During Easter week in 2018, a Leftist/atheist quoted Pope Francis from a private conversation as saying that there is no Hell, only annihilation for the wicked. After it was quoted in an leftist Italian newspaper- La Repubblica, all heck literally broke out in the international press.
Soon the Vatican officially denied the quote. Nevertheless, the story had legs, particularly since it came during the Christian Holy Week. Here’s a synopsis of the controversy from the NY Times:
ROME — The Vatican felt obliged this week to reaffirm that Pope Francis believes in a central tenet of Catholicism, that there is a hell.
That odd declaration came after the newspaper La Repubblica published a front-page article on Thursday by an atheist, left-wing and anticlerical giant of Italian journalism, who reported that during a recent meeting the pope had said that hell did not exist.
Bad souls are “not punished,” the journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, 93, reported the pope as saying. “A hell doesn’t exist.” …
But the infernal remarks, especially as the pope prepared for Easter Sunday celebrations, proved too tempting for international tabloids, conservative websites antagonistic to the pope and many others to let go.
Response: The liberal media always looks for ways to embarrass Christians during the holiest week in the Christian calendar. Usually it comes in the form of exposés and documentaries against Jesus and the resurrection. Last week I looked for the newest anti-Christian controversy and this seemed to fit the bill. The Pope contradicting the official teaching of the church begs the question- ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’ And when it comes to this Pope and the central doctrines of the church maybe not so much?
Here’s the actual quote translated from Italian into English:
“Scalfari: What happens to that lost soul? Will it be punished? And how? The response of Francis is distinct and clear (netta e chiara): there is no punishment, but the destruction/annihilation of that soul. [The Italian word is annullamento, literally, “turned into nothing”, meaning here the same as the more usual Italian word for annihilation, annientamento] All the others will participate in the beatitude of living in the presence of the Father. The souls that are destroyed/annihilated will not take part in that banquet; with the death of the body their journey is finished. And this is the motivation of the Church’s missionary activity: to save the lost. And it is also the reason why Francis is a Jesuit to the end.”
But is the quote among ‘friends’ really all that misleading as the Vatican wants us to believe? Universalism and Annihilation have been major tenets of liberal theology for an entire generation and more. They were popular teachings when I was in seminary 35 years ago and Pope Francis is known to be a proponent of, or at the very least in sympathy with, many of the tenets of liberal Liberation Theology. It would not be out of character for such a one with that background to privately suggest that most will be saved (Universalism) accept the really wicked who will probably face annihilation from the Father God of love rather than an eternity of punishment in a fiery Hell.
Would Pope Francis ever make an ‘official’ statement promoting Universalism and Annihilation which are in direct conflict with the Bible and the official teaching of the church? No—never. However, church members would probably be quite surprised with the results if a poll was taken of Catholic priests and nuns in the West along with mainline Protestant pastors and ministers, if they answered truthfully, about their personal beliefs on Heaven, Hell, and/or Universal salvation and Annihilation.