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Dear Fr. Bechtel,

Before ask you something, I need to you to know that I'm a member of the Catholic Traditionalist movement who always attends the Traditional Latin Mass.  I mention that only to to tell what perspective I see the Faith from, not to debate anything on which we might disagree.

You know, I'm sure, that there still may be good reasons to believe that the souls of unbaptized infants go to Limbo, including the reasons I've found in this (http://www.fatima.org/news/newsviews/limbo.asp) article from my favorite periodical Catholic Family News.

Now I'll explain what troubles me.  Years ago, I watched an EWTN program where a counselor said that, after their abortions, she suggests that they name their aborted children, know that they forgive their moms, and that they remember that they'll see them in Heaven.

You're right to urge us to entrust those babies to God's infinite mercy.  But I worry that, if their souls do go to Limbo, the well-meaning, devout counselors I'm thinking of are unintentionally giving their clients false hope.  What do you think?

Thank you and God bless,
Bill

Answer
Bill,

Thank you for your very good question.

I am presuming your traditionalist movement is in communion with Rome.  Some are not.  In the area where I am assigned there is a "Traditionalist" church but they are not in union with the Catholic Church.

I have to admit for myself (because I was raised both Protestant AND Catholic) while I LOVE the Mass and the Catholic Faith, I have never developed the kind of appreciation for the ritualistic aspects of the Faith OR the external displays of the Faith (stained glass, statues, etc.) that many priests have whether traditionalist or not.  

On to your question:

As far as I understand the Catechism put out in 1992 removed reference to Limbo.  Here is what is says:

1261 "As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,"63 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism"

The Church did not "do away" with the doctrine of Limbo.  It still belongs to heterodoxy: not officially condemned, but not officially taught.  This means theologians are still free to debate the doctrine.  This also means Catholics right now are free to accept or reject the doctrine.  

I think some understanding of Limbo may help before I go further:  Limbo was NEVER understood as a place of torment.  Limbo was understood as a place of NATURAL happiness.  It was part of "Hell." The way the word "Hell" was used was not to refer to a place of torment, but simply a place of NATURAL happiness (as opposed to SUPERNATURAL happiness.) The saints not only experience natural happiness but SUPERNATURAL happiness because the life of God is within them.  

Those who are in Limbo (if such a "place" exists) are as happy as they can possibly be.  They are as happy as their human natures will allow--but they are not saved--they do not possess life in God and hence do not experience the super natural joy of heaven.  

In the above I give you the intellectual part of this discussion. Now I will give you the more emotional aspect.

Intellectually I think the doctrine of Limbo has great merit and I think it is water tight.  

However my ministry and experience is causing me to rethink this doctrine.  From an emotional standpoint I ABHOR the doctrine.  I have encountered enough families who have lost their children either through a miscarriage or shortly after birth.  I see the pain of loss on their faces and I sense the "Hell" they are going through in loosing a child.  

One day after having talked with the daughter of a person who had lost a child due to a miscarriage, after she left I experienced their pain and I felt their despair.  I began to cry.  I told God during that time in prayer that he had to be better than that--it does not seem just that these people might not see their child happy in heaven after all the pain the family went through as a result of the child's death.  

The God revealed on the cross is not that kind of God. It seemed absurd to me that God would go through all of that on the cross--only so someone who didn't follow the "rules" would have to go to Hell.  In other words---the God who died on the cross is going to condemn someone on a technicality?  What kind of God is that?  

In short--you can see within me are polar opposites: intellectually I accept the doctrine, emotionally I reject it outright.

I cannot currently resolve this sufficiently.  I have to live with this dichotomy I suppose until I meet God and find out.

In answer to your question---I think the counselors are doing the best they can to help those who grieve the loss of their children, especially those who realize now the horror that Abortion is. The idea that a child who was aborted (murdered) and then--all because of a technicality cannot get into heaven seems to me to be a double injustice. It becomes a triple injustice when the women who had the abortion comes face to face with the evil she committed and repents.  I think a women should have hope that she will be with her child again one day and that the injustice of her Abortion will be righted.  

What about the women who never repent from the evil of abortion?  You mean to tell me not only did the mother reject the child, but God did too?  Again--what kind of a God is that?  With all due respect a God like that is  God I want nothing to do with---God or not.  

If anyone wants to call me a no good heretic because of what I said--so be it. (I respectfully suggest however there is a big difference between this kind of "heresy" and a Cafeteria  Catholic.) I just have a very hard time believing that a God of love works or doesn't work based solely on technicalities.  I would never go so far as to say for certain unbaptized babies go to heaven---but at this point I think I do believe it.

The answer I gave you is a little messy.  It isn't a nice, clean black and white answer I admit--but it is the best I can do with a very difficult subject. If it causes you to think I guess I will have to consider that a success since in this case I cannot provide a nice, clean absolute answer.  

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Father Dave Bechtel

Expertise

I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.

Experience

I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Education/Credentials
Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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