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Cambridge, MA – As the controversy and questions continue to arise around what Pope Francis really said last week regarding Heaven, Hell, atheism and salvation, writers for both secular and Catholic media outlets are still trying to determine whether atheists are destined for Heaven or doomed to Hades. The nation’s fastest-growing apologetics organization notes Pope Francis has not only said nothing new, but his remarks are far less extreme than those of his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

“Pope Benedict XVI taught that some atheists are actually closer to God than many Christians,” said Rachel McHugh, Chair of New Apologetics, a non-profit focused on fostering dialogue between Catholics and atheists. “If the average Catholic truly understood what the Church teaches on the idea of salvation, they’d realize it’s better to be an honest atheist than a Christian with empty piety.”

As evidence, Ms. McHugh referred to the September 25, 2011 open-air Mass in the German City of Freiburg, where Pope Benedict XVI updated the warning of Christ that “tax collectors and harlots” were closer to God than the religious leaders of the day.

“Agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of their sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is ‘routine’ and who regard the Church merely as an institution,” said Pope Benedict XVI.

According to a review by New Apologetics contributors, Pope Francis was simply stating what the Church officially teaches in very direct language: We are all blind and sinful; God is the one who redeems us. Atheists, homosexuals, prostitutes, IRS agents and religious people, etc. are all in the same need of rescue…and God has definitively provided that rescue. The gift is there for us all whether or not we believe it.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, New Apologetics is the fastest growing Catholic apologetics organization worldwide. Part of the Caritas in Veritate International confederation of Catholic institutions, New Apologetics is a non-profit organization dedicated to the New Evangelization through the renewal of theology and philosophy of religion.

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