In a jaw-dropping Good Friday ‘revelation’ Pope Francis reportedly told an Italian journalist that at the moment of death the souls of “sinners” would “disappear”.
Furious Catholics have suggested the claim sounds more akin to atheism than Christianity.
Eugenio Scalfari, 93, said Pope Francis told him: “Hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of the souls of sinners exists.”
The quotes appeared in Italian newspaper La Republica, a newspaper co-founded by Mr Scalfari.
The Vatican suggested the quotes in the report were questionable – but seem to have stopped short of an outright dismissal.
The shock revelation from the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic faith overturns more than 2,000 years of orthodoxy.
Conservative Roman Catholics have raged at the Pope for changing fundamental aspects of the faith set out in the Bible.
Antonio Socci, a Catholic author, accused the Pope of heresy and called for his abdication.
Another Vatican spoke on the condition of anonymity: “He’s a very strange theologian, assuming Scalfari properly understood what he was saying.
He increases confusion among ordinary Catholics, who no longer know what to believe.”
The expert believes Mr Scalfari over the Vatican because “if someone traduces your thoughts, you don’t keep inviting him back.
Mr Scalfari said that the Pope made the explosive remarks in response to a question asking what happened to wicked souls after death.
The Pope claimed that unrepentant sinners are not punished after death – instead, they just disappear.
Francis and Mr Scalfari, an atheist philosopher, have met four times before.