UPDATE 12/14/2014: According to Religion News, a version of the quote in question was attributed in the original article to Paul VI, who died in 1978. However, "there is no evidence that Francis repeated the words during his public audience on Nov. 26, as has been widely reported, nor was there was a boy mourning his dead dog."
Good news for Catholic pet owners (and slightly less good news for Catholic meat-eaters, potentially): According to Pope Francis, animals can go to heaven after all.
The New York Times is reporting that, in his latest break with conservative theology, the pope recently consoled a small child whose dog had died by assuring him that "one day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ," and "paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
It's unclear whether the pope meant to contradict the long-standing theological position that animals don't have souls and therefore just stop existing when they die -- it was, as some pointed out, a casual, not doctrinal, statement -- but animal rights' groups are running with it.
“If the pope did mean that all animals go to heaven, then the implication is that animals have a soul,” Christine Gutleben, the senior director of faith outreach at the Humane Society of the United States, told the Times. “And if that’s true, then we ought to seriously consider how we treat them. We have to admit that these are sentient beings, and they mean something to God.”
The director of Christian outreach and engagement at PETA went even further, suggesting that Catholics might now consider going vegan. The meat industry, naturally, disagrees with that interpretation.