Commenting on the worldwide reaction to Pope Francis' interview with his longtime atheist friend, Eugenio Scalfari, in which the latter claimed the Pope said there is no Hell and that the souls of the damned are not eternal, Cardinal Burke, an American who serves on the Vatican's highest court, said the situation was "beyond tolerable" and "a source of profound scandal."
Cardinal Burke also criticized the Vatican's response to the scandal as "strongly inadequate" because the Vatican did not say Pope Francis rejcts these "heretical ideas."
Cardinal Burke, the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, made his remarks in an Apr. 4 interview with La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, portions of which were translated and published in the Catholic Herald.
“What happened with the latest interview given to Eugenio Scalfari during Holy Week and made public on Holy Thursday was beyond tolerable," said Cardinal Burke.
“That a famous atheist claims to announce a revolution in the teaching of the Catholic Church, believing to speak in the name of the Pope, denying the immortality of the human soul and the existence of Hell, has been a source of profound scandal not only for many Catholics but also for many lay people who respect the Catholic Church and its teachings, even if they do not share them," said the cardinal, as reported in the Catholic Herald.
The Pope's reported remarks made worldwide headlines. In response to the scandal, the Vatican issued a statement on Good Friday. It said, in part, "What is reported by the author [Scalfari] in today’s article [in La Repubblica] is the result of his reconstruction, in which the textual words pronounced by the Pope are not quoted. No quotation of the aforementioned article must therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father."
Cardinal Burke described that response as "strongly inadequate."
“Instead of clearly re-stating the truth about the immortality of the human soul and Hell, the denial only said that some of the words quoted are not of the Pope,” he said. “It did not say that the erroneous, even heretical ideas expressed by these words are not shared by Pope and that the Pope repudiates such ideas as contrary to the Catholic faith."
“This playing with faith and doctrine, at the highest level of the Church, rightfully leaves priests and faithful scandalised," said Cardinal Burke.
The prominent church leader also criticized the many, many bishops who have said nothing about this scandal. He also chastized those prelates who “spread fantasies of a new Church, of a Church that takes a totally different direction from the past, imagining, for example, a ‘new paradigm’ for the Church.”
In the article that was published on March 28, Scalfari, who has interviewed Pope Francis on four previous occasions, reported the following:
Scalfari says to the Pope, "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?"
Pope Francis reportedly says, "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."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "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." (1035)
As Cardinal Burke made clear, the Vatican has not stated that the Pope does not share the views ascribed to him by Scalfari or that the Pope "repudiates such ideas as contrary to the Catholic faith."