Yesterday, in an interview with noted Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, Pope Francis reportedly claimed that Hell does not exist and that condemned souls just "disappear."
The interview between Scalfari and the Pope was published March 28, 2018 in La Repubblica. The article's headline stated that the Pope considers it "an honor to be called revolutionary."
Scalfari, who will turn 94 in few days, says to the Pope, "Your Holiness, in our previous meeting you told me that our species will disappear in a certain moment and that God, still out of his creative force, will create new species. You have never spoken to me about the souls who died in sin and will go to hell to suffer it for eternity. You have however spoken to me of good souls, admitted to the contemplation of God. But what about bad souls? Where are they punished?"
Pope Francis replied, "They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls."
This seems to contradict many centuries of Roman Catholic doctrine, and has been the subject of a great deal of commentary. Naturally, the official church is backing away from it as fast as they possibly can. In a statement issued today, Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, the Vatican claimed that the meeting between Scalfari and the Pope was intended to have been a private, off-the-record tête-à-têtes, not a formal journalistic interview:
"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."
NewsHound noted a few days ago that this Pope is experimenting with various ways of liberalizing church teaching and practice without really changing official church doctrine:
"The first truce this pope seeks is in the culture war that everyone in Western society knows well — the conflict between the church’s moral teachings and the way that we live now, the struggle over whether the sexual ethics of the New Testament need to be revised or abandoned in the face of post-sexual revolution realities. . . . The papal plan for a truce is either ingenious or deceptive, depending on your point of view. Instead of formally changing the church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, same-sex marriage, euthanasia — changes that are officially impossible, beyond the powers of his office — the Vatican under Francis is making a twofold move. First, a distinction is being drawn between doctrine and pastoral practice that claims that merely pastoral change can leave doctrinal truth untouched. . . . At the same time, Francis has allowed a tacit decentralization of doctrinal authority, in which different countries and dioceses can take different approaches to controversial questions."
If the La Repubblica article is correct, Pope Francis wants to be the Doctrinal Decentralizer-in-Chief. Perhaps there will be one version of Hell for liberal, developed, Western countries, and another version for developing countries.
I like the Pope's new, decentralized doctrine of Hell better than the old eternally-burning Hell. Neither is biblical, but the Pope's new version is closer to Bible truth than the official doctrine. The doctrine of eternal torment has done untold damage:
"It is beyond the power of the human mind to estimate the evil which has been wrought by the heresy of eternal torment. The religion of the Bible, full of love and goodness, and abounding in compassion, is darkened by superstition and clothed with terror. When we consider in what false colors Satan has painted the character of God, can we wonder that our merciful Creator is feared, dreaded, and even hated? The appalling views of God which have spread over the world from the teachings of the pulpit have made thousands, yes, millions, of skeptics and infidels. (GC 536.2)
Among those made skeptics by this doctrine was Charles Darwin, who, conflating the false doctrine of eternal torment with Christianity itself, wrote in his autobiography:
"I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true: for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that men who do not believe, and this would include my father, brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine."
Yes, it is. I hope this Argentinian pope continues to tout his new, decentralized doctrine of Hell, if only because it might point people to the Bible to study the doctrine for themselves.