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An insider's guide to limbo

By CNN's Dylan Reynolds
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Pope Benedict XVI is expected to cast aside centuries of Catholic belief this week by abolishing formally the concept of limbo. Today The Briefing Room takes a look at a move that theologians suggest could save the souls of millions.

What, in simple terms, is limbo?

Ever wondered what happened to the souls of good people who died before the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Or to the souls of babies who die before baptism? The answer (at least since the 13th century) has been limbo -- a halfway house between heaven and hell. It has been depicted by artists such as Giotto and in literary works such as Dante's "Divine Comedy."

So why is limbo in the news?

A 30-strong Vatican international commission of theologians, which has been examining limbo, began its final deliberations this week. The commission's conclusions are expected to be approved formally by the pope on Friday.

What have they decided?

The belief that unbaptized children would stay in limbo has never been part of official church doctrine. The commission is said to agree that God wants all souls to be saved. In effect it means all children who die go to Heaven.

Is limbo going to be abolished for everyone?

No, only for unbaptized infants. The precise status of where good people went who lived before Jesus Christ remains . . . well, in limbo.

What is the pope's view?

All the evidence suggests that Pope Benedict XVI never believed in the idea. Before his election he was reported to have said: "Personally, I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis."

What do Muslims believe happens to children who die?

Muslims believe the souls of stillborn babies go straight to Heaven.

So is this part of a move by the Catholic Church to appeal to more people?

Some observers say that for the Church, looking to spread the faith in countries with a high infant mortality rate, now is a good time to make it absolutely clear that babies of Christian mothers go direct to heaven. Other religious experts say this is the Vatican tying up loose ends. The truth, like limbo itself, might lie somewhere inbetween.

A scene from a 1909 Italian film based on Dante's "Divine Comedy."

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