The New York Times published a story this week in which Pope Francis allegedly comforted a boy by telling him that pets go to heaven because “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” The story turned out to be false.
Animal lovers were comforted by a story this week which reported that Pope Francis comforted a boy who had recently lost his pet dog, stating, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
Despite being reported by the New York Times – a story which was repeated and heavily cited by respected news organizations – it turns out that Pope Francis did not speak these words at all – as noted by a correction issued by the Times.
The actual quote spoken by the 77-year old pontiff was, “Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.” When that quote was reported by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the writer opined that Francis meant afterlife existed for animals. He also included a reference to a decades-old quote by Pope Paul VI in which a young boy was consoled about the loss of his dog. It would appear that as the story was translated, the Paul VI quote became attributed to Francis.
As the story went viral on social media, some writers began to question the report. A USA Today article entitled, “Sorry, Fido. Pope Francis didn’t say pets go to heaven” effectively debunks the report, noting that “none of that appears to be true” and refers to the Times story as a “fable,” an “urban legend” and a “journalistic train wreck.”
Had the quote been real, it would have been a reversal of the position held by Pope Benedict XVI, who stated in 2008 that “For other creatures, who are not called to eternity, death just means the end of existence on Earth.”
Pope John Paul II Statements on Pet Afterlife
The Times article, entitled, “Dogs in Heaven? Pope Francis Leaves Pearly Gates Open,” also included an alleged quote from 1990 by Pope John Paul II, which proclaimed that animals are “as near to God as men are.” The Times noted that this sentiment was in contradiction to Pope Pius IX as well as John Paul II’s successor Pope Benedict XVI. It appears, however, that the John Paul II quote was also erroneous, as dissected in an article by GetReligion, which in turn cites a 2010 Faith.org.uk post about papal quotations regarding animals.
That post describes the Pope John Paul II quote as “problematic” and a “very rough translation.” Faith provides what they claim to be a more accurate translation as, “Other texts, however, admit that animals too have a breath or vital spirit received from God. In this regard, man, coming from God’s hands, appears in solidarity with all living beings.”
On December 12, the Times issued a correction, which explained that the article originally “misstated the circumstances of Pope Francis’ remarks” and notes that the quote in question was actually spoken by Pope Paul VI.
Pope Francis did not say that dogs – or any animal – have souls or afterlives. The quote attributed to Pope Francis was actually spoken by Pope Paul VI decades ago, cited in the Corriere della Sera article, and translated as having been spoken by the current pontiff. The Times also included a quote by Pope John Paul II that allegedly claims pets go to heaven, which also appears to be inaccurate.