Reuters reports that the Vatican, with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, has decertified limbo as the place that the souls of unbaptized infants go when they die:
The Roman Catholic Church has effectively buried the concept of limbo, the place where centuries of tradition and teaching held that babies who die without baptism went.Origins, a publication of the U.S. Catholic Bishops that is available only by subscription, summarizes the Vatican document like this on its web site (Vol. 36, No. 45, April 26, 2007):
In a long-awaited document, the Church's International Theological Commission said limbo reflected an "unduly restrictive view of salvation."
What happens to infants who die without having been baptized remains one of theology's thorniest questions and one that the church has yet to answer definitively despite the once widely taught theory of limbo, observes the International Theological Commission in a new study. Growing numbers of unbaptized infants give the question new urgency, it notes, and developments in theology and in society during the last 50 years give "serious theological and liturgical grounds for the hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and brought into eternal happiness even though there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation."Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press explained the importance of this shift in traditional beliefs:
Although Catholics have long believed that children who die without being baptized are with original sin and thus excluded from heaven, the Church has no formal doctrine on the matter. Theologians, however, have long taught that such children enjoy an eternal state of perfect natural happiness, a state commonly called limbo, but without being in communion with God.As Philip Pullella of Reuters noted,
"If there's no limbo and we're not going to revert to St. Augustine's teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we're left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace," said the Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.
"Baptism does not exist to wipe away the "stain" of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church," he said in an e-mailed response.
Pope Benedict, himself a top theologian who before his election in 2005 expressed doubts about limbo, authorized the publication of the document, called "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised."Is limbo gone for good? Is it just on hiatus? Or is limbo, so to speak, in limbo?