Fact Check

Did Pope Francis Say It's Not Necessary to Believe in God?

Although Pope Francis did make statements in 2013 that were widely received as atypically inclusive of nonbelievers, he did not completely discount the necessity for a belief in God.

Published Dec 14, 2014

FILE - In this Saturday, June 3, 2017 file photo, Pope Francis attends an audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Pope Francis says that when he was 42 he had sessions weekly with a psychoanalyst who was female and Jewish to "clarify some things." It wasn't specified what the future pontiff wanted to explore. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino) (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Image Via AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
Pope Francis said it's not necessary for one to believe in God in order to be a good person.

In December 2014, an image of Pope Francis was circulated via social media, with a strike quote appended to it suggesting that the pontiff had said "It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person":

The quote was deemed plausible by many Facebook users (who subsequently shared it) due in part because Pope Francis has been both inclusive and non-judgmental in his commentary thus far regarding faith, morality, and good deeds. The heavily-circulated quote also read to many as a natural extension of what was widely viewed as partial acceptance of atheism by Pope Francis during a May 2013 homily: back then, Pope Francis' words were interpreted by some to mean atheists could achieve redemption through good deeds without belief in God, while others inferred the comments merely referenced corporeal time on Earth and cooperation towards peace:

"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class. We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all. And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. 'But I don't believe, Father, I am an atheist!' But do good: We will meet one another there."

Following Pope Francis' homily, Fr. Thomas Rosica (a Vatican spokesperson who specializes in translating the Pope's remarks for English-speaking Catholics and the media) issued a clarification stating the homily's content was not intended to suggest belief in God was immaterial to salvation:

This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.

Earlier comments notwithstanding, the quote appended to the image that circulated in December 2014 does not match any verifiable comments made by Pope Francis. Although Pope Francis did make statements in 2013 that were widely received as atypically inclusive of nonbelievers, they did not resemble the "not necessary to believe in God to be a good person" quote. It's not clear where the quote originated, but there is no proof (nor is there precedent) for the claim Pope Francis voiced it.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.