No more limbo?
In the past, the Roman Catholic Church has assumed without any religious "basis", that infants who died before being baptized would go into limbo, the incomplete afterlife. After a commission of top Catholic theologians wrapped up a December conference that examined the topic, the prognosis was apparently grim: the group's secretary-general told Vatican Radio that the church's teaching on limbo was "in crisis".
For centuries, Catholic couples lived in fear that in the tragic event that their newborns perished, the infants would go not to heaven but to a cheery yet inaccessible outer parking lot, a locale where they would enjoy eternal happiness but be denied the actual presence of God (and, presumably, of the parents, assuming they reached heaven).
Shutting down limbo also aligns nicely with the church's activism on abortion. On last week's Feast of the Holy Innocents—honoring children murdered by the evil King Herod—Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that the embryo is a "full and complete" human being, despite being "shapeless". If you are going to call a fetus' termination murder, then it seems somehow inconsistent to deny heaven to the blameless, full and complete victim.
The cocept of Limbo was started in the Middle Ages
Limbo was conceived in the Middle Ages to solve a problem relating to original sin, the inherited stain of Adam and Eve's disobedience. Jesus' death on the Cross is understood to have relieved humanity of the burden of that sin, an immunity Catholicism still considers activated for each human as he or she unites with Christ in baptism.
The Protestant reformers eliminated it from their theology along with several other postdeath constructs, but it remained a looming staple of Catholic understanding.
In the absence of limbo, the rite of baptism may not seem as imperative to many Catholics as it once was. Despite its continued centrality as the sacramental entry to the body of Christ, some of its urgency will pobably fade. The expected limbo ruling comes in addition to an older decision that appeared to downgrade baptism's gatekeeping role.
The Second Vatican Council of 1962-65 ruled that in the case of some adult seekers of God (even non-Christians) the desire for the divine could take the place of the rite. As the author of the 2002 book God and the World noted, "men who are seeking for God and who are inwardly striving toward that which constitutes baptism will also receive salvation." The writer was Cardinal Ratzinger; now Pope Benedict XVI.