"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. . . . 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! . . . 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."
The Huffington Post added to the confusion by using the headline "Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics." Here's my response to all this:
"Redeemed" is not the same as "saved." All the Pope was saying is that Christ died for all mankind. Whether a person chooses to avail himself of that saving work is another matter altogether. The Huffington Post's headline is yet another example of how the media doesn't "get religion," especially, I might add, Catholicism. The Pope's remarks boil down to two -- in my opinion, completely uncontroversial -- points: One, Christ died for all of humanity, and, two, all people, by virtue of their being created in the Divine Image, are capable of doing good, regardless of their beliefs or lack thereof. When the Pope speaks of meeting them "there," the "there" is that common capacity for doing good, not heaven.
It is true that Catholic thinking can accommodate what some see as "universalism," although it's not really the belief that all will be saved as much as the HOPE that all might be saved. But accommodation isn't the same thing as teaching. It's just a way of acknowledging that an idea is not beyond the pale.
I suspect that part of the problem is that we are taking remarks originally made in Italian and rendering them in English. The Italian word for "redemption," "redenzione" indicates "il sacrificio di Cristo per liberare gli uomini dalla schiavitù del peccato e del male," "the sacrifice of Christ that liberates humanity from the slavery of sin and evil." In other words, "redeemed" refers to Christ's sacrifice and not our response.