"A short time ago, my dad died," the Pope said, relaying the boy's whispered words to him. "He was an atheist, but he had all four of his children baptized. He was a good man. Is Dad in heaven?"
"That man gave a beautiful testimony to his children, for his children to be able to say, 'He was a good man,'" he explained. "It's a beautiful testimony on the part of the son that he has inherited his dad's strength, and also, that he has had the courage to cry before all of us. If that man was capable of raising children like this, it's true, he was a good man."
"That man didn't have the gift of faith, he wasn't a believer, but he had his children baptized. He had a good heart. And [Emanuele] is doubting whether or not his dad, not having been a believer, is in Heaven," the Pope continued. "God is the one who decides who goes to heaven. But how does God's heart react to a Dad like that? How? What do you think? ... A dad's heart! God has the heart of a father.
"And faced with a dad, a nonbeliever, who was able to have his children baptized and to give them that courage, do you think that God would be capable of leaving him far from Him?"
He then asked his audience whether God abandons His children and was met with a resounding "No."
"There you go, Emanuele, this is your answer," he replied to the boy. "God surely was proud of your dad, because it's easier to have your children baptized when you are a believer than to have them baptized when you are not a believer. Surely, this pleased God greatly. Talk with your father, pray to your father."
While many devout viewers found the moment touching and uplifting, some Christians took issue with the "reality that Francis is an inclusivist, a person who clearly does not believe that explicit confession of faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation."
Meanwhile, on the other side of the faith spectrum, Hemant Mehta, an atheist contributing author to Patheos, went so far as to state that the Pope had lied to the boy in contradicting clear teachings of Catholic theology:
"Catholics believe you must accept Christ’s divinity in order to get to Heaven. The Catechism also says the window of Heaven is also open to those 'who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart.'”
"What about atheists who are aware of Catholic teachings but still reject them? What about people like the boy’s father, who may live in a culturally Catholic society but who has no use for irrational dogma," Mehta asks. "They’re. Screwed. [sic]"