Vatican: Claim that pope denied hell's existence is unreliable

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Vatican said comments attributed to Pope Francis denying
the existence of hell are a product of an Italian journalist’s
“reconstruction” of the pope’s remarks and not a faithful transcript
of the pope’s real words.  

Eugenio Scalfari, a co-founder and former editor of La
Repubblica, an Italian daily, said Pope Francis — with whom he has had several
telephone conversations and face-to-face meetings — invited him to his residence March 27.

During their conversation, Scalfari, 93, an avowed atheist, claims the pope said
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.”

“Hell does not exist, the disappearance of sinful souls
exists,” Scalfari claims the pope said in the interview published March

The Italian journalist has explained on more than one
occasion that he does not take notes or record his conversations with the pope;
he re-creates them afterward from memory, including the material he puts in
quotation marks.

The Vatican issued a statement soon after the article was published, saying the pope did
receive Scalfari “in a private meeting” to exchange Easter greetings,
but he did not
“give him an interview.”

Regarding the alleged words of the pope, which were also
published in a similar article
written by the journalist in 2014, the Vatican said Scalfari’s article
“is a product of his own reconstruction in which the actual words
pronounced by the pope are not cited.”

“No quotes of the aforementioned article should
therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s
words,” the Vatican said.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “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,” the catechism says.

The alleged quotes ascribed to Pope Francis directly contradict
the many public remarks he has made in homilies and speeches confirming the
existence of hell.

Meeting a group of children and teens during a Rome parish
visit March 8, 2015, a female Scout asked the pope, “If God forgives
everybody, why does hell exist?”

The pope praised the question, saying it was “very
important” as well as “a good and difficult question.”

The pope assured the children that God is good but reminded
them that there was also a “very proud angel, very proud, very intelligent, and he was envious of God. Do you understand? He was envious of God. He wanted
God’s place. And God wanted to forgive him, but he said, ‘I don’t need your
forgiveness. I am good enough!'”

“This is hell: It is telling God, ‘You take care of
yourself because I’ll take care of myself.’ They don’t send you to hell, you go
there because you choose to be there. Hell is wanting to be distant from God because I do not want God’s love. This is hell. Do you understand?”

On other occasions, the pope has described hell as the
destination for those who choose to continue to sin and do evil.

Speaking to families of victims of the Mafia March 21, 2014,
the pope made an appeal to all men and women in the Mafia to stop, turn their
lives around and convert.

“Convert, there is still time for not ending up in
hell. It is what is waiting for you if you continue on this path,” the
pope said.

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Contributing to this
story was Carol Glatz at the Vatican.

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