A Theological Debate Is Unleashed: Are Dogs Heaven Bound?

By Smith, Peter | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), December 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

A Theological Debate Is Unleashed: Are Dogs Heaven Bound?


Smith, Peter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Will the Hound of Heaven, as a poet famously depicted God, let hounds in heaven?

The question of whether animals are in heaven, which has vexed theologians and laypeople for generations, has been the subject of animated debate in recent days, prompting fresh examination of the question and illuminating the passion of pet owners.

The worldwide debate was set off by reports, disavowed Saturday by the Vatican, that Pope Francis suggested heaven is open to all of God's creatures. The pope, at his Nov. 26 audience at St. Peter's Square, did remark that "the Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us." He went on to quote Paul's epistle to the Romans: "Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God."

Charles Camosy, a professor of theology at Fordham University, said that while the Bible doesn't offer a definitive answer, Catholic theologians have historically agreed that animals have some type of soul.

"The thing that's contested is what kind of souls they have," he said. "What's usually interpreted today is that only rational souls like us survive, but that's in some tension with [the books of the Apostle] Paul and Revelation, which seem to say all of creation gets redeemed."

He added that if a Christian parent is asked by a child if their pet is in heaven, "they don't have to say no."

Does that mean animals will be resurrected?

The Bible is inconclusive on the matter, and while some have contended that animals lack immortal souls and the will to choose right or wrong, others say that very lack of moral will makes them candidates for heaven, since they don't have any sin.

At Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair, worshipers will gather for a semi-annual pet remembrance service today, part of a larger ministry geared toward pet owners and other concerns about the natural world.

Mr. Camosy said the broad question of dogs in heaven dovetails with ethical concerns about animals overall. Recent Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have strongly denounced the mistreatment of animals, such as the confining of factory-farm animals in tight cages. Benedict, who was known as the "Green Pope," said the Earth's spreading deserts are a sign of humans' "internal deserts. …

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