Just before Good Friday last month, Pope Francis was accused of denying the existence of hell by an atheist Italian journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, of La Repubblica.
While the Vatican has called into question the authenticity of what the pope said in the private conversation, one thing is conspicuously missing a week later – a refutation of the account by Pope Francis himself.
The story of the alleged remarks garnered international coverage in major media. It created a firestorm of controversy among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Yet, the pope himself has made no public statements about what he actually said or believes about the existence of hell.
To review what Scalfari reported, he quoted the pope as saying:
- “Hell does not exist.”
- “The disappearance of sinful souls exists.”
- “Souls are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and go among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. There is no hell – there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”
The Vatican has issued statements explaining that Scalfari does not take notes. It has pointed out that Scalfari is 93 years old. Yet it did acknowledge that a private meeting between Scalfari and the pope did take place, insisting, however, that it was not a formal interview.
“What is reported by the author in today’s article is the fruit of his reconstruction, in which the precise words uttered by the pope are not cited,” one Vatican statement said. “No quotations in the aforementioned article, then, should be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the holy father.”
The Vatican has said that Scalfari has misquoted the pope before, which raises the question of why the pope has continued to meet with a journalist who mischaracterizes his words. Indeed, what Scalfari reported appears to contradict other public statements by the pope that seem to acknowledge he believes in hell.
Yet, all that begs the question as to why the pope has not made a single statement since refuting Scalfari’s characterizations of what he actually said. Pope Francis could not be unaware of the international furor that was ignited by the media coverage of Scalfari’s accusations that he was taking issue not only with the Catholic Catechism but with what Jesus said about hell in the Bible.
I don’t know what the pope said about hell to Scalfari. But isn’t it shocking that the only other person apparently in the room has not clarified what he actually said or refuted that he said anything of the kind?
Pope Francis accepts the title of “vicar of Christ,” suggesting he is acting in place of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
So, what did Jesus say about hell? Well, a lot.
- Matthew 5:22: “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”
- Matthew 5:29: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
- Matthew 5:30: “And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
- Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
- Matthew 11:23: “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”
- Matthew 16:18: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
- Matthew 18:9: “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”
- Matthew 23:15: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.”
- Matthew 23:33: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”
Some of these words, or similar ones, are also recorded in the gospels of Mark and Luke.
For whatever reason and without explanation, it’s mystifying as to why Pope Francis would allow this controversy to simmer – as it has – without a complete refutation or explanation.