Of course, the question is rhetorical. But with headlines like “Pope Francis reaches out to atheists and agnostics”, and “Pope Francis assures sceptics: You don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven” floating around, the question might actually be asked by someone, especially given the abysmal state of catechesis these days.
It may take a few days till an accurate English translation of what the Holy Father actually wrote becomes available, in which case the short snippets from a lengthy papal op-ed piece excerpted by The Independant and The Telegraph might prove off-the-mark. They might. I don’t know.
But by the time context and accuracy are provided, the news cycle will have turned to other important matters — perhaps Miley Cyrus’ latest offense against modesty and aesthetics — and all that will remain of today’s big story will be a vague residue of indifferentism in the minds of readers.
Meantime, thank God, we have the traditional dogmatic teaching of the Church on where to find salvation, the traditional moral teaching of the Church on conscience (and what, for instance, constitutes a moral act — it’s more than just following your conscience), and … well, Sister Maria Philomena discussing the orthodoxy of Jiminy Cricket, whose memory was invoked in online comments about the papal letter to the editor.
Speaking of which, if my quick survey of the comments on these U.K. sites is any indication, the Holy Father’s irenic remarks have provoked a presumably unintended ecumenical backlash: numerous Protestants have ripped them for denying the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation.