In a statement that’s likely to thrill Bill Maher as well as atheists, agnostics, and nominal Catholics the world over, not to mention make life much more difficult for persecuted Christians, Pope Francis seems to have implied that heaven is reachable without the blood of Jesus Christ.

That’s right – according to a letter he wrote to Eugenio Scalfari, founder of La Repubblica newspaper, the pontiff suggested that, contrary to Biblical Christianity, God forgives individuals who follow their consciences, even if those sin-addled consciences tell them He doesn’t exist.

In other words, if Francis literally means what he said, conscience has been promoted above the tenets of Christianity, and now supersedes anything the Scripture has maintained to be true for 5,000 years.

In response to a list of questions Mr. Scalfari posed to the Vicar of Conscience, er, I mean Christ, Pope Francis replied to questions about salvation in the following way: “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.”

Then the Pope said: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! … Even the atheists. Everyone!” What the Holy Father forgot to mention is that believers are “saved by grace through faith” in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice.

If Francis’s comments are taken at face value, for “those who do not believe in God,” Jesus’s edict that “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned,” no longer applies.

Regrettably, for the conscience-centered crowd there is also a bit of a glitch, because the Bible also says, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.”

Furthermore, Christianity teaches that it is the conscience that reveals the truth of who God is. Thus, the God-given conscience that the pope now claims ensures salvation, if the Word of God is true, actually condemns unbelievers who knowingly reject what Scripture says is inherent in every human being.

Likewise, the Apostle Paul, killjoy that he was, stressed that “the law,” which is influenced by conscience, “was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.”

Christianity teaches that belief in Christ supersedes the lesser law driven by what seemingly is the current pope’s personal code of principle.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis expounded further: “Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

Could Francis actually be saying that people are now free to obey their own morally relativistic sense of right and wrong and still get to heaven?

Diametrically opposed to Biblical credo, what that statement suggests is that strict obedience to conscience assures redemption for both believer and unbeliever alike. The problem is that the Scripture warns that “The heart [mind] is deceitful above all things … desperately wicke[d]” and totally untrustworthy.

Robert Mickens, the Vatican correspondent for the Catholic journal The Tablet, said the pontiff’s remarks were an indication that the new pope is about the business of shaking off the Catholic Church’s antiquated image, an image that was established by Jesus Christ, reiterated in the Bible, and furthered by Francis’s extremely conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

According to Mr. Mickens’ definition, which is clearly informed by his own personal interpretation, “Francis is still a conservative.” Indeed; and in the world of politics, liberal Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) are also technically Republicans.

Mickens maintains that the issue here is that the pope is merely “seeking to have a more meaningful dialogue with the world,” which evidently now includes modifying the Gospel of Christ.

Nevertheless, Mr. Scalfari, who is not Catholic and probably welcomed the newfangled, conscience-driven salvation message, said the Pope’s comments were “further evidence of his ability and desire to overcome barriers in dialogue with all.”

For Christians at least, in the overall scheme of eternity, if what it takes to “overcome barriers in dialogue” is preaching a watered-down gospel, in the end, will the pope-induced “meaningful dialogue” have accomplished anything worthwhile?

Suffice it to say that if Pope Francis sincerely believes that obeying our human conscience is on par with Jesus’s sacrifice, then sorry, but the pontiff is close to personifying the description in the Bible which says there are those who the “god of this world has blinded …to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” – not to mention references to things like millstones, stumbling blocks, and apostasy.

Then again, although contrary to the basic tenets of Christianity, if what Papa Francisco said is true, someone should have informed Jesus, who was evidently mistaken when He proclaimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” After all, if eternal redemption could have been attained any other way than on Golgotha’s hill, Jesus shouldn’t have bothered; He could have spared Himself the agony of being be nailed to a tree for the sake of those who believe.

Jeannie hosts a blog at: www.jeannie-ology.com

Image: Flickr: Atheists at the Twin Cities Pride Parade 2011; author: Fibonacci Blue; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.