Pope Francis has again received Eugenio Scalfari, the 93 year old atheist philosopher, leading to more controversial comments that the Vatican has had to insist are not “faithful” to the Pope’s words.
In his fifth meeting with the atheist philosopher, Scalfari — who neither records interviews nor takes notes — said the Pope allegedly told him again that hell does not exist and that he is honored to be called a “revolutionary.”
The Pope’s purported comments were published Thursday in La Repubblica, the left-leaning Italian newspaper Scalfari co-founded and which the Pope has said is his favorite newspaper.
“Hell does not exist – what exists is the disappearance of sinful souls,” the Pope allegedly said. “They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and go among the ranks of the souls who contemplate him. But those who do not repent, and therefore cannot be forgiven, disappear.”
Headlines were quick to spread around the world saying Pope Francis believes hell does not exist, a belief which would break with 2,000 years of Church teaching.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said in a statement Thursday that the Pope had “recently received” Scalfari “in a private meeting at Easter, but did not grant him any interviews.”
He added that “as reported today” by Scalfari, “the article is the result of its reconstruction, in which the exact words spoken by the Pope are not cited.” Burke said “no quotation marks in the above article should therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s words.”
Previous conversations between the Pope and Scalfari have often caused controversy, and led to the Vatican issuing similar statements afterwards, neither confirming or fully denying the Pope said the actual words attributed to him, but casting doubt on their veracity.
The Pope’s comments on this occasion are questionable as they are at odds with previous statements in which he has spoken of Hell’s existence, most recently last week when he appealed to the mafia to give up their lives of crime and avoid eternal damnation.
But Francis has also given signals to the contrary, preaching last year that “everything will be saved — everything” and that at the end of history there will be an “immense tent, where God will welcome all mankind so as to dwell with them definitively.” He also said judgment was not to be feared because “at the end of our history there is the merciful Jesus.”
Elsewhere in the interview, the Pope allegedly said the word “revolutionary” is one which “honors me in the sense in which it is said.” He also discussed the theme of creation and called on Europe to strengthen itself politically and morally.
In previous interviews with the famous Italian atheist, the Pope is supposed to have toldScalfari not to convert, said that “Communists think like Christians,” and that “there is no Catholic God.” In an interview in 2015, Scalfari reported the Pope allegedly making a similar statement to today, that “there is no punishment” for an unrepentant soul, “but the annihilation of that soul.”
Scalfari said Thursday that he and the Pope phone each other “often” and “exchange news with one another, but sometimes we meet up again and speak for longer, on religion and politics.”
After a previous encounter between the Pope and Scalfari in 2016, Riccardo Cascioli, director of the Italian Catholic daily La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, welcomed the fact that the Pope is establishing relationships with people such as Scalfari “who are far away.”
But he also warned that comments coming from such interviews become “a cause of scandal in the literal sense of the term” because they “disorientate and confuse many Catholics, also because these sentences are then used and abused” by those whose purpose is “the destruction of the Church.”
Further Reading: Don’t trust the report that Francsi denied reality of Hell