Did Pope Francis say there is no hell? Not quite, the Vatican insists

In the midst of its holiest week of the year, the Catholic Church has been plunged into drama.

Three days before Easter, the Vatican tried to tamp down a firestorm over a quote attributed to Pope Francis that hell "does not exist," which would mark a historic break with teachings of the Catholic Church.

The quote came in an article in Italy's La Repubblica daily. But the Vatican said "no quotations" in the article "should be considered as a faithful transcription" of the Pope's words.

The Vatican said the article was based on a private meeting the Pope had with the daily's founder, Eugenio Scalfari.

During the meeting Scalfari asked the pope where “bad souls” go, to which he was quoted as responding: “They are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and take their place among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. A hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of sinning souls exists.”

However, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the most senior Catholic in England and Wales, said "there's nowhere in Catholic teaching that actually says any one person is in hell".

According to home the Pope was apparently exploring "the imagery of hell - fire and brimstone and all of that".

"That's never been part of Catholic teaching, it's been part of Catholic iconography, part of Christian iconography," he said.

The Vatican said it had not been an interview, but a private meeting on the occasion of Easter, and Scalfari's article "is the fruit of his reconstruction".

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