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Pope Francis Says Atheists Can Be Forgiven By God

12/09/2013 09:46 BST | Updated 12/09/2013 11:31 BST
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Pope Francis is greeted by a faithful as he arrives at the Chiesa Del Gesu' in Rome on July 31, 2013. The Pontiff celebrates a mass for St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesuits. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis has told atheists they can be forgiven by God.

The pontiff made the unprecedented gesture in a letter to a newspaper, which appeared under the byline 'Francesco'.

"You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith," he wrote, according to The Independent.

"I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience."

“Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

According to The Telegraph, he also said the "mercy of God has no limits", and could also include non-believers.

The 2,500 word letter was a response to questions by the owner of La Repubblica newspaper, Eugenio Scalfari, who is not a Catholic.

Responding, Scalfari said it was “further evidence of his ability and desire to overcome barriers in dialogue with all”.