journalistic standards in limbo

By Diogenes (articles ) | Oct 04, 2006

The London Times online is reporting that the Pope will soon abolish Limbo.

The Times regularly botches stories about the Vatican, but this report from Ruth Gledhill and Richard Owen reaches new heights of inventive absurdity. Take a look at the lead sentence:

The Pope will cast aside centuries of Catholic belief later this week by abolishing formally the concept of limbo, in a gesture calculated to help to win the souls of millions of babies in the developing world for Christ.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. The concept of Limbo has never been defined in Catholic doctrine. The Pope is not going to abolish the concept. And even if he did, a "gesture" wouldn't win souls.

For the Church, looking to spread the faith in countries with a high infant mortality rate, now is a good time to make it absolutely clear that stillborn babies of Christian mothers go direct to Heaven, too.

Well, yes; it would be convenient to say that-- if it's true. But the Church (unlike, say, the Times) is averse to announcing things that are not true.

This week, the International Theological Commission is discussing the fate of unbaptized babies. That is the slim foundation of reality on which the Times builds its speculative skyscraper.

The commission is not an authoritative body; its discussions are not binding. Maybe the theologians will propose some new ways of thinking about the eternal fate of those who die blameless but unbaptized. Then again, maybe not. In any case, the commission's conclusions-- if indeed it reaches any definite conclusions-- will be purely advisory.

But the Times, unwilling to let reality get in the way of a sensational headline, announces with absolute certainty that the Commission has decided to abolish Limbo. What's more,

The commission’s conclusions will be approved formally by the Pope on Friday.

That won't happen. But don't expect a correction in the Times.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How do you "abolish" a concept? If you can think of it, doesn't the concept still exist?
  • Why isn't it possible to abolish coverage of the Vatican by the London Times?

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  • Posted by: Cassandra - Oct. 16, 2006 11:51 AM ET USA

    It seems that the discussion on Limbo shows that our Intelligence of God and His ways only goes so far.A good way to start is to consider that God is Love. And it is this consideration that gives me the courage to enter such a discussion... Cassandra

  • Posted by: - Oct. 09, 2006 12:22 PM ET USA

    jbrown629 - agreed. You misunderstand me. I am not talking about the dead. I refer to the last instance of life when all hope of human evangelization has passed. Someone who has never heard of Christ (over 1B now living) cannot be expected to be baptized. Yet we know the Old Testament prophets and unbaptised martyrs are in Heaven. You can work the vineyard all your life or begin at midday as an adult. I say that Mary does the hiring in the final hour as the last breath exhales.

  • Posted by: Italiana - Oct. 07, 2006 9:16 AM ET USA

    Once again, for aborted babies, would not Baptism of Blood apply? They are being martyred by the Culture of Death.

  • Posted by: jbrown629 - Oct. 06, 2006 4:37 PM ET USA

    Esalkin-again, they are neither damned for our "failures" nor saved by their innocence from personal sin. If they die, and by that is meant the soul separates form the body definitively, without being regenerated to the divine life of grace, they cannot have the Beatific Vision. This is the essence of man's fall-that he must be remade to enjoy the intimate friendship with God that Adam enjoyed in Eden, and to achieve the ultimate end which is perfect communion with God.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 06, 2006 3:18 PM ET USA

    jbrown629: I agree that it is God's grace that redeems and that judgement occurs AT the moment of death. We are the "normal" instruments of God's Grace but we are still only human. Even in a nuclear explosion a body dies one cell at a time. At some point the body is still "alive" but irrecoverably dying. That is the point of which I speak. "Living water" is the "normal" means of removing Original Sin. "Baptism of Desire" is also within God's Grace and a Dogma.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 05, 2006 5:18 PM ET USA

    One reads the reporting of Ruth Gledhill with the suspicion that the Times is playing a wicked joke on the church, since Gledhill obviously knows nothing about Catholicism and is vague on religion in general. Theological concepts? Without Spellcheck she'd write it as "thiologicol."

