I am not here to defend Pope Francis generally – neither on his frequent head-scratching public statements (I’ve been a critic multiple times, including here and here) nor on the general notion of papal authority, which I have not accepted for more than 30 years.
But as far as I can see, there is no reason whatsoever to believe the pope claimed Hell doesn’t exist. The source for this claim is highly unreliable, and since the claim was made the Vatican has continually affirmed the doctrine that Hell is real.
So why do so many people believe the pope said this? Mainly because they keep hearing that he said it, and they ignore how impossible it is to assign any credence whatsoever to the one many who claims to have heard the statement.
Where did this claim come from? It came from a 93-year-old atheist named Eugene Scalfari, who says he has struck up an “intellectual friendship” with the pope, and that during a conversation between the two of them, Francis told Scalfari he doesn’t believe there is really a Hell.
Now, assuming these two really are “intellectual friends” and assuming they actually sit down and chew the fat, you should remember a few things:
- Scalfari is 93 years old.
- Scalfari makes a point of letting everyone know he doesn’t take notes, but just recounts from memory what people say to him.
- Scalfari is an atheist.
- There are no other public statements or official communiques from the pope that are consistent with what Scalfari claims Francis told him, which means that if he really believes there is no Hell, he shared this believe one time, with one person, and no one else.
Now look, since I don’t accept the office of the papacy in the first place, it’s not a huge crisis for me that there’s a pope who is a little off on some things. It’s Scripture that I look to, not any one human leader. If you’re a practicing Catholic, I understand why you’d be troubled by a lot of what Francis says – especially when he strays from theological issues and gets outside his area of knowledge.
But even if you’re a Catholic who has huge problems with Francis, that doesn’t give you license to go around repeating an obvious slander of the man. There is no reason whatsoever to think he told Eugene Scalfari there is no Hell.
Scalfari is simply not a credible source. He can’t back up his claim. He is sloppy in his recording methods. He is a very old man and it’s hardly implausible that he misheard or misunderstood what was said to him – assuming anything was said to him at all.
And because he’s an atheist, you can’t discount that he has an incentive to sow discord among believers.
There is a tendency in our culture today to simply believe the worst things we are told about people we don’t like, because these things affirm our worst suspicions about them. If you’re a Francis critic, you believe he said this because it’s the sort of awful thing you’ve already decided he would say and probably believes. It fits your Pope Francis narrative, so it’s true as far as you’re concerned.
But every standard of evidence and credibility would suggest this is garbage. If I was interviewing Scalfari and he made this claim to me, I wouldn’t even bother reporting the statement. It’s that devoid of credibility.
There are enough legitimate issues to have with Pope Francis. Stop believing things that are transparent nonsense just because they fit narratives you want to believe.
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Powers and Principalities (2009): Twenty years ago, Clay Bender saw the face of spiritual evil with the naked eye while attending a party. Now, Clay’s terrifying spiritual gift returns, showing him that a supernatural threat is looming – one that could threaten everyone in Royal Oak. As the community grapples with bizarre electrical disturbances and a horrible train derailment, only Clay can recognize the true nature of the strange events, and he and his two closest friends have little time to battle the city’s demons – even as all three are forced to face their own. (Buy Now button for signed hard copy: $15.99. Amazon button for digital download: $2.99)
Pharmakeia (2010): Kyla Spears is being warned – in terrifying dreams – of grisly and violent tragedies looming for young people in Royal Oak. But her spiritually gifted friend Clay Bender is reluctant to help, and her feelings for one charming young man threaten her newfound spiritual integrity and her ability to face the truth about what’s really behind the threat. (Buy Now button for signed hard copy: $15.99. Amazon button for digital download: $2.99)