ROME, Italy (CNN)-
When Amy Kitchens Pollick was but a girl of 10, death claimed her beloved cat, Big Tom.
The loss was tough enough for a little girl. But there was also the sticky question of heaven. So she took her concerns to her father, “the seat of all spiritual wisdom.”
“With tears in his eyes, Daddy said, ‘Now Little One. The Bible says the Lord sees even every sparrow that falls,” Pollick wrote on Facebook. “If He sees every sparrow, He’s not going to forget about a good old kitty like Big Tom.'”
“I’ve held that in my heart ever since,” the Decatur, Alabama, woman said Friday.
Now, it seems another spiritual leader, Pope Francis, may have come around to Daddy Kitchens’ way of thinking.
According to widely cited Italian media reports, Francis recently told a young boy grieving the loss of a pet dog that “paradise is open to all God’s creatures.”
“One day,” he said, according to reports cited by The New York Times and other outlets, “we will see our animals again in eternity of Christ.”
It’s yet another instance of Francis appearing to rock the theological boat carrying the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics on their voyage to eternity.
While Catholic teachings don’t reject the notion that animals have souls, its, um, dogma, has long held that animals don’t go to heaven.
That belief ruffles the feathers of many animal lovers who long to be reunited with beloved pets in the afterlife. So it’s no surprise that the recent announcement by the Pope — who chose has papal name in honor of fabled animal lover St. Francis of Assisi — was well-received by animal lovers.
But, as is the case with previous and similarly well-received statements from the pope on homosexuality, women in the church and other issues, his comments may not represent a big shift in church thinking.
“Nothing has changed,” said the Rev. Edward Beck, a CNN religion commentator.
The idea that Rover will be romping down streets paved of gold chasing a pearly white … bone? … is a bit simplistic, according to Beck’s view.
All those clouds and harps and angels we populate heaven with aren’t real, he says. And animal souls aren’t quite like ours, anyway, Beck says. Animals can’t make moral choices like we do, and don’t love exactly the same way we can. But they are part of a circle of love that we carry with us when we pass from this life, he says.
“Our understanding of heaven … is that love doesn’t die, that the circle of love becomes complete when you’re united to God, that God calls all creation to himself, and of course the animal kingdom is part of that creation,” Beck told CNN.
“I guess what Francis is trying to say is that love will be reunited again and we will know it in some way,” he said.
As for Pollick, no matter what the Pope means, she’s pretty sure Big Tom and all our other late animal friends are in good hands.
“I believe that we share a little of our souls with anything we love, including our pets,” she said.
And they deserve an eternal scratch behind the ears, she says, for “teaching us flawed, corrupt humans how to love unconditionally, without reservation.”