In a new interview published on March 29, just a day before Good Friday, Pope Francis told Eugenio Scalfari, the atheist founder of the Italian publication La Republicca that the souls of unrepentant sinners do not go to hell, but rather simply disappear.
Below is an excerpt from the interview that dealt with the topic of hell that was published on the front page of one of Italy’s leading newspapers:
Scalfari: Your Holiness, in our previous meeting you told me that our species will disappear in a certain moment and that God, still out of his creative force, will create new species. You have never spoken to me about the souls who died in sin and will go to hell to suffer it for eternity. You have however spoken to me of good souls, admitted to the contemplation of God. But what about bad souls? Where are they punished?
Pope Francis: “They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”
At the end of the interview with the Pope, Scalfari also expressly denied the divinity of Christ, describing Jesus of Nazareth as “a man and no more than a man.”
The statements attributed by Scalfari to the Pope are contrary to the teaching of the Church and the very words of Jesus Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the official compendium of Catholic teaching, upholds the existence of Hell:
The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of Hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of Hell, “eternal fire”.
Widespread Media Coverage
It was the fifth meeting between Pope Francis and Scalfari, the founder of one of Italy’s leading newspapers. The interview, originally published in La Republicca, has since been reported extensively in various mainstream press with millions of readers. A quick check with Google shows that at least 767,000 articles have been published on topics related to “Pope” and “hell”. Millions of people, have therefore been exposed to the idea that the sitting Vicar of Christ doubts the existence of hell.
Various mainstream media outlets screamed their headlines proclaiming the “breakthrough” on Church teaching on hell to millions of unsuspecting readers. Below are just a few of the headlines that have been published in mainstream media:
- “Does hell exist? Pope Francis says no in new interview that could change Catholic Church forever”– Yahoo!, one of the internet’s leading websites
- “Pope abolishes hell, saying souls of unrepentant sinners simply disappear”– The Times of London (www.thetimesuk.co.uk),with more than a million followers on Twitter
- “Even the pope doesn’t believe in hell, so why should we? – independent.co.uk
- “Pope interview puts hell in doubt” – The Weekend Australian
The Vatican has since scrambled to clarify the controversial comments attributed to the Pope by Scalfari. Vatican spokeman Greg Burke issued a terse statement saying the article published by Scalfari was “the fruit of his reconstruction” and not “a faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s words”.
However, the Vatican conceded that Scalfari did have a private meeting with the pontiff before the Easter weekend which apparently became the basis of the article, although it emphasised that a formal interview had not really been granted to Scalfari.
Despite the Vatican clarification, two important facts remain:
- The Vatican, nor the Pope, did not officially dispute the claim by Scalfari that the Pope does not believe in the existence of hell. It only said that the words were not a “faithful transcription”, but it did not expressly deny the content and essence of the words attributed to the Pope
- Hundreds of thousands of articles have already been published around the world, and millions of people have already read the article on the Pope casting doubt on the existence of hell. Massive, irreparable damage has already been done.
- This is not the first time that the Pope granted an interview to Scalfari. As with the previous four times, heretical statements have been attributed by Scalfari to the Pope which have been covered extensively by mainstream media, without any direct denial from the Pope.
The key question remains unanswered: If these Scalfari interviews cause so much damage and confusion to the Church, why does the Pope continue to grant them with Scalfari and expose the Faith to so much danger on the hands of secular, mainstream press?
Are the Scalfari interviews believable?
When the initial controversial papal interviews with Scalfari were first published, many questioned the accuracy of the interviews, with some commentators opining that Scalfari may have just been inventing the interviews and falsely attributing the controversial quotes to the Pope. However, many facts belie that theory and instead reinforce the belief that the interviews are in fact authentic.
First, the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano has reprinted the Scalfari interviews and even published them on the website of the Holy See as parts of the “ordinary” papal magisterium.
Second, the Vatican publishing house Libreria Editrice Vaticana has published a book entitled “Interviews and Conversations with Journalists”. The said book contains all of the recognised official interviews of the Pope with journalists – it must be noted that the said book contains all of the controversial Scalfari interviews, thus proving the authenticity and accuracy of the interviews.
Third, Scalfari has always claimed that his interviews with the Pope are accurate, and that they were published with the explicit approval of the Pope. Given the controversial nature of the interviews, and the manifestly heretical content that are attributed to the Pope, if the said interviews did not really take place, then all that the Pope needs to do is to do a direct, personal and public rebuke of Scalfari for misquoting or misrepresenting him, and for sowing confusion on the Catholic Faith. Unfortunately, no such rebuke has been done by the Pope on Scalfari.
Fourth, why doesn’t the Pope personally and officially refute the Scalfari interviews – and why does he continue granting these controversial interviews? Given the gravity of the claims and their heretical nature, as well as the massive media coverage that these interviews have generated, the Catholic faithful deserve a formal response and clarification from the Pope himself to put all things to rest.
The four points above lead to the conclusion that these interviews did in fact take place, and that these controversial statements are indeed the statements of the Pope.
Not the first time that the Pope has denied hell
This recent interview with Scalfari is not the first time that the Pope has publicly denied the existence of hell. In March 15, 2015, Scalfari published an interview with Pope Francis wherein the Pope denied hell, according to Scalfari. Scalfari reported what the Pope told him regarding lost souls:
“What happens to that lost soul? Will it be punished? And how? The response of Francis is distinct and clear: there is no punishment, but the annihilation of that soul. All the others will participate in the beatitude of living in the presence of the Father. The souls that are annihilated will not take part in that banquet; with the death of the body their journey is finished.”
In a general audience dated 11 October 2017, and officially published in the Vatican website, the Pope preached that at the Final Judgement of Jesus in His Second Coming, “everything will be saved”:
..a Christian knows that…there will be Christ’s return. No one knows when this will take place, but the thought that at the end of our history there will be Merciful Jesus suffices in order to have faith and not to curse life. Everything will be saved. Everything. We will suffer; there will be moments that give rise to anger and indignation, but the sweet and powerful memory of Christ will drive away the temptation to think that this life is a mistake
The Church teaches that at the final judgement, Jesus will judge the living and the dead, and will separate the sheep from the goats. Those who denied him will be sent to eternal fire. The Catechism (681-682) teaches:
On Judgment Day at the end of the world, Christ will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history. When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works, and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace.
We recall here as well the words of Jesus Himself regarding the final judgdment (Matthew 25:31-35). Jesus will come as a Judge who will separate the sheep from the goats:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Jesus goes on to clearly state that the unrighteous will be condemned to eternal fire at the final judgement (Matthew 25: 36-41)
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Finally, let us not forget that in the papal encyclical Amoris Laetitia (297), the Pope wrote: “No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!”