Purgatory and Limbo can sound like the same Church teaching—but they’re not. Purgatory is a state of purification for those who have died imperfect but in a state of grace. Once they are purified, they enter the joy of heaven. This is a doctrine of the Church—which means that all Catholics are required to believe it.
So what’s Limbo? Limbo is a speculation that some theologians began to suggest as early as the Medieval Ages, as a “place” where the souls of unbaptized infants might go after death. This theory honored two fundamental Catholic teachings: 1) that God desires salvation for all and 2) that to enter heaven, one must be free from original sin.
Because Limbo was speculation, not doctrine, the Church never defined it as official teaching nor does she officially use the term “Limbo” in any of her documents.
In his book What Catholics Really Believe: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith, Karl Keating says that most theologians today (Pope Benedict XVI, for example) “see no need for limbo, suggesting that God provides some way for unbaptized infants to make a decision for or against him immediately after death.”
What we do know for certain is that our God is a God of mercy and love who wants every one of His children to join Him in Heaven. We can trust everything and everyone to Him.
For more answers to interesting Catholic questions, check out Karl Keating’s What Catholics Really Believe, sold here.