16 April 2018 | An Italian newspaper has stirred up significant controversy after claiming that Pope Francis said hell does not exist.
Eugenio Scalfari, the atheist cofounder and first editor of the newspaper Repubblica made the claim based on an alleged interview that he had with Pope Francis.
According to the Catholic Herald’s English reporting on the original Italian Repubblica piece, the Pope supposedly told Scalfari that bad souls “are not punished, those who repent get God’s forgiveness and go among the ranks of the souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and can not therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”
In the quoted conversation, Scalfari does not question the Pope further on this point and simply moves on to talk about politics.
The Vatican press office released a statement on March 29, pushing back on the report of the Pope’s alleged statement: “The Holy Father Francis recently received the founder of the newspaper La Repubblica in a private meeting on the occasion of Easter, without however giving him any interviews. What is reported by the author in today’s article is the result of his reconstruction, in which the textual words pronounced by the Pope are not quoted. No quotation of the aforementioned article must therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father.”
The Catholic Herald quotes Paragraph 1035 of the Catholic Catechism which 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.”
The Catholic Herald says that the “theological position that Scalfari ascribes to Francis, the annihilation of the unsaved became popular in the 19th century with the birth of Christian sects such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists and Christadelphians.”
Adventists reject the traditional Christian doctrine of hell as never-ending torment and punishment, and instead believe that the wicked will be permanently destroyed with Satan after the final judgment.