AFTER publishing The Shaking of the Church on Holy Thursday, it was only hours later that a spiritual earthquake, centered in Rome, shook all of Christendom. As chunks of plaster reportedly rained down from the ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica, headlines across the world rattled with Pope Francis allegedly having said: “Hell Does Not Exist.”
What I assumed at first was “fake news,” or perhaps an April Fool’s joke, turned out to be true. Pope Francis had granted another interview with Eugene Scalfari, a 93-year-old atheist who never takes notes nor records his subjects’ words. Rather, as he explained once to the Foreign Press Association, “I try to understand the person I am interviewing, and after that, I write his answers with my own words.” Scalfari then conceded the possibility that “some of the Pope’s words I reported, were not shared by Pope Francis” in his 2013 interview with the Pontiff. 
It is hard to know what is more surprising—the admission of sloppy, if not unethical journalism, or the fact that the Pope has entrusted this man with yet another interview (this is apparently the fifth).
The response heard around the world has ranged from the cheering of “liberals” to declarations from “conservatives” that the Pope is an agent of the Antichrist. Perhaps representing the voice of reason, Boston College theologian and philosopher, Dr. Peter Kreeft, responded to the uproar saying, “I doubt he said that, because it’s heresy outright.”  Indeed, the existence of Hell is a core doctrine of Christianity, taught by Our Lord, and affirmed for 2000 years in Sacred Tradition. Moreover, Pope Francis has himself previously taught of the existence of Hell and frequently spoken of the reality of Satan as a real fallen angel. As long-time Vatican correspondent John L. Allen Jr. noted:
First, there’s basically zero plausibility that Francis actually said what Scalfari cites him as saying on Hell, at least as quoted, since Francis has a clear public record on the subject—he actually talks about Hell more frequently that any pope in recent memory, and he has never left any doubt that he regards it as a real possibility for one’s eternal destiny. —April 30th, 2018; cruxnow.com
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. —Catholic News Agency, March 29th, 2018
Unfortunately, nothing was said to confirm Catholic doctrine. And so far, the Pope has remained silent.
Thus, the “damage,” it would seem, is done. Whether the Pope said it or not may be irrelevant. Billions of people have now heard, allegedly from the mouth of Christianity’s chief representative, that Hell does not exist. Some have applauded the news that “finally” the Church is dropping such an “unmerciful” doctrine; Evangelical Christians and schismatics have gone into high gear confirming their suspicions that Francis is an “antipope” or “false prophet”; faithful Catholics, exhausted by one papal controversy after another, have publicly voiced their dismay on social media, some even calling Francis a “traitor” and a “Judas.” One reader said to me, “I pray for the Pope. But I no longer trust him.” Expressing his exasperation, Cardinal Raymond Burke responded to this latest guffaw saying:
It has been a source of profound scandal not only for many Catholics but also for many people in the secular world who have respect for the Catholic Church and its teachings, even if they do not share them… This playing around with faith and doctrine, at the highest level of the Church, rightly leaves pastors and faithful scandalized. —La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, April 5th, 2018 (English translation from LifeSiteNews.com)
The Church is indeed shaking… but not destroyed.
JESUS IS RISEN, YES?
As I pondered what to write today, I sensed in my heart the words, “Do what you always do: turn to the daily Mass readings.”
In today’s Gospel, the Risen Lord enters the room where the Apostles are gathered and asks them:
Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?
The last time Jesus asked them this question was when they were in the midst of a great storm. They woke Him, crying out:
“Lord, save us! We are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” (Matt 8:25-26)
What Jesus asked of the Apostles before and after His Resurrection was total trust in Him. Yes, Jesus would build His Church upon Peter, “the rock”, but their faith was to be solely in God—in His promises—not human abilities.
The Lord publicly proclaimed it: ‘I’, he said, ‘have prayed for you Peter that your faith may not fail, and you, once being converted, must confirm your brothers’… For this reason the Faith of the Apostolic seat has never failed even during turbulent times, but has remained whole and unharmed, so that the privilege of Peter continues to be unshaken. —POPE INNOCENT III (1198-1216), Can a Pope be a Heretic? by Rev. Joseph Iannuzzi, Oct. 20th, 2014
“But”, one might ask, “hasn’t the Apostolic seat failed through this apparent denial of Hell?” The answer is no—the teachings of the Church have not been overturned, even in Amoris Laetitia (though, they have been heterodoxically misinterpreted). The Pope can make mistakes like everyone else except when making ex cathedra statements, that is, infallible declarations that confirm doctrine. That is the teaching of the Church and the experience of 2000 years.
