Eugenio Scalfari, a self-described "non-believer”, co-founder and former editor of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, asked in two letters some theological questions for Pope Francis. In one of Scalfari’s questions to the Pope, he asked whether or not “God forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith.”
On Wednesday, Scalfari received a three paged, 2,500-word letter straight from Pope Francis himself, answering those questions, saying that an “open dialogue free of prejudices [between Christians and atheists is] necessary and precious.” Pope Francis’ letter was published in La Repubblica newspaper under the byline “Francesco.”
It would seem that according to Pope Francis, God doesn't so much judge a person by their title alone, but by their moral actions decided by a good conscience; those who don’t necessarily believe are not alienated from God’s forgiveness.
"Given – and this is the fundamental thing – that God's mercy has no limits, if He is approached with a sincere and repentant heart," the Pope penned, "the question for those who do not believe in God is to abide by their own conscience. There is sin, also for those who have no faith, in going against one's conscience. Listening to it and abiding by it means making up one's mind about what is good and evil."
The Pope added that, “Sin, even for those who have no faith, is when one goes against their conscience. To listen and to obey to [one’s conscience] means to decide oneself in relation to what’s perceived as good and evil. And this decision is fundamental to determining the good or evil of our actions.”
According to The Guardian, Robert Mickens, the Vatican correspondent for the Catholic journal The Tablet, said that the Pope’s letter was further evidence of his attempts to shed the negative image posed by the Catholic Church in the past years. Mickens said that, “Francis is still a conservative. But what this is all about is him seeking to have a more meaningful dialogue with the world.”
Perhaps Pope Francis, when reflecting on the questions Scalfari posed, was drawing from 1 Samuel 16:7, which reads:
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
(Image source: WikiMedia Commons)