On Wednesday, the Jesuit order's superior general announced that Satan himself is a "symbol" rather than an actual being that was once created by God before falling into damnation.
According to Catholic News Agency, Fr. Arturo Sosa told the Italian magazine Tempi that the devil "exists as the personification of evil in different structures, but not in persons, because is not a person, is a way of acting evil."
"He is not a person like a human person. It is a way of evil to be present in human life," asserted the priest. "Good and evil are in a permanent war in the human conscience and we have ways to point them out. We recognize God as good, fully good. Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality."
The Jesuit leader's statement about the devil stands in stark contrast with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches that Satan and his demons are "spiritual, non-corporeal beings" who are nonetheless "personal and immortal creatures" with an "intelligence and will."
"Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: 'The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing,'" the text reads.
Not once has the Catechism (or any sanctioned doctor of the Church, for that matter) referred to Satan as a symbol.
Sosa previously questioned the actual existence of Satan beyond mere symbols during an interview with El Mundo in 2017 when he said, "We have formed symbolic figures such as the Devil to express evil." However, after significant backlash, a spokesperson for Sosa told the Catholic Herald that he believes in what the Catholic Church teaches.
"Like all Catholics, Father Sosa professes and teaches what the Church professes and teaches. He does not hold a set of beliefs separate from what is contained in the doctrine of the Catholic Church," the spokesperson stated.
His comments in 2017 preceded a poll that showed eight in ten U.S. Catholics now believe that Satan is just a symbol more akin to that of Santa Claus than an actual being. The poll came from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), which cited its chilling data from a Faith and Global Policy Challenges Survey in 2011.
Of the 1,496 adults in the United States polled, only 17% of self-identified Catholics said they believe in the existence of Satan, with 83% regarding the being as a mere symbol. Conversely, 55% of Evangelical Protestants believed in Satan's literal existence.
Mark M. Gray, editor of CARA's research blog, noted that Catholics believing in Satan's existence were exponentially more likely to support pro-life initiatives and other moral causes. They were also shown to lean more conservative politically.
"Symbols aren't really going to stir the same concerns in someone that a being might," Gray explained. "Catholics who believe in the devil and Hell are more likely than those who do not to be religiously active."