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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Catholic Church Buries Limbo

ROME -- Limbo has been in limbo for quite some time, but is now on its way to extinction.

A Vatican committee that spent years examining the medieval concept published a much-anticipated report Friday, concluding that unbaptized babies who die may go to heaven.

That could reverse centuries of Roman Catholic traditional belief that the souls of unbaptized babies are condemned to eternity in limbo, a place that is neither heaven nor hell. Limbo is not unpleasant, but it is not a seat alongside God.

Catholic doctrine states that because all humans are tainted by original sin, thanks to Adam and Eve, baptism is essential for salvation. But the idea of limbo has fallen out of favor for many Catholics, who see it as harsh and not befitting a merciful God.

The Vatican's International Theological Commission -- with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI -- said limbo "reflects an unduly restrictive view of salvation."

"Our conclusion," the panel said in its 41-page report, is that there are "serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and brought into eternal happiness."

A church decision to abolish limbo has long been expected. Benedict and his predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II, expressed misgivings about the concept. Never part of formal doctrine because it does not appear in Scripture, limbo was removed from the Catholic catechism 15 years ago.

Father Thomas Rausch, a theologian at Loyola Marymount University, said the document "puts the Catholic Church in a different position than Protestant evangelicals, who teach if you do not have a conscious explicit relationship with Christ -- born again -- you cannot be saved."

He said Roman Catholic theologians of earlier generations had a Latin phrase for it, "Extra ecclesia nulla salus, meaning outside the church there is no salvation, or baptism is necessary for salvation."