Adds It's a Theological Opinion That Can Be Defended
ROME, 3 MAY 2007 (ZENIT)
The theory of limbo is not ruled out, says a
member of the International Theological Commission, commenting on a
study from the panel.
Sister Sara Butler, a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity,
has served on the commission since 2004. The commission is an advisory
body comprised of 30 theologians chosen by the Pope. Its documents are
not considered official expressions of the magisterium, but the
commission does help the Holy See to examine important doctrinal issues.
On April 20, the commission released a document, commissioned under Pope
John Paul II, called "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without
Being Baptized." Benedict XVI approved it for publication.
In an interview with Inside the Vatican magazine, Sister Butler, who
teaches dogmatic theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, New York,
says "the report concludes that limbo remains a 'possible theological
opinion.' Anyone who wants to defend it is free to do so. This document,
however, tries to give a theological rationale for hoping that
unbaptized infants may be saved."
"The [International Theological Commission] wants to give more weight to
God's universal salvific will and to solidarity in Christ than to the
necessity of baptism, which is not absolute but is qualified in certain
ways," she said.
Principles of faith
Sister Butler cited No. 41 of the document: "[B]esides the theory of
which remains a possible theological option
there can be other ways to integrate and safeguard the principles of
faith outlined in Scripture."
She added: "The commission is trying to say what the Catechism of the
Nos. 1260, 1261, 1283
has already said: that we have a right to hope that God will find a way
to offer the grace of Christ to infants who have no opportunity for
making a personal choice with regard to their salvation."
The document "is trying to provide a theological rationale for what has
already been proposed in several magisterial documents since the
council," Sister Butler said. "Generally, the [commission] documents
offer a point of reference for bishops and theology professors in
seminaries, for example, to offer an explanation for the development of
"But I doubt whether this would lead to a further statement from the
magisterium, because it says no more than what has already been said in
the [Catechism], in the funeral rites for infants who have died without
baptism in the 1970 Roman Missal, and in 'Pastoralis Actio'
the document from 1980 from the [Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith] on the baptism of infants.
"It says nothing new; it is simply trying to make explicit the
theological grounding for this hope. 'Gaudium et Spes,' 22, and 'Lumen
Gentium,' 14 and 16, at the Second Vatican Council, opened the way for
this development. Actually, some wanted the teaching on limbo formally
defined at the council, but the topic was excluded from the agenda."
The theological commission's document, she said, "just indicates that
given our understanding of God's mercy and the plan of salvation which
includes Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Church, we dare
to hope that these infants will be saved by some extra-sacramental gift
"We do not know what the destiny of these children is," she said, "but
we have grounds for hope."
Sister Butler spoke of the plight of aborted babies.
"I'm sure we never considered suggesting that these infants be declared
martyrs," she said. "We were, of course, aware that in many places
Catholics remember the unborn babies who have been aborted on the feast
of the Holy Innocents. We didn't propose a solution."
She added: "In this particular instance, death is the way these children
might be united with Christ: Through the violent circumstances of their
deaths, they may be united to his paschal mystery.
"The Council explicitly taught that God provides a way of salvation for
those who are invincibly ignorant of the Gospel and therefore have no
access to sacramental baptism.
"The [commission] report extends the logic of this teaching to infants.
We suggest that the Holy Spirit offers to them, in a way known to God,
the possibility of being made partakers in the paschal mystery."
Sister Butler nevertheless warned that "the ordinary means of salvation
is baptism, and that infants should be baptized; Catholic parents have a
"God is not bound to the sacraments," she said, "and therefore, just as
we understand there are other possible ways for adults who are in
invincible ignorance of the Gospel to achieve salvation, so we presume
there are other ways, known to God, open to infants who unfortunately
die without baptism." ZE07050301