The Vatican on Thursday worked to set the record straight on whether Pope Francis denied the existence of hell in an interview with a well-known Italian journalist.
The controversy started when 93-year-old journalist Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica newspaper, publisheda report that heasked Francis where “bad souls” end up going, USA Today reported.
Francis’ reply, according to the journalist, was that those who repent could be forgiven but those who do not, “disappear.” The article, which ran on March 29, reported that Francis said “hell does not exist.”
“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,” Francis is quoted as saying.
“There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.” Scalfari, an atheist, does not usually use tape recorders during interviews, The USA Today report said.
The Vatican said the story was the result of the reporter’s “reconstruction.” “What is reported by the author in today’s article is the result of his reconstruction, in which the literal words pronounced by the Pope are not quoted,” the Vatican said.
“No quotation of the aforementioned article must therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father.” The Catholic News Agency reported that Scalfari has “misrepresented” the pope in the past.
The agency reported that Scalfari “aslo falsely reported that Pope Francis had made comments denying the existence of hell in 2015.” According to Catholic Church teachings, there is a hell and it is for eternity.
The Vatican denied Thursday an Italian journalist’s report in which he says Pope Francis told him “hell does not exist, the disappearance of sinful souls exists.” The Vatican press office says that although the pope met with La Repubblica co-founder Eugenio Scalfari, Francis did not give an interview to him, said Thomas Rosica, an English-language spokesman for the Vatican.
It’s not the first time that Scalfari, who has said he is an atheist, has made claims about the pope’s views, but the reference to the pope’s views on hell spread on social media during Holy Week.
The Vatican released a statement calling the article by Scalfari “the fruit of his reconstruction,” Rosica said.
Scalfari’s interview, published Thursday, quoted the pope as saying during a meeting that while the souls of repentant sinners “receive the forgiveness of God and go among the line of souls who contemplate him, the souls of those who are unrepentant, and thus cannot be forgiven, disappear.”
According to the National Catholic Reporter, the statement from the Vatican said that the pope and Scalfari had a “private meeting” with an Easter greeting but not an interview. The Catholic News Agency noted that it was their fifth meeting.
“No quotes of the aforementioned article should therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s words,” the statement said.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “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.”
Meanwhile, the pope’s Holy Thursday included a visit to the Regina Coeli prison in which he told inmates that he plans to have eye surgery next year, according to an Associated Press report. He washed the feet of 12 inmates at the prison, then wiped them and kissed them as part of the Holy Week ritual that he started when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, according to the Vatican.