There’s a lot of fuss on the net and in the press about Pope Francis’ recent remarks on whether there is an eternal destiny for animals. The good folks at Rorate uncritically quoted a story from USA Today.

The key quote is: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” USA Today claims that Pope Francis said these words to a bereaved little boy, while a couple of stories in the British press attributed the words to a supposed quotation of the Apostle Paul.   The Daily Mail got their version of the story from Time, which got it from the NYTimes.

And they all got it wrong. The reporting on this story, the November 26, 2014 general audience, started with a piece from the Corriere della Sera by Gian Guido Vecchi.

Here’s a quick translation, from Google, with some adjustments by me:

The Pope and the animals: “Paradise is open to all the creatures”

Words about the beyond:

* Not a place, a state of soul.
* It’s beautiful to think about Heaven
* One day we’ll all meet there, and that plan cannot fail to involve everything around us
* We will be before a new creation
* It will not be an end but will carry everything to the fullness of being, truth, and beauty.

VATICAN CITY

The pilgrim Church in history “going to the Kingdom of Heaven,” the Heaven that, “more than a place”, is “a state of soul where our deepest longings will be carried out in superabundance.”

Francis, in his catechesis in St. Peter’s Square, speaks of the “heavenly Jerusalem” and smiles: “It’s nice to think of Heaven. All of us we will be up there, everyone.”

And then widens his view, with a phrase that widens the hope of salvation and eschatological bliss to animals, as to the whole of creation: “Sacred Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design cannot fail to involve everything around us, that came out of the thought and the heart of God,” he explains.

First he quotes chapter 8 of the Letter to the Romans: “The Apostle Paul says it explicitly, when he says that ‘Also the creation itself will be liberated from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God”. Also other texts, from the Second Letter of Peter to the Apocalypse, show the “image of the ‘new heaven’ and the ‘new earth'”, recalls Francis, “in the sense that the whole Universe will be renewed and will be released once and for all from all traces of evil and death itself.

As “fulfillment of a transformation that is actually already in place from the death and resurrection of Christ,” there lies ahead, in short, a “new creation”, “not, therefore, an annihilation of the universe and all that surrounds us, but bringing everything to its fullness of being, truth, beauty”. Francis is preparing an “ecological” encyclical on the protection of Creation. Certainly the issue is recurring and sometimes controversial in the Church.

It is said that Paul VI had comforted a child in tears for the death of his dog and said: “One day we will see our animals in the eternity of Christ.” Moreover, the word “animal” comes from “soul”, the vital principle, and also John Paul II said in an audience in 1990: “Some sacred texts allow that animals have a breath of life, and that they received it from God.” A perspective that Benedict XVI, who, while known for his love for cats, seems to rule out during a homily six years ago: “In the other creatures who are not called to eternity, death means only the end of existence on Earth ….”

The topic, explains a great theologian like Archbishop Bruno Forte, has to do with the Greek word anakephalaiosis, or “the ‘recapitulation’ of all things in Christ and thus in the glory of God, all in all.” It’s no coincidence Francis quoted St. Paul: “According to Pauline theology, as we read in the letter to the Colossians, all things were created through Christ and in view of Him, and then everything will participate in the final glory of God.” Certainly, “in a form and degree given to every creature,” adds Forte: “The conscious and free creature is one thing, the inanimate is another. But the idea is that the whole universe is not going to be destroyed.”

So Pope Francis didn’t say the line about animals in Paradise; he spoke generally about the whole creation, which will be renewed as part of the coming of Christ at the end of the world.  This is standard Catholic belief.   Vecchi chose to bring up animals in particular and recounted an unsourced anecdote about Pope Paul VI.

Then the Times and Time and the Mail and the Express and USA Today, and a whole cavalcade of publications that don’t check facts gave a garbled story, assigning the maybe-words of Paul VI to Francis.

Whether the confusion started in the Italian press and was merely imitated by the Times, or whether the Times reporter garbled the story all on his own remains to be seen.  And who brought the animals into this: was it Vecchi’s thought, or was it something Abp. Forte suggested to him?