Q. Will our cat and dog be with me and my family in heaven? Every day I say the rosary to ask God to help me, but then sometimes I can’t go to sleep at night worrying about what will happen to our pets when they die. I have no one to talk to but you, so I’m hoping you can answer me. (Flemington, N.J.)
A. I suppose the traditional philosophical position would be that only human beings have immortal souls. On the other hand, the revered British author C.S. Lewis once said that, since the loyalty of pets often exceeds human fidelity, dogs and cats may well find their way to heaven with their masters.
Left to a plebiscite, the vote is split. A few years back, ABC News did a poll and found that 43 percent of Americans think that dogs and cats go to heaven (that figure goes up to 47 percent among pet owners), 40 percent said no, and the rest were reserving judgment.
The most honest answer is that we do not know. What our faith does tell us, though, is that the joys of heaven are beyond compare, beyond our poor power even to imagine them. So, it’s safe to say that if in heaven you need your pets to be happy, they’ll be right there with you.
Q. To our delight, our 13-year-old daughter reads newspapers. Sometimes this prompts her to ask religious questions, and today’s was a tough one: "The paper says there is a lot of poverty and that the bishops are asking Catholics to help the poor. But it also says, on another page, that a diocese in California wants to spend $57 million to buy a glass church. With so many poor people in the country, how can that be right?" Can you help us to give her an answer? (Turnersville, N.J.)
Q. The Diocese of Orange, Calif., is buying the Crystal Cathedral, and this raises a question: Why not spend the money on the poor? We have some beautiful cathedrals here in Nebraska, too. They keep them warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and then they lock them up at night. Why don’t they let homeless people sleep in the pews? (Arnold, Neb.)
A. The recent purchase by the Catholic Church of the former Crystal Cathedral has fanned the flames of a simmering debate; whenever the church buys or builds a new facility, the perennial biblical question is: "Why could this money not have been spent on the poor?"
The answer is not a simple one. The church has multiple goals, the overall one being to put people in touch with God so that they can live out the Gospel and progress on the path to heaven.
Certainly, part of the mission is to provide dignified and inspiring places of worship that can help lift minds and hearts to God. Just as surely, the church needs to reach out with compassion to those who are vulnerable — especially the poor, the sick and the homeless.
That is why Catholic hospitals serve nearly one-sixth of all patients in America and why Catholic Charities is America’s largest private provider of services to the poor, with a network of hundreds of food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, etc.
As to the matter of the Crystal Cathedral, those closest to the situation seem to agree with the recent USA Today headline that called the church’s purchase a "sweet deal." The Diocese of Orange has grown rapidly and now includes more than 1.2 million Catholics.
To meet expanding needs, the diocese was already planning to build a new cathedral, as well as administrative offices for its many projects and programs; the availability of the Crystal Cathedral offered the opportunity for a ready-made 2,800-seat worship space as well as 31 acres of property for office space and a relocated parish school — at a price less than one-third of what construction costs would have been.
As to opening churches at night to house the homeless, worship spaces are not always ideally suited, and alternate Catholic facilities might more readily provide sleeping accommodations, kitchens, showers and bathrooms. But neither a cathedral nor any Catholic church can ignore the needs of its neighborhood for human services.
A good example is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita, Kan., which last year, during the worst of the winter’s cold, housed 120 homeless men in its gymnasium, with evening meals provided by several parishes throughout the diocese.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.