Pope Francis this week told an atheist friend that hell does not exist and that condemned souls merely disappear upon death, according to reports.
CNS News cited the recent interview between the pontiff and Eugenio Scalfari, including an exchange in which the non-believer asked where “bad souls” are punished.
“They are not punished,” the pope responded, according to translations. “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.”
He went on to leave little doubt about his proclamation.
“There is no hell,” he said. “There is the disappearance of sinful souls.”
Pope Francis’ statement appears to indicate a significant shift in Catholic doctrine, even as described in a 2007 sermon from his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
“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,” the retired pontiff said.
The Vatican has since issued a statement indicating that the comments attributed to Pope Francis should not be considered a direct quote.