Pope Francis declared recently in his regular weekly address at St.
Peter’s Square that animals go to heaven. He made the statement while
trying to comfort a boy who was upset about the death of his pet dog.
Quoting several biblical passages as evidence that animals go to
heaven, Pope Francis said, “The holy scripture teaches us that the
fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us…
what lies ahead… is therefore a new creation… It is not an annihilation
of the universe and all that
surrounds us. Rather it brings everything to its fullness of being, truth and beauty.”
The 77-year-old pontiff then concluded: “One day we will see our
animals again in eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all God’s
Reacting to Francis’ statement, the Italian newspaper Corriere della
Sera wrote optimistically that the pontiff had effectively declared an
expansive “hope of salvation and eschatological beatitude to animals and
the whole of creation.”
While the declaration from the controversial pontiff might have
brought consolation and relief to animal-loving Catholics who have
mourned the loss of a pet, it probably caused Church conservatives more
hand-wringing over their fears about their pope’s escalating
Soon after Francis made the statement, the Italian company
Eurolactic Italia, which produces donkey milk as alternative nutriment
for babies allergic to human and cow milk, presented him with two
donkeys, Thea and Noah, as Christmas presents.
Media reports quoted an official of the company, Pierluigi
Christophe Orunesu, saying that Francis confessed that he loves donkey’s
milk having consumed it as child. Thea and Noah would no doubt be in
heaven to provide the pontiff a constant supply of milk.
Francis’ declaration that “heaven is open to all God’s creatures”
could be interpreted by the theologically naive only as a statement
expressing the sincere feelings of an animal lover. But it is one
sufficient to spark an acrimonious debate till kingdom come among church
theologians who have hitherto assumed that the privileges of heavenly
beatitude are reserved exclusively for humans.
The notion of animals
going to heaven is one that church leaders and theologians immersed in
anthropocentric biblical worldviews have apparently never given much
thought to. The question of what happens to our favorite pooches and
moggies after death only began assuming significant dimensions recently
with the Christianity Today, in 2012, raising the question, “Do Pets Go to Heaven?”
But soon after publication of the article, Pope Francis’ predecessor,
Pope Benedict XVI, moved quickly to slam shut firmly the pearly gates of
heaven against animals, declaring in the midst of his brief papal
tenure, that animals are “not called to the eternal life,” and pointing
out that animals are never mentioned in connection with salvation and
eternal life in the Christian scriptures.
But how do we resolve the contradiction between the statements of two equally infallible vice-regents of God on Earth?
Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, is reported to have said
in 1990 that “…animals possess a soul” and “in this respect, man,
created by the hand of God, is identical with all other living
However, Pope John Paul II offered no inspired papal insights into
the animal hereafter, thus empowering Benedict to declare in effect, and
in line with church tradition, that only humans have immortal souls.
While animal lovers quote Isaiah 11:6, which says that in the life
hereafter “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie
down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened
calf together,” others sidestep the inconvenient verse, pointing out
that the bible makes it clear in Mark 16:16 that only “he that believes
and is baptized shall be saved.”
In truth, the Apostles never baptized or preached the gospel to
chickens, dogs and cats. Even human gentiles were granted the boon of
heavenly afterlife only as an afterthought; that is, after the Jews
rejected the message.
Ultimately, the notion that animals go to heaven raises a medley of
theological riddles for those with the leisure to indulge in unbridled
rumination over the spiritual mysteries of existence:
If animals go to heaven, do they also go to hell? Will my donkey
suffer eternal damnation for that well-aimed kick at my groin, or my
pitbull hellfire for attacking my toddler son? Will my hen go to
perdition for cracking and eating its own egg, effectively aborting its
own offspring in the womb?
What about earthworms, the bacteria in my gut, HIV and Ebola viruses that have caused untold suffering to humanity?
And where does God draw the line in the hierarchy of animal
lifeforms that separates those eligible for afterlife from those not
sufficiently evolved to benefit from the comforts of heavenly bliss?
On the contrary, do non-human life forms have an assured automatic ticket to heaven for lacking a moralizing intellect?
From Digital Journal