Responding to a series of questions asked in the summer by Scalfari, who describes himself as an interested “non-believer”, Pope Francis used his trademark conciliatory tone to discuss the Catholic church’s attitude to atheists, urging those who do not share his faith to “abide by their own conscience” and reminding them God’s mercy “has no limits”.
Expressing the belief that it was important for Christians to engage in “a sincere and rigorous dialogue” with atheists, Francis recalled Scalfari had asked him whether God forgave those “who do not believe and do not seek to believe”.
“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 wrote, “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.”
Now in his sixth month as pontiff, Francis has made a conciliatory style and pragmatic openness to dialogue with groups on the margins of the church’s traditional activities one of his trademarks.
In May, however, relaxed remarks during a homily, which appeared to imply that non-believers could be “saved” if they did good, prompted a swift clarification from the Vatican that he meant nothing of the kind.