Catholics everywhere were flabbergasted when, merely days after celebrating his 85th birthday, Pope Benedict XVI issued a formal statement acknowledging that God probably does not exist. Nevertheless, the Pope assured believers worldwide that they were not without a place to turn for spiritual sustenance. Specifically, he urged every practicing Catholic to get an "imaginary God friend," which he emphasized will serve virtually the same purpose of what they had previously thought of as a real God.
Since the Pope's statement, the Vatican has, predictably, been flooded with questions and comments from clergymen, parishioners and even lapsed Catholics who still consider themselves believers. Many chastised the Pope for imposing his own doubts upon devout Catholics.
In a follow-up statement, the Pope stated that his acknowledgement that God probably does not exist is not properly categorized as a "doubt."
As he explained, "A doubt is thinking that even though the sun has come up every morning of every day in the history of humanity, maybe, for some reason, it won't rise tomorrow. I don't have that kind of doubt about God. The God façade is a sham, with no evidence whatsoever to back it up. I couldn't continue to take part in upholding it. I've been living a lie."
The Pope equated his announcement with the children's fairy tale in which an innocent but perceptive little boy points out that the naked emperor has no clothes. He emphasized, however, that despite the revolutionary nature of his atheistic message, not much really needed to change for Catholics on a practical, day-to-day level.
"Catholics can talk to and even pray to their imaginary God friend. For me, creating a personal imaginary friend, whom I call God, has been a great source of comfort," he elaborated. "In fact, my imaginary God friend is just as effective, perhaps even more so, than the 'God' I used to believe was real. It's very common for children to have imaginary friends. Now adult Catholics can have them as well."
It remains to be seen the effect that the Pope's statement will have on the unity and vibrancy of the Catholic Church. However, religious leaders of other faiths were delighted at the Pope's message, anticipating a likely boon to their own religions.
"This is terrific for us," said Rabbi David Golinkin, head of the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies. "The Catholic Church was always one-upping the Jewish faith by offering people God plus Jesus. But now we have something they don't: a real God. People can't but respond to that. I think we'll get a lot of new recruits."