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Catholic statements about the fate of unbaptized
newborns, infants, etc.,
during the 20th Century

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20th and 21st century Catholic teachings:

bullet 1905: Pope Pius X made a definitive declaration confirming the existence of Limbo. However, this did not have the status of an infallible statement:

"Children who die without baptism go into limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but they do not suffer either, because having Original Sin, and only that, they do not deserve paradise, but neither hell or purgatory."

bullet 1958: The Holy Office (once the Inquisition and now the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) was critical of some believers who delayed baptism because of their belief in Limbo. They concluded: "Therefore this Supreme Congregation, with the approval of the Holy Father, warns the faithful that infants are to be baptized as soon as possible..." (Acta L, 114).
bullet 1960s: The Second Vatican Council stated, in Gaudium et Spes 22: "For since Christ died for all (Rom. 8:32)...we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all [humans] the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery."

bullet 1984: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stated his personal disbelief concerning Limbo during an interview in . He said that:

"Limbo has never been a defined truth of faith. Personally, speaking as a theologian and not as head of the Congregation, I would drop something that has always been only a theological hypothesis."

He became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

bullet 1992: Pope John Paul II is reported as having been troubled by the concept of limbo and had mention of it removed from the church's 1992 catechism.

bullet 1995: In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae ("The Gospel of LIfe") Pope John Paul II discussed women who have had abortions. He gave an ambiguous statement implying that aborted embryos and fetuses may be in Heaven or Limbo. He wrote: "...You will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord."

bullet 1999: Fr. L.E. Latorre comments:

"Children should be baptized within the first weeks after birth. Children in danger of death should be baptized without delay. Catholic parents who neglect or unreasonably put off for a long time the Baptism of their children commit a mortal sin. It would be a mortal sin, for example, to delay or postpone indefinitely the Baptism of a child in order to save-up or prepare for a big feast, a great worldly show, with dances and dinners and what not. Or, to delay the Baptism in order to wait for the coming of a VIP godparent." 1

bullet Circa 2004: In an article on 2005-NOV-30, the Scotsman newspaper states that Pope John Paul II had written:

"The Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God. In fact the great mercy of God, who wants all men to be saved, and the tenderness of Jesus towards children allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who die without baptism." 2 {We have not been able to find a citation for this quotation.}

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A recent survey:

Fr. Brian W. Harrison published a survey of relevant historical Catholic magisterial statements in 2005. He concluded:

"... that those who now talk about Limbo as only ever having been a mere 'hypothesis', rather than a doctrine, are giving a very misleading impression of the state of the question. They are implying by this that the pre-Vatican II Church traditionally held, or at least implicitly admitted, that an alternate 'hypothesis' for unbaptized infants was their attainment of eternal salvation Heaven.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Limbo for unbaptized infants was indeed a theological "hypothesis"; but the only approved alternate hypothesis was not Heaven, but very mild hellfire as well as exclusion from the beatific vision! In short, while Limbo as distinct from very mild hellfire was a 'hypothetical' destiny for unbaptized infants, their eternal exclusion from Heaven (with or without any 'pain of sense') at least after the proclamation of the Gospel, and apart from the 'baptism of blood' of infants slaughtered out of hatred for Christ this was traditional Catholic doctrine, not a mere hypothesis.

No, it was never dogmatically defined. But the only question is whether the doctrine was infallible by virtue of the universal and ordinary magisterium, or merely "authentic". 3

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Current official Catholic teaching:

The current Catechism does not contain a direct mention of Limbo:

bullet The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in CCC 1261:

"As regards children who have died without baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God, who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children, which caused him to say, 'Let the children come to me, do not hinder them' [Mark 10:14, cf. 1 Tim. 2:4], allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy baptism".

bullet The Catechism of the Catholic Church also states in CCC 1257:

"The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation...The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude...God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism..."

It is important to realize that just because the Church is unaware of any other means does not necessarily mean that such means are not available.

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1987: Alleged revelation from the Virgin Mary:

A Roman Catholic web site, the Shrine of Our Lady of the Roses, publishes: "Directives from Heaven." These are excerpts culled from what which the Shrine believes are over 300:

"...messages ... given by Heaven to the world over the past twenty-five years. There are currently seventy-five in publication. Each Directive is targeted toward a specific subject which Heaven has willed to enlighten and instruct the world on."

One of the Directives deals with abortion and contraception. It contains the following message which the Shrine believes came from the Virgin Mary on 1987-OCT-02.

"And what, My children, are We going to do with all the aborted babies? O My child, I know you feel as I do, for I can see the great distress on your face. What are we going to do, My child? Do you understand when they come to Us, they must go to Limbo? They are in Heaven, a happy place, but they cannot see God. " 4

If this is an accurate message, then it confirms the existence of Limbo. It also represents an additional example of the transferability of sin by punishing the innocent for the sins of others. This theme runs throughout the Bible. In this case, the fetus is punished by never being allowed to see God, in response to either:


The woman's decision to have an abortion -- an act which can be considered to be a mortal sin, or

bullet The sin of omission on the part of their parents in not having the child baptized.

The Roman Catholic Church reported that:

"... a thorough investigation revealed that the alleged 'visions of Bayside' completely lacked authenticity...  the 'messages' and other related propaganda contain statements which, among other things, are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church." 5

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Site navigation:

 Home > Christianity > History, beliefs... > Specific beliefs > Afterlife > Limbo > here

Home > Christianity > Bible > Contents > Afterlife > Limbo > here

Home > Christianity > Christian groups > Sorting groups > Meta groups > Catholic > Limbo > here

Home > Christianity > Christian groups > Sorting groups > Denominations > Catholic > Limbo > here

or Home > Christianity > Christian groups > Sorting groups > Families > Catholic  here

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Fr. L.E. Latorre, "Guidebook for Baptism," at:
  2. Stephen McGinty, "Pope to abandon idea of unbaptised babies forever in limbo," The Scotsman, 2005-NOV-30, at:
  3. Fr. Brian W. Harrison, "Could Limbo be 'abolished'?" The Seattle Catholic, 2005-DEC-07, at:
  4. "#23 Abortion," Directives from Heaven, Our Lady of the Roses web site at:
  5. Rev. James J. LeBar, "Cults, Sects, and the New Age" at:

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Copyright 1999 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-DEC-19
Latest update: 2010-DEC-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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