A central figure in Italian journalism, during and even after his departure from the editorship of the daily newspaper La Repubblica, with which his name is inextricably linked. Born in Civitavecchia in 1924, Eugenio Scalfari passed away in Rome at the age of 98. A statement from Matteo Bruni, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, said that Pope Francis learned “with sorrow of the passing of his friend.” Pope Francis, the statement continued, “cherishes with affection the memory of the meetings — and the deep conversations on the ultimate questions of humankind — that he had with him over the years, and he entrusts his soul to the Lord in prayer, so that He may receive him and console those who were close to him.”
From the beginning of his career, Scalfari was an important protagonist in the world of communication, to which he contributed in innovative ways through the two publications he directed: the weekly L’Espresso and especially the newspaper La Repubblica, which he founded in 1976 and which soon provoked great popular interest.
Scalfari was remembered not only as a journalist, but as an all-around man of culture. He published several books, beginning with Il labirinto (“The Labyrinth), published in 1998.
Whenever Scalfari wrote about his interviews with Pope Francis, it would inevitably set off the pontiff’s critics. It’s unclear precisely how many times he and Francis spoke—although Scalfari wrote perhaps eight or ten articles about these conversations, it appears there may have only been two or three. One of these “interviews” was apparently not a formal interview but a lunchtime conversation where Scalfari was brought along by a friend.
Scalfari did not record these conversations or take notes. Rather, he would reconstruct these conversations from memory, adding details that perhaps told more about him than they did about Pope Francis. For example, on at least two occasions, Scalfari claims that Pope Francis expressed a belief in annihilationism—the idea that souls in hell do not endure eternal punishment but cease to exist. That this idea appears nowhere else in Francis’s writings or statements (let alone Catholic doctrine) suggests that a nonagenarian atheist might have been trying to make sense of what he would be facing in the near future.
In accord with his practice, Francis has never commented on the content of these private conversations. The Vatican did, however, issue a statement that Scalfari’s account “should not be considered as a faithful transcript of the Holy Father’s words.”
I pray that Pope Francis’s friendship had a positive effect on him in his final years. Scalfari’s destiny is now entrusted to God’s hands. Let us pray for his soul and for all who mourn him.
Image: Eugenio Scalfari. Francesca Marchi/IJF11 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.