At first, word seeped out quietly and gradually. Then a firestorm of headlines emerged. It appeared that Pope Francis, through various statements, had essentially guaranteed tickets to heaven for all animals. The world was abuzz with delight. Major media outlets reported variations of, "Pope Says All Animal Really Do Go to Heaven!" and "Dogs Now Welcome Into the Pearly Gates!" Even as a Catholic friend and animal advocate challenged the authenticity of these headlines, I too succumbed. It now appears that no such statements were actually made. Yet, as animal-loving Christians experience another season of Advent and Christmas, traditionally marked with hope, joy, and anticipation, many will simultaneously have more questions than answers when it comes to the subject of animals and an afterlife.
Why was this story such a big one?
The majority of American households have companion animals. Many consider them part of the family. The majority of Americans also believe in heaven. Thus, it isn't surprising that many of us would hope to be reunited with our beloved animals after death. Whether there is a place for non-human animals in heaven has been debated in theological circles, however. So last week's headlines may have been a sigh of relief, to confirm what people (especially Catholics) already believe in their hearts, or a glimmer of hope for anyone who had doubts.