Commentators have shed doubt on the accuracy of a New York Times report

Reports that Pope Francis said last week that pets go to heaven have been denied by Vatican commentators.

The original story was released by the New York Times on Friday and claimed that Pope Francis told a little boy, distraught over the death of his dog, “paradise is open to all of God’s creatures” sparking debate across the secular and religious media.

But Vatican commentators have cast doubt on the accuracy of reports, suggesting that the quote should be attributed to Pope Paul VI, who died in 1978.

In an article for Religion News Service, commentator David Gibson wrote: “None of it ever happened. Yes, a version of that quotation was uttered by a pope, but it was said decades ago by Paul VI, who died in 1978. There is no evidence that Francis repeated the words during his public audience on November 26, as has been widely reported, nor was there was a boy mourning his dead dog.”

Gibson said that one of the reasons the story gained such credibility was because of the topic of the Pope’s address to the crowds in St Peter’s Square earlier that day. He wrote: “Citing St Paul in the New Testament, Francis said that is not ‘the annihilation of the cosmos and of everything around us, but the bringing of all things into the fullness of being.'”

The original report was picked up by news outlets worldwide generating a flurry of comment.

The Independent reported that Chris Fegan, general secretary of the British charity Catholic Concern for Animals, said: “Lots of Catholics whose lose an animal would hope to see their friend again. When you lose a loved one, whether it’s a person or an animal friend, you grieve.”

Most publications across the web were quick to point out that if Francis does believe animals go to heaven then her would be in disagreement with Benedict XVI. Speaking in 2008,the Pope Emeritus said that when an animal dies, that “just means the end of existence on earth”.

Reporting on the story, Time Magazine concluded: “Pope Francis has been cast as a much more liberal figure compared with his predecessors.”