Controversy erupted this week when atheist Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari published a serious charge in an article for the center-left outlet La Repubblica — namely, that Pope Francis previously told him in a private interview that Jesus Christ was not God. If true, this would be a blatant statement of heresy that denies the Nicene Creed and the Catechism.
According to Catholic News Agency, Scalfari, who has interviewed the pope on several occasions, said he discussed the topic of Jesus’ divinity sometime in the past. He allegedly challenged Pope Francis about church teaching by noting several scriptures of Christ expressing agony, which apparently led Scalfari to believe that Jesus was not divine. In response, Pope Francis allegedly told him, “They are the definitive proof that Jesus of Nazareth, once he became a man, even if he was a man of exceptional virtue, was not a God.”
Immediately after the article went public, the Vatican issued a rather tepid statement denying Scalfari’s claims, saying it was not a “faithful account” of what Pope Francis said.
“As already stated on other occasions, the words that Dr. Eugenio Scalfari attributes in quotation marks to the Holy Father during talks with him cannot be considered a faithful account of what was actually said but represent a personal and free interpretation of what he heard, as appears completely evident from what is written today regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ,” Matteo Bruni, the director of the Holy See’s press office, said in a statement.
After significant backlash over the wording in Bruni’s denial, Dr. Paolo Ruffini, the Vatican’s prefect of the dicastery for communications, effectively called Scalfari a liar and affirmed that Pope Francis believes in rudimentary Catholic teaching about the divinity of Jesus.
“On this [latest editorial by Eugenio Scalfari], as you know, there has already been a clear denial by the director of the press office, Dr. [Matteo] Bruni. However, I would like to reiterate that the Holy Father never said what Scalfari wrote that he said,” Ruffini said, as reported by Catholic Herald. “Therefore, both the quoted remarks, and the free reconstruction and interpretation by Dr. Scalfari of the colloquies — which go back to more than two years ago — cannot be considered a faithful account of what was said by the pope. And that will be found rather throughout the Church’s magisterium and Pope Francis’s own, on Jesus: True God and true man.”
Catholic News Agency also provided several examples in which Pope Francis has referenced Christ’s divinity in both written and spoken word:
In Evangelli Gaudium, the pope speaks of the “divine life” of Jesus.
In his Dec. 24, 2013 homily, the pope said, “[t]he grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God … In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.”
Speaking of Jesus last October, the pope said, “God chooses an uncomfortable throne, the cross, from which he reigns giving his life.”
Scalfari has drummed up this type of controversy before. As Easter approached in 2018, the 93-year-old journalist reported that Pope Francis allegedly told him in private that souls do not go to hell and instead believed in the heretical doctrine of annihilation — the idea that unrepentant souls simply cease to exist after death rather than eternal damnation.
“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,” Scalfari alleged Pope Francis said.
“There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls,” the pope allegedly added.