Last week, the Catholic Church banished limbo, a vast parking lot of souls that lay between the torment of hell and the peace of heaven.
It’s the place where newborn babies and deserving people born before Christ’s ascension spent eternity.
In 1442, at the Council of Florence, church leaders decided unbaptized children couldn’t enter heaven because they hadn’t been cleansed of the taint of original sin.
That decision has caused turmoil in the church for centuries. It has added considerable pain and anguish to grieving parents.
Nevertheless, it was the organization’s official position into the 1990s.
Joseph Ratzinger, cardinal, theologian and the current Pope Benedict, rejected the concept of limbo in a paper written in 1984.
By 1992, the church started suggesting that newborns might gain heaven without baptism.
Last week, the Church’s International Theological Commission effectively erased it altogether.
It said limbo reflected an “unduly restrictive view of salvation.”
Still, in a nod to hardliners, it built some waffle room into its decision.
While there are “serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision … these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge,” said the 41-page document.
Given all the problems of the world, the existence of limbo seems a strange thing to debate.
But there are good reasons why the church invested considerable effort in the cause.
There are a lot of babies dying in the world.
“The number of nonbaptized infants has grown considerably and, therefore, the reflection on the possibility of salvation for these infants has become urgent,” the document said.
And it’s difficult to convince people to join your faith if their newborns are denied entry to heaven.
“People find it increasingly difficult to accept that God is just and merciful if he excludes infants, who have no personal sins, from eternal happiness, whether they are Christian or non-Christian.”
Put another way, potential converts might choose another faith.
So, with the publication of a 41-page document, limbo is effectively no more.
That will ease the grief of some parents.
It will probably make it easier for the church to recruit followers.
But one wonders what happens to the countless souls who have been interned in limbo since the church’s proclamation in 1442.
Did the gates finally open?
Or did the innocents simply drift out of existence through the stroke of a pen?