Roman Catholic Church Considers Abolishing Limbo Theory

The Roman Catholic Church may abolish the concept of limbo – the place some Catholics believe the spirit of babies go if they die before being baptized.

According to a report by the Catholic News Service, an international commission that met at the Vatican last week is expected to recommend to Pope Benedict XVI that the teaching be dropped.

The concept of limbo, which was developed during the Middle Ages, was never made into official doctrine and – at least in the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese – the theory’s removal will not likely affect what is taught in catechism classes.

“The fact that it did not make it into the new catechism is an affirmation that it is not high on the hierarchy of truths taught by the church," the Rev. Kris Stubna, secretary for education at the diocese, told the Pittsburgh Courier Monday. "It certainly was not something Catholics were ever bound to believe."

Pope Benedict XVI is also expected to agree with the change. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the new pontiff had presided over the first sessions of the commission and had told Catholic author Vittorio Messouri that limbo had “never been a definitive truth of faith.”

"Personally I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis," he had said.

The idea of Limbo originated in the Middle Ages and was a reaction to the fifth century doctrine that every unbaptized soul must go to hell but that those who had led good lives would be subjected to only a mild pain.

Peter Abelard, widely contributed for the Limbo theory, argued that even this light pain was too harsh a punishment for innocent babies who died before being baptized. He argued that these babies are only guilty of being born of the Original Sin and should dwell in a painless place called limbo – which is derived from a Latin word that means “edge.”

Pope Innocent III, who ruled from 1161 to 1216, drew a liking to the concept and published a Body of Canon Law in which he stated that those in Limbo would suffer “no other pain.”

In 1438, the ecumenical Council of Florence came close to abolishing the theory, but got diverted by the question of Purgatory.

The concept was adopted as an official catechism under the papacy of Pius V, who ruled from 1903 to 1914. He defined limbo as a place where the dead "do not have the joy of God but neither do they suffer ... they do not deserve Paradise, but neither do they deserve Hell or Purgatory".

In 1992, Pope John Paul II moved Limbo into a kinder place saying that the “church can do no more than the mercy of God, who desires that all men be saved.”

He made this declaration by quoting scripture, such as Mark 10:14, where Jesus says, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.”

According to the Associated Press, a report by the Corriere dela Sera said a draft catechism for the new concept of Limbo – where it does not exist – will go to a board at the Vatican. If adopted, Limbo will no longer be limbo, and instead unbaptized babies that die will be seen as fit to enter heaven.