In a recent podcast William Lane Craig responded to some remarks made by Pope Francis in a homily given on May 22nd. Here’s what the Pope said:
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Craig says many misunderstood the Pope as teaching salvation by works. He says the context won’t support that charge. However, as hard as Craig tried he could not avoid coming to the conclusion that the Pope was teaching some form of universalism. Craig says if the Pope’s words are “interpreted literally” they imply universalism. Now Craig is a philosopher and speaking with precision comes naturally. A preacher giving a homily, even the Pope, is not always going to speak as precisely as we would like. Craig concludes that either the Pope is a heretic or simply inept. Not willing to go with the former he chooses the latter.
Several responses have been made by Catholics in an attempt to clarify the Pope’s comments (see here and here). The response by Fr. Thomas Rosica is cited by Craig but he said he was not persuaded by Rosica since it simply is not what the Pope said. In discussing this with my coworker Dean he told me that Kierkegaard said that “love is a lenient interpreter.” I really like that. I think in this case we ought to give the Pope the benefit of a loving or sympathetic interpretation. Let’s not be so quick to assume that what he believes is in contradiction to the Bible and the official teaching of the church.