The Roman Catholic Church has effectively buried the concept of limbo, the place where centuries of tradition and teaching held that babies who die without baptism went. In a long-awaited document, the Church's International Theological Commission said limbo reflected an "unduly restrictive view of salvation."
The 41-page document was published on Friday by Origins, the documentary service of the U.S.-based Catholic News Service, which is part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Pope Benedict, himself a top theologian who before his election in 2005 expressed doubts about limbo, authorized the publication of the document, called "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised."
The verdict that limbo could now rest in peace had been expected for years. The document was seen as most likely the final word since limbo was never part of Church doctrine, even though it was taught to Catholics well into the 20th century.
"The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation," it said.
"There are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible (to baptize them)."
The Church teaches that baptism removes original sin which stains all souls since the fall from grace in the Garden of Eden.