The Pope has sensationally declared hell does not exist and souls not worthy of heaven merely disappear instead of being tormented.
But the Vatican quickly denied the apparent dramatic theological shift, accusing atheist reporter Eugenio Scalfari of ‘reconstructing’ his words.
Catholic teaching dictates that ‘immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell’.
The Pope has sensationally declared hell does not exist and souls not worthy of heaven merely disappear instead of being tormented
Scalfari, 93, in his fifth interview of Pope Francis published in La Repubblica, asked what happened to ‘bad souls’ after their bodies died.
‘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,’ he quoted the Pope as replying.
‘There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.’
The Vatican on Thursday said the Italian journalist and the Pope had a private meeting but claimed it was ‘without giving him any interview’.
‘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,’ it said.
‘No quotation of the aforementioned article must therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father.’
Scalfari report came a day before the Pope urged priests to be spiritually closer to adulterers and to not preach Holy laws at people but instead tell them when they sin
The Holy See pointed out that Pope Francis previously mentioned hell in a March 2014 prayer vigil calling on mafia members to 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,’ he said then.
Scalfari has previously been accused of contorting the Pope’s words in previous meetings, dude to his unconventional style of not taking notes.
‘I try to understand the person I am interviewing, and after that I write his answers with my own words,’ he said after a 2013 incident.
He at that point reported the Pope told him: ‘Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them.’
Scalfari afterwards conceded that as a result ‘some of the Pope’s words I reported, were not shared by Pope Francis.’
The following year Vatican officials even questioned whether reports of interviews with the Pope by atheist reporters could ever be trusted.
Scalfari report came a day before the Pope urged priests to be spiritually closer to adulterers and to not preach Holy laws at people but instead tell them when they sin.
Pope Francis shared the guidance during Holy Thursday Mass which is meant to show the unity of the Catholic Church during the pre-Easter period.
He called on priests to be close to their flocks and to do more than just preach laws at them when they sin.
In his homily, Francis also said that priests should help adulterers look forward and not condemn them with legalism.
The pope warned that priests must not be tempted to ‘idolise’ church law and doctrine, to ensure that as many ordinary people remain close to Jesus as possible.
Pope Francis blows inside an amphora containing holy oil during a Chrism Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican
Francis stressed the need to not judge adulterers too harshly and also called on priests to be patient with them, even if it meant continuously stressing the wrongness of the sin to them.
Pope Francis delivered the speech as he celebrated a Chrism Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican.
During the Mass the pontiff blesses a token amount of oil that will be used to administer the sacraments for the year.
The holy oil is contained in an amphora that the Pope blows into during the ceremony.
The surprising words came after conservatives complained that Francis is dividing the church with his opening to letting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
Critics say Francis is disregarding church law about the indissolubility of marriage by effectively allowing adulterers access to the sacraments.
Francis appeared to be hitting back at the criticism with his Holy Thursday Mass, choosing specifically to preach about how priests should accompany adulterers during a Mass meant to demonstrate the unity of priests with their bishops.
He told priests in St. Peter’s Basilica that Jesus wasn’t disregarding the law when, in the Biblical story, he refused to condemn an adulterer when he found her.
An amphora containing holy oil is carried in front of Pope Francis during a Chrism Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Thursday
Francis said priests can tell adulterers not to sin again, but using a non-legalistic tone that allows the sinner ‘to look forward and not backward.’
‘The correct tone is that of the confessor who is prepared to repeat it 70 times seven,’ he said.
Holy Thursday marks the start of an intense four days of activity leading up to Easter Sunday, including the Thursday afternoon ritual washing of the feet of 12 people, which Francis will perform at Rome’s central Regina Coeli prison.
The 12 inmates include Catholics, Muslims, an Orthodox Christian and a Buddhist, the Vatican said. They hail from Italy, the Philippines, Morocco, Moldova, Colombia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
On Friday, Francis presides over the Way of the Cross procession at Rome’s Colosseum re-enacting Christ’s crucifixion.
On Saturday night, he celebrates the solemn Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by the joyful Easter Sunday Mass marking Christ’s resurrection.
During the Mass the pontiff blesses a token amount of oil that will be used to administer the sacraments for the year
The Pope has been criticised by some conservatives for allowing some divorced and remarried Catholics receive communion.
Last year, the pope replaced Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller who was the Church’s hardline doctrinal watchdog.
The former Cardinal had publicly clashed with the Pope over divorce reforms.
Francis had produced a papal treatise called ‘The Joy of Love’, which was an attempt to make the Catholic Church more inclusive and less condemning.
In the document the pontiff sided with progressive proposal to allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion.
This horrified traditionalists, who believed divorcing and remarrying was adultery and therefore a sin.