On Holy Thursday the world awoke to find that during his fifth interview with his friend Eugenio Scalfari, Italy’s most famous atheist, Pope Bergoglio has denied the existence of hell for a second time, the first being an interview with the same Scalfari in 2015. The March 28 interview in La Repubblica, which Scalfari founded, attributes the following words to Bergoglio:
[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?
[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.”
[Santità, nel nostro precedente incontro lei mi disse che la nostra specie ad un certo punto scomparirà e Dio sempre dal suo seme creativo creerà altre specie. Lei non mi ha mai parlato di anime che sono morte nel peccato e vanno all'inferno per scontarlo in eterno. Lei mi ha parlato invece di anime buone e ammesse alla contemplazione di Dio. Ma le anime cattive? Dove vengono punite?
“Non vengono punite, quelle che si pentono ottengono il perdono di Dio e vanno tra le fila delle anime che lo contemplano, ma quelle che non si pentono e non possono quindi essere perdonate scompaiono. Non esiste un inferno, esiste la scomparsa delle anime peccatrici”.]
Bergoglio’s denial of hell takes the form of the “annihilationist” heresy, which the Catholic Encyclopedia describes as one of the “arbitrary and vain subterfuges, unsupported by any sound reason” by which the dogma of the eternal punishment of the damned is denied. As the Encyclopedia observes of annihilationism: “[I]f men knew that their sins would not be followed by sufferings, the mere threat of annihilation at the moment of death… would not suffice to deter them from sin.”
Bergoglio has made reference to Hell in certain public statements, but these appear to have served the rhetorical needs of the moment. For example, his declaration that members of the Mafia will all end up in Hell if they do not repent of being Mafiosi. The question is whether Francis harbors the private opinion, twice divulged to Scalfari, that there really is no Hell and that the damned simply cease to exist after death, which would mean that his public references to Hell are merely for public consumption.
While Scalfari has admitted that his published interviews of Bergoglio are reconstructions as opposed to verbatim transcripts, this did not stop the Vatican from publishing one of them on the Vatican website, which was later scrubbed even though the Vatican conceded that “the interview is reliable on a general level…” Nor did it stop the Vatican from including two of Scalfari’s interviews in a Vatican-published compilation of Bergoglio’s conversations with various journalists, including the interview in which he declares to Scalfari: “Proselytism is solemn nonsense” and “I believe in God. Not in a Catholic God. A Catholic God does not exist.” (Interviste e Conversazione con i Giornalisti [Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014], p. 109).
At this point it is reasonable to suspect that Francis privately harbors the heretical belief that the souls of the damned are not punished eternally but merely annihilated. The only way to dispel that reasonable suspicion would be to issue, on Bergoglio’s explicit authority, an unequivocal statement that in no way whatsoever did he profess the annihilationist heresy to Scalfari, that the quotation attributed to him is a total fabrication, and that he affirms absolutely the eternal punishment of the damned in Hell. Any sort of equivocal denial, on the other hand, would be a tacit admission that Scalfari’s quotation of Bergoglio on this point is correct at least in substance.
But an equivocal denial is exactly what Vatican press spokesman Greg Burke has just issued in the face of worldwide press reports that the Pope declares there is no hell. The published denial is the Vatican PR machine at its slithery best:
“The Holy Father recently received the founder of the daily La Repubblica in a private meeting on the occasion of Easter, without however granting him an interview. What is referred to by the author of today’s article is the fruit of his reconstruction, in which the exact words spoken by the Pope are not cited. No quotations in the aforementioned article should therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father.”
There is no flat denial that the Pope believes in annihilationism. Thus, Burke impliedly concedes that the attributed quotation—the second of its kind published by Scalfari—is correct in substance even if it is not a verbatim transcript.
Consider also the claim that Bergoglio had not granted Scalfari an interview on the occasion in question but was merely engaging in a private off-the-record conversation. That constitutes a damning admission that Bergoglio was expressing privately what he really believes and did not expect it to be published. But any claim of an expectation of privacy must be seen as ludicrous, given that Bergoglio was, for the fifth time, answering questions put to him by the same journalist who had published all such previous conversations in La Repubblica.
From Francis himself there is not a word by way of correction of his friend’s account of their conversation. One would think that the Vicar of Christ would hasten to deny the attribution to him of an heretical opinion that strikes at the very foundations of the Faith, including the dogma of the Redemption the whole Church, at this very moment, is in the process of commemorating.
I will follow up on this piece after the Triduum. By the end of next week, shall we say, we will know whether the Vatican can do any better than Burke’s shifty “denial.” If not, then we will know for certain that we have a Pope who privately espouses an unequivocal heresy. Then it will up to a thus far totally quiescent hierarchy to do its duty by demanding that Francis retract this error, along with the errors by which this wayward Pope is undermining the entire moral edifice of the Church.
May the good God soon deliver the Church from this pontificate.