It must be tough to elect a Pope. Once such men put on the "shoes of the fisherman" they do tend to become just like their namesake, Peter. You never know just what they are going to say or do next.
The current Pope is no exception. In fact, he appears to embrace controversy. First, his comments (actually a quote from a 14th century emperor) about the inherit violence of the Moslem faith sparked a reaction of, well, violence against the Roman Church. As if to prove the Pope's point, the reactionary Moslems executed a nun and her bodyguard, as well as torched several churches, thinking this would prove the inherent peaceful nature of their religion. An al Qaeda militant group vowed a war against all "worshippers of the cross" in response to the Pope's speech.
Not bad for the first year of Papacy.
But now Benedict XVI has even bigger plans. He intends to formally consign Limbo to the trash heap of bad ideas. Now I know that Limbo was never "officially endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church;" yet try to tell that to anyone who came through the Catholic educational system even 20 years ago. Limbo was anything but in Limbo back then, let me tell you.
Yet, its existence as even an unofficial teaching is now coming to an end. Pope Benedict will soon officially "abolish the concept of Limbo" and "assign it to the history books ."
For those who did not go through any facet of the Catholic world, the doctrine of Limbo had to do with the ultimate fate of un-baptized infants. People could not conceive of babies going to Hell. At the same time, doctrinally they could not go to Heaven since as babies they could not make a positive move toward belief in Christ and had not the advantage of a valid Baptism. So, as a compromise, the Medieval Church came up with Limbo. Limbo was a "place or state of infants dying without the Sacrament of Baptism who suffer the pain of loss but not the pain of sense." It was a solution that has worked for at least 600 years.
Be that as it may be, Benedict intends to officially end the doctrine and declare that infants without the advantage of Baptism still die "in the hope of eternal life." I am not certain that he means by that statement that they get to go directly to heaven or not, but I guess that is how it is going to be interpreted. If that is the case, considering the doctrine of purgatory is still around, un-baptized babies will probably get into heaven before a lot of adults.
This action, as commendable as it is, raises many more issues than it solves. As noted, the concept of Limbo did not develop, if you excuse the expression, in Limbo. It was a concept that developed as a logical consequence of other doctrines; specifically that of Original Sin and Baptismal Regeneration. The doctrine of Original Sin is pretty much accepted by most modern Christian groups and remains, as far as I know, an official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. By this doctrine, all men are born with the "stain of Adam's sin on their souls." As such, all men, even before they are born, are under the state of judgment by God. If nothing is done to get rid of this stain of Adam's Sin, such people will end up in Hell.
Which brings us to the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration. According to the Roman Catholic Church (among many others) through the actions of Christ, baptism "washes away" this stain of original sin from the infant (as well as any other more direct sins committed by the baptized prior to receiving the sacrament).
When the question came up, "what about unbaptized infants or infants who died in the womb and were thus incapable of receiving baptism?" They were born with the "Sin of Adam" on their souls. Without Baptism, this sin remained. Augustine was ready to consign such infants to the fires of Hell. Others in history, like the Jansenists, were eager to follow Augustine in this regard.
By the Middle Ages, people could even conceptually assign babies to such a horrid fate. "Original Sin's effects are real," they would say. "But qualitatively different from sins committed by the person. Original sin is a sin of nature and not of the person. Therefore, the punishment for the two types of sins must be different." Therefore, the doctrine of Limbo was born. Such infants were not good enough for Heaven and not bad enough for Hell, so to Limbo (the place between) they went.
But please note the environment within which the Limbo doctrine developed. If you were consistent with the Doctrine of Original Sin and Baptismal Regeneration, the only recourse was that un-baptized infants were in Hell. It was never a question of whether such infants without the sacrament went into heaven. No theologian appeared to suggest that as even a possibility. The theological environment of the first few centuries up to the Middle Ages was much more inclined to put all un-baptized people, including infants, in Hell. Limbo, popularized by Aquinas, was viewed as the most merciful option available and then only for the infants and the unborn.
But with this doctrine now gone or almost so, where goes its two pillars, "Original Sin" and "Baptismal Regeneration?" After all, it was the heavy influence of these two doctrines combined with infant fatalities that led to the doctrine of Limbo in the first place. Are not the core assumptions about these doctrines now thrown in doubt as well? If the Sin of Adam does not transfer to you to keep you out of heaven, then of what power is it? Does Original Sin in this sense then exist at all. If Original Sin does not transfer from Adam to your, or it if does, it has no power to keep you out of Heaven, then of what "sacramental" advantage is baptism? To use the common analogies: if Original Sin doesn't make you dirty, then of what necessity is Baptismal washing?
Just maybe it is time to question these doctrines as well. After all, Original Sin was never a doctrine developed by the Jews, despite having Genesis in their repertoire for a very long time. Even on the Christian end, it is supported by a very slim number of passages from the Apostle Paul, and even those are subject to other interpretations.
As far as Baptismal Regeneration goes, very few Protestant churches accept it. If they can discard it so easily, perhaps it too will end up in the Roman Junk heap of doctrines. However, I am not an expert, but I think both Original Sin and Baptismal Regeneration are part of the official teaching of Rome. They are not going to go away as easily.
But after Limbo is gone, I think they are going to be much more vulnerable.