CNS reported a short snip about the Church's latest look at what it calls the "theory" of Limbo, the place of perfect natural happiness where unbaptized infants go.
According to the International Theological Commission this week, there is "serious theological and liturgical grounds for the hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and brought into eternal happiness even though there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation."
An AP report also said Pope Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II, had encouraged the study because of ' "the pressing pastoral needs" ' sparked by the increase in abortion and the growing number of children who die without being baptized."
The history of Limbo is an interesting one (though I confess most theological issues just make my head hurt). The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that up until the time of Abelard (1079-1142), most theologians agreed with St. Augustine, that unbaptized infants went to Hell with the unrepentant, unbaptized sinners.
Abelard suggested that perhaps unbaptized infants suffered the punishment of loss for original sin, but were exempt from the torments of Hell. While some of Abelard's ideas were slapped down, the Scholastic theologians picked up Abelard's notion, and eventually Limbo was envisioned as a place where infants could live happily in the love of God, without actually being in Heaven.
The theological debate over Limbo has cropped up several times in the intervening centuries.
Practically speaking, I don't know what long-time Catholics (as opposed to us relative newcomer converts) believe about Limbo. But despite the Church's ambivalence about the fate of unbaptized babies, we might take comfort from one of the prayers in a special rite for the blessing of parents who have suffered miscarriage, a rite that is perhaps not offered enough:
Lord, God of all creation, we bless and thank you for your tender care. Receive this life you created in love, and comfort your faithful people in their time of loss with the assurance of your unfailing mercy. Amen