In reaction to reports that Pope Francis has denied the existence of hell, the Vatican has released a carefully worded statement that does not refute the substance of the claims.
“The Holy Father Francis recently received the founder of the newspaper La Repubblica in a private meeting for the occasion of Easter, without giving him an interview,” the unsigned March 29 Vatican statement begins.
“What is reported by the author in today’s article is the result of his reconstruction, in which the pope’s exact words are not cited. No quotation of the aforementioned article must therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s words,” the statement concludes.
In other words, the Vatican denies that the article contains a faithful transcription of the pope’s “exact words” without taking issue with the basic content of the conversation. What is interesting is what is not said. The statement does not say that the author’s reconstruction of the conversation is erroneous, and nor does it deny that the pope said that hell does not exist.
The media saga began on Wednesday, when La Repubblica printed an article saying that the pope had expressly denied the existence of hell and the immortality of the human soul in a recent conversation with his longtime friend, Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the newspaper.
The informal interview between the pope and Scalfari carried the headline: “The Pope: ‘It is an honor to be called a revolutionary.’”
Scalfari, an atheist, reportedly asked the pope about his theories regarding creation and eternal life.
“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 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?” the paper reports.
In response, Pope Francis is quoted as denying hell, in what the Vatican statement has referred to as a “reconstruction” of the conversation between the two men.
“They are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and enter the rank of the 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,” the pope is reported as saying.
The Catholic Church clearly asserts the existence of hell, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
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.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.