VATICAN CITY (AP) – Vatican theologians are leaning toward revising centuries-old teaching that babies who die without baptism go to limbo instead of heaven, officials said Friday.
"All of us have hope for the babies" that they will go to heaven, under the revised thinking on limbo, said the Rev. Luis Ladaria, a Jesuit who is secretary-general of the Vatican's International Theological Commission.
The commission, which advises the pope and other top doctrinal officials of the church, has spent the week debating the question of limbo in view of preparing a document.
Although Catholics have long believed that children who die without being baptized still have original sin and are thus excluded from heaven, the church has no formal doctrine on the matter, Vatican officials have noted.
Theologians have taught that such children enjoy an eternal state of perfect natural happiness, commonly called limbo.
The theologians, including clergy and laity, were holding a final session Friday evening. But Ladaria said the theologians have not reached the point of drafting a document.
Italian state TV reported Thursday evening that the document would be ready next year.
"That could be very possible," Ladaria said. But "when it will be ready to be published, should they (the Vatican) decide to do so, doesn't depend on" the commission.
Ladaria made his comments during a break in the debate, speaking by telephone from the Vatican City guest house hosting the meeting.
Since both Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, John Paul II, have urged the theologians to study the limbo question, a document is widely expected to be made public.
Benedict celebrated Mass with members of the commission Friday, but his homily, a reflection on theologians' work, did not touch on the limbo debate.
Ladaria's hopes for the non-baptized babies' fate after death echoed the optimistic opinion by an Italian bishop who is on the commission.
Asked if the document will "tip the balance in the favor of heaven" for babies now believed to go to limbo, Archbishop Bruno Forte told state TV, "I hope so."
Archbishop William Levada, the San Francisco prelate who last year became the Vatican's guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy after Benedict assumed the papacy, has described the need to resolve the limbo question as a pressing one.
Levada has cited an increase in the number of non-baptized babies in societies he said were marked by "cultural relativism and religious pluralism."
Ladaria in an interview last year with Vatican Radio described the long-held view on limbo, as a state where the babies enjoyed "natural happiness" but had no vision of God, as "being in crisis."
Any document on limbo would likely reflect Benedict's nature, as a career theologian, to spell out the Church's stand on limbo in a well-developed theological argument.
© 2006 The Associated Press