Well-known Italian columnist, Father Mauro Leonardi, this week tried to explain how the Pope Francis was ‘misrepresented’ over the existence of Hell by veteran atheist journalist Eugenio Scalfari, 93, above.
There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Catholic world when Scalfari recently wrote – not for the first time – that Francis did not believe in the existence of Hell.
According to this Crux report, Leonardi, on Tuesday, took to the pages of Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, to respond to critics who’ve suggested that Francis should stop meeting with Scalfari, knowing that his words were likely to be distorted and sensational, and that misleading headlines would result.
Leonardi wrote that what those critics fail to appreciate is that Francis and Scalfari are friends – in fact, he writes, Scalfari is “in love” with the pontiff.
He went on to say that the two are so close that Scalfari calls the Pope Jorge Mario, his given name, and not Francis.
Talking about the conversations between Scalfari and the Pope, we should focus most that the Pope, through Scalfari, speaks to us, and he does it like the Holy Spirit: The Pope speaks, and his friend, Scalfari, understands him ‘in his own tongue’, with his own codes. For the Pope, that’s fine, and he won’t correct him.
If Eugenio believes that Jorge Mario thinks, like him, that Hell doesn’t exist, it’s fine with Jorge Mario, he won’t correct him. Being friends isn’t about proselytism but finding common ground, without fearing the contamination and distortions that come with every friendship.
Father John Wauck, above, an American priest of Opus Dei based in Rome who teaches at the group’s Santa Croce University, and who’s a frequent media commentator on Catholic affairs, said he didn’t take the alleged “interview” terribly seriously when he heard about it.
Rather than being scandalised as many have been, Wauck sees it as an opportunity – a chance to better explain what the Church teaches on Hell.
My first reaction, especially because this wasn’t the first time, was, ‘There goes crazy Scalfari again’. He’s getting a headline out of something outrageous, that seems to be in complete contradiction to the Christian faith and other things Francis has said.
I would say it’s a teaching moment. Hell is actually God’s way of taking us seriously. If we’re able to determine our eternity in a good sense, meaning eternal life, God, happiness, delight, all of which will last forever on the basis of what we’ve done, it makes sense there’s a flip side.
Sometimes we think Hell seems kind of disproportionate, but Heaven’s also disproportionate. God has skin in the game … he’s given us everything, and Hell is a reminder of what we can turn our back on, which is something infinite.
Given that, Wauck said he was surprised Francis himself didn’t take advantage of the unexpected teaching moment he’d helped to create.
I must admit, I’m a little surprised the Pope hasn’t seized on it, right n ow. We were in Holy Week, with the traditional teaching that Christ descends into Hell … It would have been a great moment to come out and say something.
Certainly for priests on the ground it’s a teaching moment. It’s an opportunity to talk about it. When’s the last time you had all these secular people asking questions about Catholic eschatology?
People like Ophelia Benson, who penned this op-ed for the Freethinker?
Meanwhile, Crux reported that Piergiorgio Odifreddi, a well-known Italian mathematician and logician who has also been a popular columnist for the widely read, left-leaning newspaper La Repubblica for the past 18 years – the newspaper Scalfari founded in 1976 – has been sacked for calling the Scalfari interview “fake news”.
Odifreddi asked why La Repubblica:
Doesn’t put a stop to the fake news of Scalfari and even pretends not to notice it, when the whole world talks about it and is scandalised by it?
My impression is that, at bottom, truth doesn’t matter at all to newspapers. If a false news story gets people talking more than a true one, than what’s needed is more of the former.
The paper’s editor Mario Calabresi later clarified in a note to Odifreddi that he’s been fired not for criticising Scalfari, which he said is part of a “free discussion,” but for giving offence to his colleagues at the newspaper.
The one liberty you can’t take is that of insulting or deriding the community with which you work. We do our jobs with passion and professionalism, and the gratuitous nature of your words yesterday hurt us.