  • Posted by: jbrown629 - Oct. 05, 2006 1:08 PM ET USA

    Esalkin-it is not OUR efforts, but God's grace through us, and He acts independent of us. Furthermore, there are only two states of living for humans: dead and alive, no in between. Judgment occurs immediately at death, as defined by dogma. Those in original sin cannot enter the Beatific Vision -why did the Son die on the Cross if that sin wasn't applicable to each and every person? And why did He institute Baptism and the Sacraments if salvation were as easy as you posit.

  • Posted by: Sterling - Oct. 05, 2006 12:21 PM ET USA

    J Brown is correct. The Catechism teaches us we can "only hope" for God's mercy in these cases. It continues, "it is all the more urgent" to baptize children without delay. There's no certitude of Heaven, though we may hope for it. Still, liturgists delay baptism because, for instance, they ordain that only 3 may be baptized at once, and then, they do baptisms at mass only once a month. "It's supposed to be beautiful!" one gushed to me. How "beautiful" is it to risk losing a soul?

  • Posted by: - Oct. 05, 2006 11:27 AM ET USA

    An alternative answer? There is a moment between seconds after the last heart beat between life and death when one is neither dead nor alive and both yet dead and alive. For those whom we have failed to evangelize this is their "hour." (Matthew 20:1-16) There stands a Lady with a smile more radiant that the stars in the sky. She turns to the soul and says, "Let me introduce you to my Son..."

  • Posted by: - Oct. 05, 2006 11:13 AM ET USA

    It is our duty to "go and teach..baptise..." A job to which we have, arguably, failed miserably. We will have to kneel (not stand) before God and answer for every time we let a "little one" go astray. That said; what becomes of those which we have failed? Should they be condemned because we have failed? Have they inherited the "sin" of our failures as well at those of Adam? Would a just God allow our incompetence to send one of his creations to everlasting suffering?

  • Posted by: - Oct. 05, 2006 8:21 AM ET USA

    Sounds like the Commission set up to advise Paul VI on Contraception. We know where that went. AMDG

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Oct. 05, 2006 7:34 AM ET USA

    For a strong defense of limbo see: Ignacio E.M. ANDEREGGEN: Conciencia y libertad frente al cielo y all infierno. XXXI Semana Tomista Sociedad Tomista de Argentina. Fr. Andereggen is a professor at both the Catholic University of Argentina and the Gregorian University in Rome.

  • Posted by: MM - Oct. 05, 2006 6:04 AM ET USA

    The story's decoded headline reads: "THE CHURCH HAS CHANGED - all that stuff about doctrinal and moral absolutes is malleable nonsense" ...the media (and others) always pounce on any story that shows the slightest potential for splashing that headline across the pages, one more time. As you've often pointed out, Diogenes, they just hate the Church's claim to possess the full, objective, unadulterated Truth.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 04, 2006 6:03 PM ET USA

    Church doctrine on Original Sin and salvation is clearly defined. Limbo is just a convenient word, but the theological concept of a third place where souls will rest is indeed part of Church teaching. No one knows what exactly that third place is (maybe a permanent condition, or maybe fleeting), but we presume that it exists since we know that no one with the stain of Original Sin may attain salvation. Just because the concept of Limbo isn’t defined, doesn’t mean that it is to be discounted.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 04, 2006 4:45 PM ET USA

    All apologies by the London Times, if any, go immediately to Limbo.

  • Posted by: jbrown629 - Oct. 04, 2006 4:10 PM ET USA

    It is not a concept, but a commonly held belief among many Catholic theologians since the later Middle Ages. Prior to this, theologians generally were either silent, or else specifically stated that such souls cannot achieve even true natural happiness. No council, Father, Doctor or Pope has ever taught that the salvation of unbaptised infants should be presumed, rather that it should be presumed that Original Sin leaves them in an very bad position, with no REVEALED means of salvation.