In a papacy marked by numerous controversies and vague statements, Pope Francis has yet again put his foot in his mouth and has been quoted by an Italian journalist as saying that hell does not exist.
While the Vatican has issued a statement denying that the pope ever made the statement, there is a much greater issue at hand that allowed such a statement to be released and attributed to the Holy Father, namely, the pope’s insistence on speaking to Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, who disregards every single standard practice that a good reporter does when conducting a private interview.
Whether or not the pope made the statement that hell does not exist and the souls of sinners simply “disappear,” should not be the most important part conversation. Scalfari has a history of attributing rather shocking statements to the supreme pontiff that would deviate greatly from Catholic teaching. Therefore, the question that should be being asked, is why Francis insists on allowing himself to be quoted by a purported journalist who neither takes notes or records their conversations.
The scope of papal power is one of the most misunderstood teachings of the Catholic Church. The teaching of papal infallibility, which is commonly used as an attack against the Church for overly concentrating power on matters of faith and morals in one person.
There is only one instance where a pope may be considered infallible –when he is exercising his authority “ex cathedra,” which, as defined by the first Vatican council, is “the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.”
This very specific circumstance has only been used once since Vatican I, when Pope Pius XII declared that the Virgin Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul.
Pope Francis was not speaking in that capacity, and his interview only served to sow confusion among Catholics that blindly follow him and division among the faithful who already hold concerns about the pope.
As the Vicar of Christ, a priest, and bishop, the Holy Father is responsible for leading his flock on the path to salvation. And that flock encompasses the entire world. His confusing and vague statements have already caused plenty of confusion among the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. By continuing to put himself in situations where he runs a risk of being misquoted, he is displaying a level of irresponsibility and casuality for the office that he holds, which holds the responsibility of those 1.2 billion souls.
It is a simple fact that the majority of Catholics do not know the teachings of the Church as well as they should. Thus, when the most visible authority makes a statement, it is easily taken as dogma by the average Catholic Sunday church-goer.
It is my hope and prayer that the Holy Father is causing this confusion out of naïve ignorance, and not out of an agenda to undermine the 2000 year-old teachings of Catholicism, but a pattern is beginning to emerge and must be dealt with. A good first step would be to take a word of advice from Sister Theresa Alethia.
I’ve been saying this from Day 1 of Pope Francis’ papacy. He needs a sassy nun as his personal assistant who’ll be the one to say, “You had an interview with Scalfari scheduled for tomorrow but I called him and told him you are busy. Busy until the next papacy.”
— Sr. Theresa Aletheia (@pursuedbytruth) March 31, 2018