Though dubious, when NPR reported that Pope Francis had said that dogs will go to heaven and thinking of my dog Sebastian, I texted Fr. Pfeiffer who has always maintained that dogs do not have immortal souls that, “HA! IN YOUR FACE! POPE SAYS DOGS GO TO HEAVEN!” though inside I was wondering, “How on earth can he say that?”
Well, as it turned out he said nothing of the kind. There was a retraction in the New York Times the next day. The “alleged” quote is now being attributed to Pope Paul VI who apparently said it to a young boy who he found crying in St. Peter Square. “Paradise is open to all God’s creatures,” is the supposed quote though there is no hard and fast proof of it. And, as one Catholic reporter for CNN wrote, “It’s called being pastoral.” He was not trying to teach a crying boy doctrine but was trying to comfort him. And this comment could be taken well within Catholic doctrine anyhoo . . . Scripture says there will be a new creation at the end times and what exactly that means we don’t know.
It’s like this: When someone is very sad about the death of their pet and they ask me if they are going to see the animal in heaven I say (and this is where Fr. Pfeiffer and I butt heads) God guarantees you absolute happiness in heaven and IF you your absolute happiness depends on your pet being there, he will be there.” Now that “IF” is a mighty powerful word and gets me out of a lot of theological trouble. “I guarantee to make you pope IF another arm suddenly grows out of the top of my head at 2 o’clock today.”
ALL THIS GOES TO SAY don’t believe everything you read about the pope or the Church in popular media. Don’t fly off the handle or start complaining to everyone in ear shot about the latest stupid thing someone in the Church did especially since the chances are it is exaggerated, mis-focused, or, as in this case, not true. (Remember a couple of Easters ago they found the coffin of Jesus?) This is just the latest in a long string of false or misleading reports AND IT IS GOING TO GET WORSE AS WE GET CLOSER TO THE POPE’S VISIT AND AS WE GET CLOSER TO THE 5OOTH ANNIVERSARY OF PROTESTANTISM IN 1017. I beg you to exercise great prudence, patience, and fact checking when you hear something that sounds plausible, but just a bit off.