|I lost the Pope Francis photo.|
Here's Jonathan Pryce instead.
1. Atheists have been following their own conscience ever since they turned atheist.
2. This is the pope trying to woo humanists, freethinkers, and other forces of secularism. The world is becoming increasingly secular and people are looking at religions warily. To be able to continue participating as a world power, the Catholic Church must evolve. And evolving to survive is what the Catholic Church does best. The Church adapted the widely popular winter solstice feasts and turned it into Christmas. People need their personal gods so the Church devised the concept of patron saints who can intervene for you. Modern science is incompatible with the creation myth of the Bible so the Church decreed that the myths are metaphorical. The Church has become very good at maintaining power by being flexible. This is something other Christian denominations don't understand, which is why they are increasingly seen as rabid.
3. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If this trend continues, the Catholic Church will go the way of Buddhism. Sort of. Buddhism nowadays downplays the weirdness that got attached to it throughout the centuries. Today, Buddhism is seen as an atheistic religion and can be drawn upon for inspiration and wisdom. The same can be the path of Christianity, or at least Roman Catholicism. Already, there are Jesusists or Jesuanists (different from the Jesuits, mind you) who draw from Christ's philosophy of peace and love and reject the reprehensible parts of the Bible.
4. Catholics need not be worried. Vatican spin doctors are already burning the midnight oil to write press releases downplaying the implications of Pope Francis' seemingly heretical statements so you can rest assured that atheists are still going to hell and you still need your religion to go to heaven.