Every time it happens, the same pattern plays out: Scalfari claims the Pope said something newsworthy, it generates headlines around the world, and the Vatican immediately walks it all back saying the Pope didn’t really mean that.
The reason for the confusion is in large part due to the fact that Scalfari doesn’t take notes during interviews. He doesn’t record them either. He just chats with his subjects, then writes the articles from memory. His 93-year-old memory.
It’s not that Scalfari’s making things up, per se, but it’s hard to tell when a turn of phrase is accidentally taken literally or if something was just lost in translation. The combination of a Pope who often delivers confusing sound bites and a journalist whose memory isn’t what it used to be can lead to all sorts of chaos.
There is no hell where the souls of sinners suffer in eternity, Pope Francis was quoted as saying in a Thursday interview with Italian daily La Repubblica.
After death, the souls of people who repent are pardoned by God and join in his contemplation, “but those who do not repent, and therefore cannot be pardoned, disappear,” Francis said.
“Hell does not exist — what exists is the disappearance of sinful souls,” he added.
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.
In short, whatever the Pope said, that’s not what he meant.
The Vatican has a point here, given that Pope Francis just made remarks last week warning members of the Mafia to repent before it was too late:
“There is still time not to end up in hell, which awaits you if you continue on this road,” Pope Francis said. “You had a papa and a mamma. Think of them, weep a little and convert.”
Then again, the Pope has also made some statements suggesting hellfire doesn’t await all non-believers:
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.”
It’s hard to tell if he’s just trying to be optimistic or if he’s going the Rob Bell route. But if the Pope were going to make a proclamation about Hell not existing, I would guess there are more official ways to do it than with a nonagenarian journalist with a sketchy reputation who sells more newspapers every time he can take a possible figure of speech completely out of proportion.
The Catholic Church isn’t about to change its ways on the teaching of Hell.
The good news is that Hell doesn’t exist no matter what the Church says, so at least the Pope wouldn’t be wrong even if he was quoted accurately.
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