Repubblica founder Eugenio Scalfari has misrepresented pontiff’s words, says Vatican
Angela Giuffrida in Rome
The Vatican has scrambled to clarify comments made by Pope Francis to a well-known Italian journalist that appeared to deny the existence of hell.
The Holy See issued a terse statement saying a lengthy article published in La Repubblica on Wednesday by Eugenio Scalfari, 93, the newspaper’s founder, was “the fruit of his reconstruction” and not “a faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s words”.
While the Vatican conceded that Scalfari, an atheist who struck up a friendship with Francis in 2013, had held a private meeting with the pontiff before the Easter weekend, it said an interview had not been granted.
During the meeting Scalfari asked the pope where “bad souls” go, to which he was quoted as responding: “They are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and take their place among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. A hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of sinning souls exists.”
Pope Francis in his own words
The Vatican said the “literal words pronounced by the pope are not quoted” and that “no quotation of the article should be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father”.
Scalfari is said to pride himself on not taking notes or recording high-profile interviews. But this is not the first time he has been accused of misrepresenting the pope: in 2014 he was rebuked by the Vatican for an article saying Francis had abolished sin.
The friendship has been criticised in the past, with Scalfari once saying that it was the pope who asked for the meetings as he liked to “exchange ideas and sentiments with non-believers”.
The Catholic church’s teachings affirm the existence of hell and its eternity, saying “the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation of God”.
Pope Benedict XVI said in 2007 that hell “really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much anymore”, while in 1999 Pope John Paul II announced that hell was “the ultimate consequence of sin itself … rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy”.
The controversy came as Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 prisoners at Rome’s Regina Coeli prison on Holy Thursday. Among the inmates were two Muslims, an Orthodox Christian and a Buddhist. He told them: “Everyone has the opportunity to change life and one cannot judge.”
It was the fourth time since becoming pope that he held mass in an Italian prison. “I am a sinner like you but today I represent Jesus … God never abandons us, never tires of forgiving us,” he added.