The Vatican issued a formal statement clarifying Pope Francis' original statement about atheists and redemption. Reverend Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who "refuse to enter her [the Church] or remain in her cannot be saved."
Pope Francis created quite a stir when giving a homily last week in Rome. He said that atheists who do good work have something in common with Christians who do good, even if they don't yet believe. The idea caused controversy, as many thought the Pope meant all atheists are saved, regardless of their belief in Jesus Christ.
"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 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," Francis 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!" Francis said this week.
Despite the Pope's words fitting into classic Catholic beliefs, the Vatican felt Francis' words needed clarification for the public, and a statement explaining his message was issued.
"All salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body," Roscia wrote in the official statement published on Zenit.com. "Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her."
Roscia admitted, however, that one can never know the plans God has for an individual and whether the non-believer is part of God's larger plan for salvation.
"We can never say with ultimate certainty whether a non-Christian who has rejected Christianity … is still following the temporary path mapped out for his own salvation which is leading him to an encounter with God, or whether he has now entered upon the way of perdition," Roscia added.
"Pope Francis is first and foremost a seasoned pastor and preacher who has much experience in reaching people," Roscia wrote. "His words are not spoken in the context of a theological faculty or academy nor in interreligious dialogue or debate."