VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI has revised traditional Roman Catholic teaching on so-called "limbo," approving a church report released Friday that said there was reason to hope that babies who die without baptism can go to heaven.
Benedict approved the findings of the International Theological Commission, which issued its long-awaited document on limbo on Origins, the documentary service of Catholic News Service, the news agency of the American Bishop's Conference.
"We can say we have many reasons to hope that there is salvation for these babies," the Rev. Luis Ladaria, a Jesuit who is the commission's secretary-general, told The Associated Press.
Although Catholics have long believed that children who die without being baptized are with original sin and thus excluded from heaven, the church has no formal doctrine on the matter. Theologians have long taught, however, that such children enjoy an eternal state of perfect natural happiness, a state commonly called limbo, but without being in communion with God.
Pope John Paul II and Benedict had urged further study on limbo, in part because of "the pressing pastoral needs" sparked by the increase in abortion and the growing number of children who die without being baptized, the report said.
In the document, the commission said there were "serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and brought into eternal happiness."
It stressed, however, that "these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge."
Ladaria said no one could know for certain what becomes of unbaptized babies since Scripture is largely silent on the matter.
Catholic parents should still baptize their children, as that sacrament is the way salvation is revealed, the document said.
The International Theological Commission is a body of Vatican-appointed theologians who advise the pope and the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Benedict headed the Congregation for two decades before becoming pope in 2005.