Pope Francis suggests that pets can go to heaven

The pope was trying to comfort a young boy whose dog had recently died

The issue of whether animals have the chance of an afterlife has been debated for centuries and sparked no shortage of discomfort for believers who have pets.

Pope Pius IX, the longest-serving pontiff whose term spanned from 1846 to 1878, believed that dogs and other animals had no consciousness.

But now Pope Francis may have given pet owners some hope. Apparently trying to comfort a young boy whose dog had recently died, he declared that “paradise is open to all God’s creatures”.

Pope Francis’s speech, delivered late last month during a public appearance on St Peter’s Square in Rome has reportedly reverberated through the church and Christian organisations that deal with animals. The New York Times said organisations such as the Humane Society, the largest animal protection group in the US, had been busy discussing his comments.

Pope Francis, whose term succeeding Benedict XVI began in March 2013, has on several instances sparked controversy within the Catholic faith with comments that have upset conservatives. He has spoken out for leniency towards gays and unmarried couples.

The newspaper said that Pope Francis had cited a number of biblical passages that assert that animals not only go to heaven, but get along with one another when they get there. The Italian media reported him as saying: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

Chris Fegan, General Secretary of the British charity Catholic Concern for Animals, said he believed Christians with pets would be delighted by the pope’s comments. He said previous popes had hinted at such but that none had been so explicit.

“Lots of Catholics whose lose an animal would hope to see their friend again,” he said. “When you lose a loved one, whether it’s a person or an animal friend, you grieve.”