Vatican rushes to deny reports Pope thinks Hell doesn’t exist and sinning souls just ‘disappear’

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Pope Francis did not tell a journalist that “hell does not exist”, the Vatican has insisted.

Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari published a report of an interview with the pontiff, and said he had asked him where “bad souls” go upon death, and where they are punished.

The 93-year-old atheist, a co-founder of the La Reppublica newspaper, quoted Francis as saying: “They are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and take their place among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear.

“A hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of sinning souls exists.”

The Vatican confirmed what was believed to be the pair’s fifth meeting, but insisted the pope had not granted Mr Scalfari an interview.

The article “was the fruit of his reconstruction” and not a “faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s words”, a spokesman said.

Mr Scalfari has prided himself on not taking notes and not using tape recorders during his encounters with leaders, and later reconstructing the meetings to create lengthy reports.

Thursday’s rebuttal was at least the third time the Vatican had issued a statement distancing itself from his articles about Francis, including one in 2014 in which the journalist said the pontiff had abolished sin.

Official Catholic doctrine states that “immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell”, which include “eternal fire”.

Additional reporting by agencies