Confusion over Pope’s comment leads to false reporting, but dog lovers should believe what they want
By Brian Reynolds
For those who believe in such a thing, there is no greater comfort than the thought that our trusted, loyal companions could join us in the afterlife. But what do the world’s great religions have to say about it? Do all dogs really go to heaven? Catholic theology traditionally believes that animals do not have souls and therefore will not ascend into heaven after their death. However, with Pope Francis at the helm of the Catholic Church, things seem to be changing.
Last month, stories began to circulate that Pope Francis, spiritual leader to 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, had comforted a distraught little boy whose dog had passed away. Pope Francis was reported to have said, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” Since the story ran, it’s been cleared up that the quote was misattributed and originally made by Pope Paul VI. What Pope Francis actually said to an audience (not a distraught boy) was “The Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.”
The confusion seems to have started with the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Serra, which interpreted Pope Francis’ comments to mean that dogs can reach heaven in the afterlife and compared his remarks to those of Pope Paul VI. Regardless of where this story started, there seems to be some room within contemporary Catholicism for all of the earth’s creatures to live on in spirit.
In 1989, the classic film “All Dogs Go to Heaven” dealt with just this topic. It tells the story of Charlie B. Barkin, voiced by Burt Reynolds, a German shepherd who forsakes heaven for a chance at avenging his death. Charlie plans to use a little girl, Anne-Marie, to help with his plot. Near the end of the film, Charlie is faced with the difficult decision to either save his own life or the life of Anne-Marie. Sacrificing his own life to save the life of Anne-Marie, Charlie ends up in hell for all the bad choices he’s made. Charlie escapes from hell to tell Anne-Marie how much he regrets his actions and an angel appears to take him to heaven. The film carries elements of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, seeking redemption to find salvation, and suggests that animals do indeed have the depth of soul to warrant a trip to the great hereafter.
Now, I’m not sure if heaven exists; that’s an exercise in faith that each of us must confront ourselves. But if you believe in heaven, I hope one day you will spend eternity with all of your loved ones, whatever species they happen to be.