If you haven’t read the news yet, what was reported was a bombshell. According to an Italian publication, La Republica, Pope Francis had a conversation with the co-founder of the publication, Eugenio Scalfari, in which the Pope denied that he believed in hell. The interview was apparently held during holy week. Scalfari reported that the Pontiff told him that “Hell does not exist” and that “those who do not repent and cannot, therefore, be forgiven disappear.”
Before I comment, several things must be born in mind. First, Scalfari is a noted Atheist. Second, he is 93 years old. Finally, by his own admission, he never takes notes during an interview and never records it either. He claims to simply reconstruct it from his memory later. He also admits that he does not report what was said literally, but rather simply gives a reconstruction of what was said. For these reasons, there is every reason to take what Scalfari says with a grain of salt.
It should also be noted that the Vatican has been quick to say that the interview did not faithfully represent what Francis actually said in this conversation. Furthermore, the Vatican also produced a series of quotes from the Pontiff, in which he does reference hell as real. This, says the Vatican, is what Francis actually believes.
That all being said, I am still left to ponder. Newspapers around the world have been reporting this event. It has also been made clear that this is not the first conversation of this type with Scalfari. Scalfari is reported to be a friend of the Pope, and in other interviews, Scalfari has reported the Pope saying other things that are not in keeping with either Scripture or Roman Catholic doctrine. For instance, Scalfari reports that Francis said in one interview that evangelism was nonsense. On each occasion, the Vatican is left scrambling to do damage control. Indeed, Scalfari reports that in interviews on September 21, 2014, on March 15, 2015, and on October 9, 2017, the Pope expressed then that he did not believe in hell. One wonders if Scalfari is constantly misrepresenting the pontiff, why does the Pontiff continue to grant him interviews?
But there is more. Francis has had a habit of speaking out of both sides of his mouth. On one occasion, Sister Martha Pelloni, a Roman Catholic activist for rural women in poverty, said that Francis told her that in order to prevent abortions, he recommended either condoms, diaphragms or tubal ligation. Now, I as an evangelical have no difficulty with birth control, but that advice breaks Roman Catholic doctrine. Does Francis believe in the doctrines of his own church? Last April, Francis apparently told an Argentinian divorced and remarried woman that she could receive communion, even though church doctrine forbids this. Again, one must wonder if there is a difference between what Francis says in public and what he says in private.
This brings up the problem. Francis now appears to say contradictory things on different occasions, depending on the circumstances. Whether he is confused about his doctrines or disagrees with them is uncertain. If you are a Roman Catholic, this must be troubling.
I am not a Roman Catholic, and I take issue with a great many Roman Catholic doctrines. But we are living in interesting days when leading religious figures cannot be trusted to speak authentically. It is as if populism has taken center stage in every sphere of life, where leaders tell us what we want to hear.
For Bible-believing Christians, this presents us with a great opportunity. Let us be faithful to speak biblical truth, regardless of the audience, and regardless of the times in which we live.