Just one day after the pope's now famous words in Rome on May 22, a Vatican spokesman the Rev. Thomas Rosica released a statement quoting a section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that says people who reject the teachings of Jesus Christ cannot attain salvation.
"All salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body," Rosica wrote. "Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her."
However, Rosica wrote that it's not impossible for an atheist to eventually be saved by Christ.
“Rejection of Christianity may not mean the rejection of Christ,” he wrote. "We can never say with ultimate certainty whether a non-Christian who has rejected Christianity...is still following the temporary path mapped out for his own salvation which is leading him to an encounter with God.”
Rosica's statement was written in response to the many calls and messages he received after Francis' controversial homily.
The Catholic Church defines redemption and salvation differently: while everyone is redeemed through the death of Jesus Christ, salvation is offered by God and can be either accepted or rejected individually.
In his homily, the pope said everyone, "even the atheists," have been redeemed "with the Blood of Christ," according to Vatican Radio.
"If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter," Francis said. "We must meet one another doing good. 'But I don't believe, Father, I am an atheist!' But do good: we will meet one another there."
The Vatican's statement seemed to attempt to do damage control for Francis' remarks, emphasizing that his job is more to speak well than to provide an indisputable interpretation of the Bible.
"[Pope Francis] is first and foremost a seasoned pastor and preacher who has much experience in reaching people," the statement said. "His words are not spoken in the context of a theological faculty or academy nor in interreligious dialogue or debate."
(h/t Christian Post)
Correction: A previous version of this article asserted that Rosica had said that atheists cannot be saved, and attributed the quotation from the Catechism to Rosica.