Does Hell Exist? Pope Francis Says No In New Interview That Could Change Catholic Church Forever

Updated | Catholic Pope Francis made a startling revelation Thursday by stating that hell did not exist, in an interview with a leading liberal Italian newspaper.

In an article titled "It Is an Honor to Be Called a Revolutionary," La Repubblica founder Eugenio Scalfari acknowledged the pontiff's previous remarks about how "good souls" who sought repentance from God would receive it and then asked, "What about the bad souls?" Seemingly going against centuries of core Christian belief, Pope Francis said the souls of sinners simply vanished after death and were not subject to an eternity of punishment.

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"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," Pope Francis said, as translated by Catholic blog Rorate Caeli.

"There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls," he added.

Pope Francis leads the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, during which sacred oils are blessed at Saint Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, on March 29. That same day, Italian newspaper La Repubblica revealed that the pontiff believed that hell did not exist. Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

Shortly after the article was published, the Vatican issued a statement that claimed the article was "not a faithful transcript" and that the meeting between Pope Francis and Scalfari was a private meeting and not a formal interview.

"What is reported by the author in today's article is the result of his reconstruction, in which the literal 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," the Vatican said in a statement translated by the Catholic News Agency.

The Catholic New Agency also pointed out that, after a controversial 2013 article, Scalfari admitted that some words attributed to the pontiff "were not shared by Pope Francis" himself.

Francis is the 266th Catholic pope and the first to be born in the Western Hemisphere. Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires to an Italian family that fled the fascist rule of Benito Mussolini, he entered the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits, at the age of 21.

Since becoming pope following the resignation of his predecessor in 2013, Francis has been known as a vocal supporter of reform for the Catholic Church and advocate for the poor. He has pushed for greater outreach to the young and other faiths as well as more liberal attitudes toward controversial topics such as contraception, evolution and homosexuality.

These ideals have often drawn the ire of the Catholic Church's more conservative clergy, some of whom have pushed back against Pope Francis's leadership.

This article has been updated to reflect that Pope Francis was the first pontiff born in the Western Hemisphere, not simply outside of Europe.