Pope Francis’ interpretation of Hell

by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

LifeSiteNews, ever the unreliable site for the Scamdemic and the Papacies of Benedict XVI and now Francis, ran a story making wild claims and interpretations of the recent statement by Pope Francis on Hell.

Here is that article:

Here is the actual interview, in Spanish:

Here is the text in question, specifically:

¿Cuál es su propia interpretación del infierno y del paraíso? ¿Y qué les pasa a las personas que van al infierno y qué a las que van al paraíso? 

—El infierno no es un lugar, si uno va a asistir al Juicio final, y ve las caras de los que van al infierno, se asusta. Si uno lee a Dante, se asusta. Pero son representaciones mediáticas. El infierno es un estado, hay gente que vive en un infierno continuamente. Esto no lo digo por la gente que sufre, el pueblo que sufre, sino por aquellos que se hacen un mundo de autorreferencialidad mal o enfermizo, y terminan viviendo en un infierno. El infierno es un estado, es un estado del corazón, del alma, de una postura frente a la vida, a los valores, a la familia, a todo. Hay gente que vive en un infierno porque se lo busca, hay otros que no, que son sufridos. ¿Y quién va al infierno, a ese infierno, a ese estado? Ya se va viviendo desde aquí. Si usted me pregunta cuánta gente hay en el infierno, yo le contesto con una escultura famosa de la catedral de Deslé, no sé si del siglo XI o siglo IX, sur de Francia, hay un capitel famoso, las columnas tienen capiteles, que era un modo de catequizar en aquella época a través de la pintura y la escultura. Y el capitel ese tiene a Judas ahorcado y el diablo tirando para abajo, y del otro lado tienen al Buen Pastor, a Jesús que agarra a Judas y se lo lleva a babucha con una sonrisa irónica. ¿Qué quiere decir eso? Que la salvación es más fuerte que la condenación. Ese capitel es una catequesis que nos tiene que hacer pensar. La misericordia de Dios está siempre a nuestro lado, y lo que Dios quiere es siempre estar con su gente, con sus hijos y no que se le vayan.

Here is a google translation of that:

What is your own interpretation of hell and paradise? And what happens to people who go to hell and what happens to those who go to heaven?

—Hell is not a place, if one goes to attend the Final Judgment, and sees the faces of those who go to hell, he is scared. If you read Dante, he gets scared. But they are media representations. Hell is a state, there are people who live in hell continuously. I am not saying this for the people who suffer, the people who suffer, but for those who make a world of self-referentiality bad or sick, and end up living in hell. Hell is a state, it is a state of the heart, of the soul, of a position towards life, towards values, towards family, towards everything. There are people who live in hell because they ask for it, there are others who don’t, who suffer. And who goes to hell, to that hell, to that state? It is already living from here. If you ask me how many people there are in hell, I answer you with a famous sculpture from Deslé cathedral, I don’t know if it’s from the 11th century or the 9th century, southern France, there is a famous capital, the columns have capitals, which was a way of catechizing at that time through painting and sculpture. And that capital has Judas hanged and the devil pulling down, and on the other side they have the Good Shepherd, Jesus who grabs Judas and takes him away with an ironic smile. What does that mean? That salvation is stronger than damnation. That capital is a catechesis that has to make us think. God’s mercy is always by our side, and what God wants is to always be with his people, with his children and not for them to leave him.


The first thing to notice is the historical context. Pope Francis is not teaching, but giving an interview. Second, he is asked to give his personal interpretation, not a statement of faith. This is important. And that is why he refers to a work of art, since art is always an interpretation, at least when it regards things which are not seen or cannot be seen.

Second, one has to have a precise notion of what one is talking about. In Catholic teaching Hell is a term used for 2 things, properly speaking: the spiritual state into which Angels and souls are placed for punishment after their personal judgement, which for Angels occurs the moment after they decided against God at the beginning of their creation, and for men, after death; and the place and state of souls and spirits, after the Final Judgement, which in Scripture is called the Pit of Fire, where, according to the Apostle St. John, even Hell will be cast on the Last Day (cf. Rev. 20:4).

Now, since places hold bodies, and there are and shall never be bodies in the first Hell, as is obvious, because they are on Earth, there are those who say that the first Hell is not a place. I use Hell in the wider sense that comprises both Hells, and so would not speak in this way, but I recognize that I am using “Hell” in the common parlance, not in the precise scriptural terminology.

So to say that the former Hell is not a place, but a state of soul, is perfectly Catholic and speaks precisely, even though, Catholics speaking commonly, speak imprecisely and conflate both Hells into one place and one state.  This is a common error especially after the 14th century, when preachers stopped speaking of the Catholic doctrine which says that the Angels fell to earth, not into Hell, and that they are punished here on Earth, and at times, in Hell, as all exorcists know.

Third, the Society of Jesus emphasizes, in its theology and spirituality, the spiritual battle, of which St. Ignatius speaks in his Spiritual Exercises. So when speaking of these things, Pope Francis gives an interpretation which is entirely withing that framework.

Only someone ignorant of history, theology, and St. Ignatius of Loyola would find heresy or scandal in what the Pope has said.  But that is LifeSite News.

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10 thoughts on “Pope Francis’ interpretation of Hell”

  1. Ahhh, LifeSite ‘news’, one of many in the “Catholic grifter collective”! Personally, I have never trusted John-Henry Westen so have usually ignored the tsunami of articles that his apostolate produces.

    Many thanks, Brother Alexis, for this detailed explanation & commentary which is excellent catechesis.
    Here we have more proof that the validly elected Holy Father who holds the papal ‘munus’ is not diverging from Catholic doctrine in the interview – unlike the countless times that antipope Bergoglio uttered heterodoxy & blasphemy etc whilst interviewed by the media-scrum on plane journeys!

    Just one tiny correction, though – it is verse 14 of Apocalypse/Revelation 20 that states: “And hell and death were cast into the pool of fire. This is the second death.”
    And during this Lenten season in particular we can all meditate upon verse 15: “And whosover was not found written in the book of life was cast into the pool of fire”……

    Pax tecum.

  2. Thank you, Brother Alexis. You made this very clear. You are the only Catholic internet source that I read since 30Jan2023. You are always in my prayers.

  3. It’s sad to read that a pope suggests that Judas might not actually have been better off if he’d never been born.

    1. He suggested no thing. The medieval art he refers to is an allegory on mercy. Otherwise, you would have to say the Catholic Church in the middle ages was heretical. The image of Judas Iscariot in the middle ages was taken as a symbol of the simoniac, the corrupt cleric, impenitent sinner, the apostate and the unbeliever. It was not always used as the actual historical person.

      1. Whether deliberately or not, by alluding to it in this context he planted the seed in the minds of the weak that Jesus might not have meant something He said. And no one thinks every work of art should be a perfect expression of truth.

      2. It is wrong to accuse a man of having an evil intention, when he is asked not to explain the catechism, but give a personal interpretation of the mystery of iniquity.

  4. Fra Alexis, ‘personal interpretation’?
    Every baptized Christian who doesn’t believe in the reality of Hell is excommunicated latae sententiae

    1. Actually not, because though the failure to believe is a moral fault, canon 1364 only applies to dogmas which have been defined by Catholic teaching, and Hell has not yet been defined infallibly.

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