The Vatican has denied that Pope Francis told a well-known Italian journalist that “there is no hell”.
The quote came in an article in Italy’s La Repubblica daily. But the Vatican said “no quotations” in the article “should be considered as a faithful transcription” of the Pope’s words.
The Vatican said the article was based on a private meeting the Pope had with the daily’s founder, Eugenio Scalfari.
Catholic Church doctrine affirms the existence of hell and its eternity.
The souls of sinners descend into hell, where they suffer “eternal fire”, the Catholic catechism states.
However, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the most senior Catholic in England and Wales, said “there’s nowhere in Catholic teaching that actually says any one person is in hell”.
He told the BBC that the Pope was apparently exploring “the imagery of hell – fire and brimstone and all of that”.
“That’s never been part of Catholic teaching, it’s been part of Catholic iconography, part of Christian iconography,” he said.
According to Scalfari’s article on Thursday, he asked the Pope where “bad souls” go and where they are punished. The journalist is an avowed atheist.
“Souls are not punished,” the Pope was quoted as saying in the Repubblica piece. “Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and go among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. There is no hell – there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”
The Vatican said it had not been an interview, but a private meeting on the occasion of Easter, and Scalfari’s article “is the fruit of his reconstruction”.