Last Sunday, I wrote about a little boy named Emanuele who asked Pope Francis if his nonbelieving dad would go to Heaven. After hearing what a good man Emanuele’s dad was, Pope Francis said, “God is the one who decides who goes to Heaven.” This Sunday I thought I would take a look at the old question that never seems to go away – “Do unbaptized babies go to heaven?”
Limbo used to be a popular notion among Catholics to explain what happened to unbaptized infants who die. Limbo, however, was never an official teaching of the Church. It was simply a theoretical solution to the question of what happens to such children after death. The question comes up because all people are born with Original Sin which is washed away with the sanctifying grace received through the Sacrament of Baptism. However, very young children are not able to sin because they have not reached the age of reason. But nothing impure can enter heaven. So, does that mean they are to be condemned to Hell? Limbo was an attempt by theologians (not the Church) during the Middle Ages to explain how unbaptized infants might be sent to a state called “Limbo” which derived from the Latin word “Limbus” meaning “border”. Namely, they are neither in Heaven nor in Hell.
While Jesus didn’t reveal what happens to unbaptized infants who die, the Church’s official position is that Sacred Scripture and Tradition provide plenty of reason for us to hope that those innocent children enjoy the full happiness of eternity in Heaven. Regarding children who die without Baptism, our Catechism says the Church can only entrust them to the great mercy of God who desires everyone to be saved (1261). Jesus showed his tenderness to children when He said “Let the children come to me. Do not hinder them.” (Mark 10:14) His words provide us hope there is always a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.
So, with all that said, do unbaptized babies go to Heaven? It really doesn’t seem fair if they don’t. And I do like what Pope Francis told Emanuele – God is the one who decides who goes to Heaven. As I wrote last week, I think if we really believe in God’s love, we can trust him to do the right thing.
Adapted from “Introduction to Catholicism for Adults” by Rev. James Socias; and the “International Theological Commission – Hope of Salvation for Infants who Die Without Being Baptized”, www.vatican.va