Don’t trust the claims that Pope Francis doesn’t believe in hell

Pope Francis (Getty Images)

Italy’s daily La Repubblica newspaper ran another “colloquy” this morning, between the paper’s 93-year-old atheist founder, Eugenio Scalfari, and the 81-year-old Bishop of Rome, Francis. To hear Scalfari tell it, he and the Pope discussed a broad array of topics ranging from cosmogenesis, to the eternal fate of those who die in sin, to the present and future of Europe.

To hear Scalfari tell it is not, however, satisfactory or even acceptable according to the Press Office of the Holy See, which issued the following statement regarding the piece that appeared in La Repubblica under it founder’s by-line:

The Holy Father recently received the founder of the daily La Repubblica in a private meeting on the occasion of Easter, without, however, releasing any interview. Everything reported by the author in [Thursday’s] article is the fruit of his own reconstruction, in which the verbatim words pronounced by the Pope are not quoted. No direct report of speech, therefore, may be considered a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father.

When one reads the things Scalfari quotes Pope Francis as saying — for example, that hell does not exist, and that the souls of sinners simply disappear — it is easy to understand why the Press Office disowned the quotes. They are all confusing. Some of them are, in the strict technical sense of the terms, heretical and scandalous. Pope Francis, however, is on record as affirming the existence of hell, and that those who do not ask God’s mercy will go there.

This is not the first time the Press Office has had to walk back remarks Scalfari tried to put in the mouth of the Pope. In the wake of a November 2, 2015 article in La Repubblica, also under Scalfari’s by-line and reporting a “colloquy” between him and Pope Francis, then-spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi, SJ, explained, “[I]t is clear that what is being reported by [Scalfari] in the latest [2015] article … is in no way reliable and cannot be considered as the Pope’s thinking.”

That statement from Fr. Lombardi is palpably stronger than the one issued by the Press Office this afternoon.