Fake news: Pope denies existence of Hell
In a recent exposé printed in Italy’s La Repubblica daily, Dr. Eugenio Scalfari asked the Supreme Pontiff where “bad souls” go.
“Souls are not punished,” Pope Francis was cited as saying in that article. “Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness… but those who do not repent disappear. There is no hell – there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”
My question is: Did Pope Francis categorically deny the existence of Hell in his public speech or homily or weekly catechesis of the Catholic faithful? No!
Was he (mis)quoted to have said that “there is no hell” in an article published by an avowed atheist, whose claims have been constantly unreliable? Yes!
In view of that mix-up, the rule of thumb is to stay cool, calm, and collected. Whenever you catch news and reports such as the papal denial of a Catholic dogma, it is wiser never to lend credulity to them, for such sensational reports are a throwaway and therefore untrustworthy.
My argument in defense of the Holy Father
Hell, the home of the Prince of Darkness, is a two-thousand-old Catholic dogma well-established in the Sacred Scriptures, Sacred Tradition, and Sacred Magisterium – that’s my first line of reasoning.
Since Day One of his papacy in 2013, on various occasions, in fact too many to itemize, Pope Francis has insisted to call the “unfettered pursuit of money” the “dung of the devil,” warning the world’s rich and powerful that they risk Hell by ignoring the poor. So how on earth can he all of a sudden say: “There is no Hell.”
In one morning meditation in 2016, the Holy Father recalled that, in his childhood, they were taught about the four last things (eschatology): “death, judgment, hell or glory.”
In 2014, he cautioned the Italian mafia bosses: “Convert! There is still time, so that you don’t end up in Hell.” He just repeated our dear Lord’s warning: “Begone from Me, you cursed, into eternal fire!” (Matthew 25:42).
To the consternation of some theologians who thought that all his serious talk about the demon is outdated and to the chagrin of Old Nick, Pope Francis spoke of Hell in his 2015 Lenten message – again – and gave a stern warning against “plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell.”
On his PALM SUNDAY homily, the Holy Father made mention of the existence of Hell. Five days later, on GOOD FRIDAY, the same Bishop of Rome is reported to have denied it. Tongue-in-cheek or something is so wrong.
Did Scalfari, 93 years old, lie?
The Universal Redemptive Will of Christ – that’s foremost in Pope Francis’ mind when he opened the doors of the Vatican to agnostics and atheists like Scalfari.
But every time Scalfari had private (not public) interviews and/or conversations with the Holy Father, the retired journalist “neither recorded the Pope nor took notes.”
And every time the founder of La Republicca published stories that attributed words to Pope Francis, Scalfari admitted that he used “his own words”’ to express the thoughts he attributed to the Holy Father, to which the former Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi clarified as “in no way reliable.”
Regarding the latest hullabaloo, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the Pope’s conversation with his old friend was a “private meeting for the occasion of Easter” and not an interview.
Side issues of the Hell controversy
Does the Holy Father know that he can be used as a pawn in the chess game of the Father of Lies?
The explosion of dogmatic controversies, particularly during Holy Week, can happen under the pontificate of Francis – critics say – because these almost daily provocations are self-created.
Controversies, when spreading like gossips, eventually give rise to more confusions and not the edification of the Catholic Faithful.
So, critics ask, why does the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church keep having interviews and/or conversations with “a loose-cannon atheistic journalist who will turn around and publish whatever he wants the next day, attaching the Pope’s name to it?”
The Holy Father does it maybe because he loves as Jesus loves, without exception. Leaving behind the soft comfort of his armchair, maybe, he wants to go to the frontier to search tirelessly for the lost sheep, to reach out, and “smell like sheep” (Holy Thursday, March 28, 2013).
Pope Francis dialogues ad extra with every son and daughter of Eve and lends his pastoral accompaniment to all, like Jesus, with no one excluded.
But the Catholic Church is not crumbling. I remember the now famous homily during his inauguration in 1978 when Pope Saint John Paul II declared: “Do not be afraid,” citing Isaiah 41:10.
And, in one morning meditation in January 30, 2014, Pope Francis has told us the sole reason why:
Our dear Lord has promised us that “the Church will never be destroyed and that the gates of Hell shall never prevail against her” (citing Matthew 16:19).
Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano is a pioneer of CSR and Business Ethics education in the Philippines, author of Pope Francis, the Catholic Bishop, and the Priest and The Church Can Handle the Truth (2017). Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.