*What* did Pope Francis say about Hell?!?!?
Once again, Pope Francis is headlining the news, under fire about recent comments supposedly made regarding the existence of hell. What really transpired? What does the Church teach about hell?
Recently it has been claimed that
, a self-proclaimed atheist who is founder and former editor of the Italian newspaper
, met with Pope Francis for a
. Scalfari claims that Pope Francis told him, “hell doesn’t exist" and that the souls of sinners simply disappear.
On Holy Thursday the Vatican responded that the reported interview should not be considered an accurate recording of Francis’ words, but the author’s own “reconstruction.” Scalfari does not take audio transcripts or notes of his interviews - priding himself on
not taking notes or recording high-profile interviews
, so it is not possible for him to definitively report what the Holy Father said. Vatican officials have dismissed the reports, stating that such statements would be in direct contradiction, not only to Church teaching, but to the Pope's prior comments on the subject. He has spoken about the existence of hell in public speeches, including a
prayer vigil in March 2014
, in which the Holy Father gave an address saying that members of the mafia should change their lives, “while there is still time, so that you do not end up in hell. That is what awaits you if you continue on this path.”
During another homily in the Vatican in 2016
, he said hell is not “a torture chamber.” Rather, it is the horror of being separated forever from the “God who loves us so much.” His predecessor,
Pope St John Paul II, said something similar in 1999
: not so much a physical place, but that, “Hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.”
What is the Church's formal teaching on this?
Catechism of the Catholic there are a number of paragraphs
which address the doctrine of hell (CCC 1033-1037). The summary of this teaching is found in paragraph 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." 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.
Millenia of the Church's doctrinal understanding as well as the words of Jesus himself (Mt 5:22,29; 10:28; 13:41-50; 25:41; Mk 9:43-48) make it clear that the pope simply
solemnity and infallibly deny the existence of hell.
What about the claim that the souls of the damned would simply "disappear"? Known as "annihilationism", this is the belief that after the final judgment some human beings and all fallen angels - in other words, all of the damned - will be totally destroyed so as to not exist, or that their consciousness will be extinguished, rather than suffer everlasting torment in hell.
Besides being non-biblical (see above), this idea also denies the crucial role that free will plays in the moral life: our actions in this life have eternal consequences. Virtue and virtuous acts bring us closer to God, vice and sin pulls us away. During our lives on earth, we have the ability to freely move between virtue and vice (and receive reconciliation when we have gone contrary to God's will) but, at our death, that ability comes to an end. Our wills become "fixed": either towards God or away from Him. Those who die in God's friendship are able to know only the good as they now understand the full import of their choices; those who die outside of God's friendship do so rejecting Him and choosing some an infinitely lesser good. Our eternity is spent embracing either God or something else. Those who have chosen something besides God also bear the eternal torment of knowing that they have deprived themselves of their ultimate Good - this is the suffering of hell.
Just as importantly, accepting annihilationism would refute the very reason that God sent Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. By comparison, being “extinguished” after death is no fate to dread, but an eternity in hell most definitely is. Being God, Jesus’ death was an infinite death, paying our infinite debt of debt so that we would not have to pay it in hell for eternity (2 Corinthians 5:21). If we place our faith in Him, we are saved, forgiven, cleansed, and promised an eternal home in heaven. But if we reject God’s gift of eternal life, we will face the eternal consequences of that decision.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time Mr. Scalfari 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 between Scalfari and Pope Francis has been criticized 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”.
Our FORMED Recommendation for the Week
Audio (68 minutes) -
The Four Last Things
Fr. Mike Schmitz is one of the leading Catholic speakers in the Church today. Fr. Mike tackles four very difficult topics in this exceptional presentation: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell. Listen to this talk and begin to answer the question: "What happens when I die?"
If you haven't done so already, go to
, click on the REGISTER button and enter our parish code
). Enter your e-mail address on the registration screen and you're good to go!
Do you find these weekly eCommunity mailings useful and think that family members or friends could benefit? Invite them either by having them text
on their smartphone or by signing up on our parish website at
- we'd love to have them join us!
Sent by Fr. Ed Blanchett on Friday, April 20 at 3:00PM