niche drama

So What’s Going on With This Pope Francis Hell Controversy?

Pope Francis. Photo: Giuseppe Ciccia/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

In the midst of its holiest week of the year, the Catholic Church has been plunged into drama.

The controversy started when news broke that Pope Francis allegedly claimed that Hell doesn’t exist. Now, while the Pope is more liberal than his predecessors and has previously upset hard-line traditionalists with his proclamations, this would be a radical (in many senses of the word) departure from Catholic doctrine.

There’s a lot going on here, so let’s unpack it.

What exactly did the Pope say?

The quote that began to circulate was in response to the question of where “bad souls” go when they died. Here it is:

“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.”

Yeah. Maybe this is what you already believe happens, maybe not, but the whole “not accepting God will lead to suffering and agony in eternal fire” is kind of a key tenet of the religion.

Who was he talking to anyways?
Journalist Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of Italian newspaper La Repubblica and a prominent atheist thinker with whom the Pope has struck up a friendship.

Anything else we should know about Scalfari?
Well, he’s 93 years old. And, per The Guardian, he’s “said to pride himself on not taking notes or recording high-profile interviews.”

Mio Dio.
Seriously, my man, maybe try voice memos at least?

What’s the Vatican’s reaction to all this?
Deny, deny, deny. According to The Guardian, they did admit that Scalfari and the Pope met but said there wasn’t supposed to be an interview taking place. They added that the comments were “the fruit of [Scalfari’s] reconstruction” and not “a faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s words.” Also, in case you still had questions, “no quotation of the article should be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father.”

So … did he say it?
That ultimately is between the Pope, Scalfari, and — depending on which one of them is right — God himself.

So What’s Going on With This Pope Francis Hell Controversy?