Pope Francis: Even Atheists Can Be Redeemed : Parallels After the popes comments, headlines proclaimed, "Even Atheists Can Go To Heaven." A Vatican spokesman quickly intervened and said this was not the case. Still, the remarks were in keeping with a pope who is emphasizing inclusiveness and wants to speak to a global audience that reaches far beyond the Catholic Church.
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Pope Francis: Even Atheists Can Be Redeemed

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Pope Francis: Even Atheists Can Be Redeemed

Pope Francis: Even Atheists Can Be Redeemed

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Pope Francis has been in office now for two months, and he has frequently made headlines for remarks that contrast sharply from his predecessors - and even centuries-old Catholic dogma. The latest was a statement last week that all human beings, including atheists, can be redeemed.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us on the line from Rome, to discuss the new pope. Good morning, Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: OK, so tell me about what the pope actually had to say about atheists here.

POGGIOLI: Well, this was in a homily that he delivered in the chapel of the residence where he has decided to live. He recites Mass and delivers a homily there every morning, except Sunday, for Vatican employees and whoever else might be staying at the Domus Santa Marta.

In a passage inspired by the Gospel of Mark, Pope Francis said, "The Lord has redeemed all of us with the Blood of Christ, not just Catholics. Everyone, even the atheists." The pope added, "We must meet one another doing good."

Now, headlines immediately proclaimed, "Even Atheists Can Go To Heaven." But the Vatican intervened. A spokesman said: People who know the Catholic Church cannot be saved if they refuse to enter, or remain in her.

Yes, the Vatican's spin tried to dampen the media hype, but the remarks are still an example of a greater inclusiveness under this pope. Early in his papacy, he said atheists can be precious allies in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples, and in the careful protection of creation. So this is a style of a parish priest who wants dialogue with his flock, and beyond.

GREENE: Yeah, not just an offhand remark. I mean, this was clearly a message that he wanted to send. And this does not sound a lot like Pope Benedict, who left this office several months ago.

POGGIOLI: No, absolutely. Benedict's speeches were heavy on theology and carefully prepared. Francis uses a conversational, down-to-earth tone. And to the dismay of the Vatican press office, he often improvises. He talks about his personal history. He gives homey anecdotes about his mother and grandmother. He even said recently that he sometimes nods off to sleep while praying.

You never heard anything personal from Benedict, who focused on the dangers of the contemporary world. Francis seems to have a more optimistic personality. He loves to mix with the faithful in the huge crowds in St. Peter's Square, and shake hands and kiss babies.

GREENE: This pope has also been talking a lot about economic injustice, about poverty. I mean, is there an anti-capitalist message here as well?

POGGIOLI: Well, he's certainly opposed to what's called laissez-faire capitalism. He has delivered a series of strong statements - "unbridled capitalism has taught us the logic of profit at all costs, of exploitation without regard to persons." He fiercely criticized the cult of money, and said the origin of the global financial crisis was the lack of person-centered ethics in the world of finance and economics. He said if investments in the banks fall a bit, it's a tragedy, but if people die of hunger, they don't have enough eat, well, that doesn't matter.

This is tough language, and it's a signal that these concrete issues - like poverty and globalization - are going to be the focus of his papacy. He's already been dubbed the first global pope, and his focus is far beyond just Europe and the developed world.

GREENE: Well - and Sylvia, what about the concrete issues inside the Vatican itself? I mean, this new pope came in at a time of scandal; at a time when the Catholic Church, in many ways, seemed in disarray. Is he addressing those things?

POGGIOLI: Well, one key move has been his appointment of a committee of eight cardinals - all but one from outside the Vatican - as his advisers. This could be seen as a more collective church management from now on. Another important issue is the murky dealings of the Vatican Bank, long suspected of being involved in money laundering and other illegal activities. Last week, the Vatican issued its first report, saying it found six suspect transactions in 2012, acknowledging that was five more than the previous year. This is an effort at greater transparency, and it comes under Francis's watch.

GREENE: All right, Sylvia, thanks so much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, David.

GREENE: We've been hearing about Pope Francis, who's been in office for two months, from NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome.


GREENE: This is NPR News.

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