BY MARK GREAVES
A VATICAN commission will conclude that the Church should drop the teaching of limbo, according to two of its members.
Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chiete-Vasto, a member of the International Theological Commission, said that the concept of limbo was "neither essential nor necessary" and could be dropped "without compromising the faith at all".
The archbishop told the I Media news agency last week that in the case of unbaptised babies "it would seem that the saving power of Christ ought to prevail over the power of sin".
The archbishop said there would he no change to Church doctrine since limbo was never a defined article of faith and is not included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Instead the 30 theologians who make up the commission will recommend avoiding "the use of images and metaphors that do not adequately account for the richness of the message of hope that is given to us in Jesus Christ".
The Vatican advisory body met for five days last week to discuss the concept of limbo and its origins.
Fr Paul McPartlan, another member of the commission and a professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, said that a statement on the subject could be released as early as 2007.
He explained that the main thesis of the document had been agreed upon but that details were yet to be added.
He said that the Church could not be certain about the fate of unbaptised babies, but argued that there were "good grounds to hope that God in his mercy and love looks after these children and brings them to salvation".
The document "in no way means to lessen the urgency with which the Church invites parents to have their children baptised," Fr McPartlan said.
"What we are trying to do is to say, 'What does the Church say when confronted with the situation of an infant who has died without being baptised?' That and that alone is what prompted our document. "The answer is not a simplistic, 'Oh, don't worry; everything is fine,' but rather that God's love gives a solid basis for hoping those children will be saved."
Auxiliary Bishop John Arnold of Westminster said he believed infant baptism was "an important notion" which marked "a new spiritual beginning". But he insisted that once we reach the limits of human understanding we should hold on "very strongly" to the idea of God's love and God's mercy.
He said: "It's hard to imagine any sense of punishment for a child who's not been baptised even when the punishment is a denial of grace.
"But it's right that our theologians grapple with the subject and that we try to organise what we know about God and what we know about the Church."
He added: "In the end we can't conclude with nice definitions because we are dealing with God, and God is love. That's the idea we've got to come back to when the arguments run aground or don't fit quite as neatly as we would like."
The commission began formal studies of the question in 2004 when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was president.
In the 1985 book-length interview, The Ratzinger Report, and in the 2000 book, God and the World, the future Pope Benedict argued that focusing on the hope of salvation made more sense theologically then upholding the idea of limbo.
He pointed out that limbo was never a defined article of Catholic faith and was only a hypothesis formed on the basis of the Church's belief in the need for baptism.
He was quoted as saying: "Personally, I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis."
Pope Benedict celebrated Mass last Friday with the commission members and spoke in his homily about the role of theologians in listening to the word of God to help people hear the good news.
Fr McPartlan said the commission began considering the subject because priests and bishops around the world had asked then Cardinal Ratzinger for "an updated Catholic statement in response to the distressing human situation" of parents mourning the loss of a baby before baptism.