…if you are troubled by some statements that Pope Francis has made in his recent interviews, it is not disloyalty, or a lack of Romanita to disagree with the details of some of the interviews which were given off-the-cuff. Naturally, if we disagree with the Holy Father, we do so with the deepest respect and humility, conscious that we may need to be corrected. However, papal interviews do not require either the assent of faith that is given to ex cathedra statements or that internal submission of mind and will that is given to those statements that are part of his non-infallible but authentic magisterium. —Fr. Tim Finigan, tutor in Sacramental Theology at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh; from The Hermeneutic of Community, “Assent and Papal Magisterium”, October 6th, 2013; http://the-hermeneutic-of-continuity.blogspot.co.uk
The Petrine promises of Christ still hold true, even though great waves are smashing against the Church… even though enemy ships are battering her hull and “Peter” himself seems to be steering the Barque toward rocky shoals. Who, I ask, is the wind in her sails? Is it not the Holy Spirit? Who is the Admiral of this Ship? Is it not Christ? And who is Lord of the seas? Is it not the Father?
Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Jesus is Risen. He is not dead. He is still the Governor and Master Builder of His Church. I’m not saying this to dismiss the controversies or excuse the Pope, nor downplay the grave trials we are facing (read The Shaking of the Church). But I think those who are jumping overboard ought to listen to what Christ is saying—especially those who slander the Pope or betray an evident lack of trust in Jesus. Frankly, they too become a “stumbling block” to others and source of division. It’s worth repeating what the Catechism teaches regarding what we should do when someone, even the Pope, seemingly fails us:
Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
– of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
– of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
– of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved. —Catechism of the Catholic, n. 2476-2478
CHRIST DOES NOT LIE
This too is a fact: Pope Francis holds the keys of the Kingdom, even though he may hold them loosely… perhaps too loosely. Not a single Cardinal, including Burke, has contested the validity of this papacy. Francis is the Vicar of Christ, and thus, the Petrine promises of Jesus will prevail. Those who persist in the belief that there was a “palace coup” and that Benedict is still the lawful pope ought to hear what Benedict XVI himself has to say about that: see Barquing Up the Wrong Tree.
I recall at the Synod on the family how Pope Francis allowed a multitude of opinions to be put on the table—some of them beautiful, others heretical. At the end, he stood up and issued Five Corrections to both “liberals” and “conservatives.” Then,
The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church”. —POPE FRANCIS, closing remarks on the Synod; Catholic News Agency, October 18th, 2014 (my emphasis)
Suddenly, I no longer heard the Pope speaking but Jesus. The words resounded in my soul like thunder, literally striking me to the core. You see, it is Christ who has prayed that Peter’s faith may not fail. That’s a pretty dependable prayer. And we have come to understand that it doesn’t mean the Pope cannot personally sin or even fail his duties; rather, that the Spirit of Truth will safeguard the “food” which Christ has given us in Sacred Tradition. Indeed, the Pope’s interview with Scalfari means little in that light. The True Faith has already been handed on and cannot change.
Somehow, in some way, we will see this guarantee fulfilled. Really, we already are, as The Papacy is Not One Pope.
Even Judas was entrusted with power and authority. Yes, he was also in that gathering of disciples when Jesus declared:
Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me. (Luke 10:16)
That is, whoever did not listen to Judas was rejecting the Lord himself. That was the case for those three years that the future betrayer was with the Lord. We should ponder that.
And even Peter, post-Pentecost, was corrected by Paul for straying from the true Gospel.  There’s something important to be learned here too. Does infallibility mean that the Pope can never misstep, or rather that his steps will always be made straight again?
As I said not long ago, our personal duty is to listen for the voice of Jesus speaking through Pope Francis and the bishops in communion with him. Only the most cynical hearts will fail to hear the often beautiful, encouraging, and true words that these men speak—despite their faults.
While preparing last year for an Advent Mission in the parish I was speaking at, I saw a large poster on the pastor’s wall. It detailed the history of the Church through a timeline. One description caught my eye in particular:
It is an unfortunate fact that sometimes the spiritual condition of the Church is no better than the spiritual condition of society as a whole. This was true in the 10th century. In its first 60 years, the office of the pope was controlled by Roman aristocrats who were unworthy of their high office. The worst of them, Pope John XII, was so corrupt that God delivered the Church from him through a secular ruler, Otto I (the Great), the first Holy Roman Emperor of the German nation. Otto and his successors used the Church as an instrument to help restore order to the empire. Lay investiture, the selection by emperors of bishops, and even popes, was one of the primary ways to control the Church. By God’s mercy, the popes nominated by the German emperors during this period were of high quality, especially Pope Sylvester II. As a result, the Western Church began to revive, especially through the renewal of monastic life.
God permits evil (and confusion) to allow a greater good. He will do so again.
Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Your gift keeps me going. Bless you.
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