* This story has been updated to include a statement from the Vatican (below).
In another interview with his longtime atheist friend, Eugenio Scalfari, Pope Francis claims that Hell does not exist and that condemned souls just "disappear." This is a denial of the 2,000-year-old teaching of the Catholic Church about the reality of Hell and the eternal existence of the soul.
The interview is headlined, "The Pope: It is an honor to be called revolutionary." (Il Papa: “È un onore essere chiamato rivoluzionario.")
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 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)
The Catechism further states, "The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: 'Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.'
"Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where 'men will weep and gnash their teeth.'"
Pope Benedict XVI said in a 2007 sermon, “Jesus came to tell us that he wants us all in Heaven and that Hell, of which so little is said in our time, exists and is eternal for those who close their hearts to his love.”
As for the human soul, the Catholic Church teaches that it is eternal, immortal in countless places throughout the Catechism. One instance, "Endowed with 'a spiritual and immortal' soul, the human person is 'the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake.' From his conception, he is destined for eternal beatitude." (1703)
* In a statement released on Mar. 29, after Scalfari's report garnered worldwide attention, the Vatican said:
"The Holy Father Francis recently received the founder of the newspaper La Repubblica in a private meeting on the occasion of Easter, without however giving him any interviews. What is reported by the author 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."