[Update: Vatican spokesman Rev. Thomas Rosica has since corrected Pope Francis concerning his teachings on salvation. Not good for affirming papal infallibility.]
Pope Francis made waves around the world today when he proclaimed that all who do good, even non-believing atheists, are redeemed. At the risk of alienating some of my closest Catholic friends, I thought it prudent to point out how the Pope's comments in light of the dogma of papal infallibility should be deeply unsettling for any Christian-- Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox.
First, it's important to note the context and history of the dogma we call "papal infallibility." Like many other Roman Catholic dogmas, it has no basis in the Bible, and thus has none of the authority that Scripture alone contains. Papal infallibility, in essence, is any doctrine defined by the Pope in "his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians" which can be made under the possession of "infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals."
In other words, when the Pope is speaking in the capacity as teacher on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, his words are infallible, trustworthy, and cannot be untrue. The text I cited above is quoted directly from the the First Vatican Council, when the Catholic Church dogmatically affirmed papal infallibility as a doctrine, more than 1800 years after Christ's ascension.
To be sure, the concept of the Pope's infallibility had been traditionally accepted by Church consensus centuries earlier, but it's important to note that it was largely the Counter-Reformation's response to the Protestant backlash against ecclesiastical hierarchy where we find a stronger affirmation for papal authority and infallibility, likely sometime around the Council of Trent.
Leaving papal infallibility aside for a minute, it's extremely important to consider the weight of Pope Francis' words. Historically, the Catholic Church has generally affirmed more liberal soteriological views than its Protestant counterparts-- many popes in eras past have emphasized that salvation is only possible through faith in Christ alone, but also affirmed and assured when good works are incorporated.
Francis' remarks, however, are a drastic departure even from traditional dogma. To say that the "Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!" is obviously hearkening to universalist undertones, which have historically been rejected by the Catholic Church (dogmatically affirmed by Church leaders at the Second Council of Orange in their rejection of Pelagianism).
While the view of papal infallibility itself is unbiblical (e.g., Romans 3:23, which means that in all aspects of life, man is fallible, even in teaching and preaching), its coupling with Francis' new dogmatic innovations are extraordinarily troubling. In essence, if what Francis says is true, and what he says is that all have been redeemed, regardless of Christ's salvation, then we now have human-inspired doctrine that is diametrically opposed to what is taught in the Bible.
The Word of God is clear on the matter-- salvation is only possible through Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5: "For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." Jesus says in John 14:6: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Furthermore, Francis' statements are doubly wrong in also saying that salvation is possible through good works alone. In his letter to the Ephesians (2:8-9), Paul states: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." Proverbs 14:12 tells us exactly where our works lead to: "There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death." In other words, if the Bible is so clear that men are so fruitless by works alone, how can we possibly earn our way to heaven by our hand?
Such words completely in contradiction with the Bible and only authorized by the false dogma of papal infallibility indicate a clear and abrupt departure from Scripture. If the Roman Catholic Church claims to be the only true "church" yet produces teachings that are wholly inconsistent with the very Word of God, then how can the Vatican possibly have any spiritual authority?
Pope Francis' remarks have to be deeply unsettling to any Catholic who truly honors the Word and trusts in Christ alone for his or her salvation. Any person associated with an ecclesiastic body that teaches against such a central and core piece of doctrine should leave that body immediately, and pray that it will ultimately repent from such heretical ways.