Doesn’t exist, Pope Francis reportedly said (FOTOKITA/Shutterstock)

So says Eugenio Scalfari, the elderly left-wing journalist who famously refuses to take notes in his interviews. Scalfari, who is 93, just had another meeting with Francis, and quotes this exchange in his Repubblica interview:

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?

“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.”

My guess, in charity, and given that Francis has in the past spoken of the reality of the demonic, is that this is made up by the atheist Scalfari. But I could be wrong. Who knows with Francis? The bizarre — truly bizarre — thing is that Francis continues to grant Scalfari interviews (this is his fifth) even though Scalfari doesn’t take notes, and the results of the interviews rattle the Vatican, over the things Scalfari quotes Francis as saying.

It is not the Pope’s fault if he is misquoted. It is very much the Pope’s fault if he continues to meet with a journalist who misquotes him, and he continues to allow that journalist to interview him without recording the conversation. Any confusion that results is entirely Francis’s fault. 

Ross Douthat, in his must-read new book on Pope Francis — take a look at my interview with Douthat to get an idea of what the book is like — discusses Francis’s personal style, and the chaos that follows in its wake. Francis once told a crowd in Brazil to “hagan lio” — “make a mess.” And that he has certainly done with the papacy.

Of course the Vatican had better deny, and deny soon, that Francis denied Hell in his interview with Scalfari, and has put forth the doctrine of “annihilationism.” If it doesn’t, then Francis has taught something undeniably heterodox. 

It is a sign of our times that this papacy continues to create such problems for itself, and for Catholics. Who benefits from this confusion? Who?

UPDATE: An official press release from the Vatican. Translation:

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 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.

What a weird denial. The Vatican press office says that this was not an interview, and that Scalfari reconstructed the conversation from memory (which we already knew). The Vatican press office says that we can’t trust what Scalfari said. OK, fine — but that’s not quite the same thing as denying that the Pope said that Hell doesn’t exist, is it?

Again: who benefits from this confusion? Who benefits from Francis repeatedly granting audiences to this journalist, knowing the kinds of things he writes, and knowing that in the past Scalfari’s recollections of his meetings with Pope Francis have caused confusion?

UPDATE.2: Yes, this:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Francis is winking.