Hell does not exist, Pope Francis was quoted as saying on Wednesday in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. There is, he explained, only “a disappearance of the sinful soul.” In other words: Death of the body means the soul’s annihilation, at least for the unsaved, and the materialist view of death is fundamentally correct. That’s hard to reconcile with the traditional Christian teaching that the soul is immortal and that it will be reunited with an incorruptible body at the Last Judgment.
VIDEO: Rome Reports clarifies Scalfari’s record of sensationalism when interviewing Pope Francis.
Of course, if it’s true that no one goes to hell, another reason could be that everyone goes to heaven. Posed as a possibility, that proposition, though contested, does have a place in Catholic theology. Its leading proponent is Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–88), honored by popes including his friend Joseph Ratzinger, later Benedict XVI. The argument for universal salvation begins with the recognition that no one can presume to know God’s final judgment of anyone. While we cannot dismiss the possibility or perhaps even probability that many are damned to hell, an eternal existence in which they are deprived of God’s presence, we have a duty to hope that “all may be saved” (see 1 Tim. 2:4), as Balthasar suggests in the title of his most famous book.
But the terse remark attributed to Francis earlier this week is nothing like that. If he believes that the souls of the unsaved simply vanish at death, he should elaborate. Does he have an argument? From reason? From Scripture? From observation of nature? Resorting to what has become a customary practice for the director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke said that the interview in La Republicca was not “a faithful transcript.” That is, he cast doubt on the accuracy of the language attributed to the pope but wouldn’t deny — or confirm — that the substance of what Francis told the interviewer, Eugenio Scalfari, lined up with the words that Scalfari put inside quotation marks. (In fairness to Burke: He wasn’t there with Francis and Scalfari, so how would he know?)
This is Francis’s fifth interview with Scalfari and his sixth public exchange, if you count a back-and-forth between them in the pages of La Repubblica shortly after Bergoglio’s election in 2013. Scalfari, 93, co-founded La Repubblica as a left-wing newspaper in 1976. Imagine an Italian approximation of the Guardian. Scalfari is the pope’s most famous public atheist interlocutor. It’s a role that Marcello Pera and then Piergiorgio Odifreddi filled admirably in the case of Pope Benedict.
Scalfari doesn’t record his interviews with Francis. The two converse, and then Scalfari goes to his keyboard and writes up his impressions. He paraphrases here and there but also types out whole paragraphs that he presents as direct quotes from Francis’s part of their dialogue.
This article continues at [National Review] Hell Is the Tedium of Ceaseless Papal Controversy and Drama