right there we have multiple reasons to be suspicious of the story.
2) Why do we have reason to be suspicious?
First, because the common theological opinion for centuries has been that the souls of animals do not survive death.
Second, because this is just the kind of sensationalistic story that the media loves to get wrong.
Third because we have the same words being attributed to two different events: The Wednesday audience at which the remarks were allegedly made occurred on November 26, but the donkey-giving event occurred later.
Fourth, because the Apostle Paul never wrote anything comforting a child who was morning the death of his dog.
Anybody who has read his epistles knows this.
In fact, just do an online search of St. Paul’s epistles, and you’ll see what I mean.
There is only a single passage (Philippians 3:2) where St. Paul refers to dogs, and there he isn’t comforting a boy. He’s using the term as a way of referring to people who do bad stuff.
Fifth, St. Paul certainly never wrote that “One day we will see our animals again in eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all God’s creatures.”
That’s just not in the New Testament. Anywhere.
3) Do the reasons for suspicion deepen if you look further into the story?
You bet. While many secular news agencies are carrying this story, you know who isn’t?
You might even find a story denying this if they get around to posting a denial for the benefit of the world press.
You can also read the entire text of the Wednesday audience where Pope Francis allegedly made the remarks. He doesn’t say anything like what is attributed to him.
And, if that’s not enough, you can watch the video of the entire papal audience, including the stuff before and after it, like where he’s riding around St. Peter’s Square in the popemobile, and you can see for yourself that at no point does Francis make such remarks—nor is a crying child ever brought to him for words of comfort.
4) What did Francis actually say?
Pope Francis’s audience was devoted to the subject of creation and the new heaven and earth. What he said was:
At the same time, Sacred Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this marvelous plan cannot but involve everything that surrounds us and came from the heart and mind of God.
The Apostle Paul says it explicitly, when he says that “Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21).
Other texts utilize the image of a “new heaven” and a “new earth” (cf. 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1), in the sense that the whole universe will be renewed and will be freed once and for all from every trace of evil and from death itself.
What lies ahead is the fulfillment of a transformation that in reality is already happening, beginning with the death and resurrection of Christ.
Hence, it is the new creation; it is not, therefore, the annihilation of the cosmos and of everything around us, but the bringing of all things into the fullness of being, of truth and of beauty.
This is the design that God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, willed from eternity to realize and is realizing.
5) Where did the stuff about animals going to heaven come from?
That was an interpretation that put upon Francis’s remarks by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, which then got garbled in translation and picked up by the international news media.
The New York Times, after writing a gushy, slanted, and inaccurate story on the topic, subsequently issued this correction:
Correction: December 12, 2014
An earlier version of this article misstated the circumstances of Pope Francis’ remarks.
He made them in a general audience at the Vatican, not in consoling a distraught boy whose dog had died.
The article also misstated what Francis is known to have said.
According to Vatican Radio, Francis said: “The Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us,” which was interpreted to mean he believes animals go to heaven.
Francis is not known to have said: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
(Those remarks were once made by Pope Paul VI to a distraught child, and were cited in a Corriere della Sera article that concluded Francis believes animals go to heaven.)
Francis didn’t say anything to a grieving boy. Neither did the apostle Paul. It was (allegedly) Pope Paul VI.
Francis didn’t say that animals go to heaven. Corriere della Sera leapt to unjustifiable conclusions because Pope Francis said that God has a plan to renovate the world.
6) So this is another sensationalistic story about Pope Francis with no basis?
Yes. This is another case of the media getting the story utterly wrong and hyperventilating about Pope Francis for no reason.
The media is functioning as a vast echo chamber where reporters who don’t know beans are simply repeating what other reporters who don’t know beans have said.
The reasons for suspicion that I cited in point #2 (above)—and particularly the thing about the apostle Paul comforting a boy who’s dog had died—should have told any knowledgeable reporter that something was wrong with the story.
They then should have done just what I did and discovered the problems mentioned in point #3.
Memo to reporters: This isn’t a matter of rocket science. It’s a matter of checking your sources before shooting off your mouth.
7) Did Pope Paul VI say to a bereaved boy what is attributed to him?
If you search the Vatican web site for the relevant quote, you get nothing.
At this point, I don’t see why anyone should trust anything attributed to a pope about animals going to heaven—not without a solid reference to a checkable, primary source document.
As we’ve just seen, the dangers of getting bad info by relying on the papal rumor mill are too great.
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