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Last Updated: Friday, 6 October 2006, 09:24 GMT 10:24 UK
Vatican to review state of limbo
Pope Benedict XVI, 24 September
The Pope is said never to have believed in the concept
Catholic experts are expected to advise Pope Benedict XVI that teachings on the state of limbo - somewhere between heaven and hell - should be amended.

For centuries many Roman Catholics have believed that the souls of babies who die before baptism remain in limbo.

But the concept has never been part of official Church teaching, and it is thought Pope Benedict may be keen to do away with it.

The Pope has been quoted as dismissing the notion as a mere "hypothesis".

The Catholic Church is concerned about the grief suffered by the parents of stillborn babies, which could be compounded if they believed the souls of their children were to be excluded from heaven.

Question mark
A feature to the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

The theory of limbo was expounded in the Middle Ages as a solution to the theological question over what happened to the souls of babies who had not been cleansed by baptism of the "original sin" Catholics believe is inherent in all humanity, but were too young to have committed any sins of their own.

Limbo has also been held to be the final destination for people who lived virtuous lives before the time of Christ. It is not certain whether this teaching is likely to be changed.

Change rare

The matter is under the consideration of the Church's international Theological Commission, whose annual meeting ends on Friday.

The Catholic Church is usually very tenacious about its beliefs and does not change its teaching lightly, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.

This is a good move by the Pope to alleviate the psychological suffering of parents who have lost a child
Helen, UK

However, Benedict, who before he became Pope was the Church's top authority on doctrine, is known to be keen to tie up loose theological ends.

Our correspondent says some have suggested that the possible change is an attempt by the Vatican to prevent people in developing countries with high infant mortality rates turning to Islam - Muslims believe the souls of stillborn babies go straight to paradise.

But Father John MacDaid, a theologian and principal of the Catholic Heythrop College at the University of London, denied the suggestion.

"I don't think there is any rivalry here," he said.

"What I would say to any parent who loses a child and who is anxious about the destiny of that child is that we must have complete confidence that that child is now embraced by God in heaven."

Learn about the catholic concept of limbo

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