Image by South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/koreanet/

 

So, on Holy Thursday, the day we Catholics honor as the foundation of the priesthood (still all male at this writing but that could be overcome by events at any time) and the Eucharist, Pope Francis made news in a big way.

In an interview published in the Italian paper La Reppublica, Pope Francis was quoted as saying this about the existence of Hell:

Eugenio Scalfari: Your Holiness, in our previous meeting you told me that our species will disappear in a certain moment and that God, still out of his creative force, will create new species. You have never spoken to me about the souls who died in sin and will go to hell to suffer it for eternity. You have however spoken to me of good souls, admitted to the contemplation of God. But what about bad souls? Where are they punished?

Pope Francis: “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. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”

Though some parts of the Catholic Church have agitated in favor of universalism, or some variation of the Origenian Heresy that was anathematized in 543 AD by the Synod of Constantinipole, for 60 or so years, it is quite a different thing when a Pope seems to buy into it. (As an aside, the idea that a God who is “just and merciful” and “all powerful” would be loathe to condemn any of His creations to eternal torment is not all that hard to embrace.) The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say:

1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”612 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”

1034 Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.614 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,”615 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”616

1035 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.”617 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.

1036 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.”618

Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.”619

1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”:621

In response to the outcry, the Vatican issued this rather lame-ass statement:

On Thursday the Holy See stated that a reported interview between Pope Francis and an Italian journalist, which claims the Pope denied the existence of hell, should not be considered an accurate depiction of Francis’ words, but the author’s own “reconstruction.”

A recent meeting between Pope Francis and Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, 93, was a “private meeting for the occasion of Easter, however without giving him any interview,” the March 29 communique stated.

“What is reported by the author in today’s article is the result of his reconstruction, in which the literal 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.”

Notice what is missing there? There is no denial that the Pope said what was attributed to him, only a quibble that it isn’t an exact quote.

Rod Dreher has a great point:

This is fifth private interview Pope Francis has granted to Eugenio Scalfari, a rather fervent atheist whose schtick is that he doesn’t take notes. This is the second time that a “there is no Hell” quote has come out of it. Each time something untoward has come out. So one has to ask oneself why Pope Francis is giving this man interviews with no recordings and no witnesses?

As a Roman Catholic, I’ve found the papacy of Pope Francis to be the greatest challenge to my faith. I’m sad to say that I no longer have the charity necessary to give the man the benefit of the doubt. His numerous public pronouncements on homosexual marriage, the readmission to Communion the divorced, and many other subjects seem to follow the same pattern as the “Hell statement.” He says something that encourages heresy (“who am I to judge?”) and lets it cook for a while and eventually states something orthodox followed by “I was misunderstood.” The exception to that rule seems to be in his total lack of response to questions from five cardinals over how to interpret his seemingly heterodox instructions on admitting to Communion couples living out of wedlock and those who have been licitly married, divorced, and civilly remarried.

If often seems as though the Pope is actively pushing a heresy he supports by making nebulous statements that can be disavowed but, at the same time, encouraging like-thinking clergy to act on his public statements. I don’t know whether he is heretical or simply thinks he’s being clever, but he’s doing a lot of multi-generational damage to the Church of which he’s supposedly the steward.

(As a favor, I’d ask that the anti-Catholicism that seems endemic in some quarters of the right be kept in check. I’ve learned from previous posts about Catholicism that a lot of you guys have memorized the Jack Chick tracts. You can admit it, we’re all friends here.)