Just in time for the Easter Triduum, Vatican flak-catchers are scrambling to deny that sentiments attributed to Pope Francis in an interview with the founder of La Repubblica are not overt heresy. In reaction to reports that the Pontiff has denied the existence of hell, the Vatican has released a carefully worded statement that does not refute the substance of the claims.
An unsigned statement released on March 29th says (translated), "The Holy Father Francis recently received the founder of the newspaper La Repubblica in a private meeting for the occasion of Easter, without giving him an interview. What is reported by the author in today's article is the result of his reconstruction, in which the Pope's exact words are not cited. No quotation of the aforementioned article must therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the Holy Father's words."
The article referred to is "Il Papa: 'È un onore essere chiamato rivoluzionario'" ("The Pope: 'It's an honour to be called a revolutionary'"), published on March 28th. According to the newspaper, Pope Francis, in a recent conversation with his longtime friend, Eugenio Scalfari (the founder of the paper) expressly denied the existence of hell and the immortality of the human soul.
Cutting through the spin, the Vatican statement says only that the article is not a faithful transcription of the Pope's "exact words". However, the statement doesn't take issue with the basic content of the conversation. Nor does it say that the author's reconstruction of the conversation is erroneous, or does it deny that Francis said that hell does not exist.
If the substance of the conversation is reported correctly, even those Catholics who have tied themselves into pretzels defending the unorthodox ravings of Pope Bergoglio have to admit that this latest pronouncement is a huge addition to the body of heretical statements enunciated by the Holy (?) Father.
Here is a translation of the thoughts (?) attributed to Francis by Sgnr Scalfari. "They [condemned souls] 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."
Such a statement is overtly heretical. The Catholic Church clearly asserts the existence of hell. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 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 affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
By contrast, what the Pope said is more like the belief of the pagan ancient Egyptians, who believed that condemned souls are devoured by the goddess Ammit and thus deprived of eternal existence. But the de-fide Dogma of the Church, is: The souls of those who die in the condition of personal grievous sin enter Hell.
Yes, that applies to me and thee, even to popes. To say that there is no Hell and that condemned souls simply "disappear", is heresy.
Footnote: The depiction of a pope being directed by the Devil to enter hell was created by the English artist and poet, William Blake, in 1794. Entitled "Lucifer and the Pope in Hell", it shows an infernal landscape, with flames to the left, and six figures partially visible, sunk in a river or mire, wound in a serpent's coils. To the right, the nude figure of Lucifer, his body covered in scales, points a spear to the left; in front of him, the figure of a pope looking right, into a smoky landscape. A typeprint may be seen in the British Museum in London.