On 29 March 2018, news outlets began reporting that during an interview, Pope Francis purported denied the existence of hell:
In an article titled “It Is an Honor to Be Called a Revolutionary,” La Repubblica founder Eugenio Scalfari acknowledged the pontiff’s previous remarks about how “good souls” who sought repentance from God would receive it and then asked, “What about the bad souls?” Seemingly going against centuries of core Christian belief, Pope Francis said the souls of sinners simply vanished after death and were not subject to an eternity of punishment.
“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,” Pope Francis said, as translated by Catholic blog Rorate Caeli.
The Vatican quickly stepped in to provide context and clarification about the story; the Catholic News Agency reported that it was not the first time La Repubblica’s Eugenio Scalfari put those same words in the Pope’s mouth, noting that the 93-year-old journalist had also claimed that Pope Francis had made comments denying the existence of hell in 2015, but that it was Scalfari’s own “reconstruction”:
Scalfari, a self-proclaimed atheist, is the founder and former editor of Italian leftist newspaper La Repubblica. In an article published on the site March 29, Scalfari claims that Pope Francis told him, “hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of the souls of sinners exists.”
Scalfari’s fifth meeting with Pope Francis, it is not the first time he has misrepresented the Pope’s words following a private audience.
In November 2013, following intense controversy over quotes the journalist had attributed to Francis, Scalfari admitted that at least some of the words he had published a month prior “were not shared by the Pope himself.”
In a meeting with the journalists of the Foreign Press Association of Rome in 2013, Scalfari maintained that all his interviews have been conducted without a recording device, nor taking notes while the person is speaking.
“I try to understand the person I am interviewing, and after that I write his answers with my own words,” Scalfari explained. He conceded that it is therefore possible that “some of the Pope’s words I reported, were not shared by Pope Francis.”
Despite many headlines to the contrary, the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms “the existence of hell and its eternity,” that “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,” and that “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.”
John Allen, editor of the Catholic blog Crux, said that there is “zero plausibility” that the pontiff actually said what Scalfari claims, as “Francis has a clear public record on the subject — he actually talks about Hell more frequently that any pope in recent memory, and he has never left any doubt that he regards it as a real possibility for one’s eternal destiny.”