In an online article he published yesterday, Phil Lawler claims that Pope Francis is causing confusion over hell. Here is Lawler’s exact quote:

Pope Francis cannot deny the existence of hell without directly contradicting the teaching of the Church. But he can create confusion, and he has done so once again. Did he deny, or at least question, the existence of hell? We don’t know.

Actually, thanks to Google, we do know!

A quick Google search shows multiple reputable media sources worldwide reporting that Pope Francis warned members of the mafia they will end up in hell if they don’t repent during this lifetime. Here are Pope Francis’s words as quoted in the Telegraph:

“This life that you live will not give you joy or happiness,” he said. “Convert, there is time before you finish up in hell, which is what awaits unless you change path,” he said.

The U.K.-based Catholic Herald published a much longer excerpt which makes clear the fact Pope Francis is speaking about hell as an eternal afterlife.

“This life you have now, it will not give you pleasure, it will not give you joy, it will not give you happiness. The power, the money you have now from so many dirty deals, from so many Mafia crimes, blood-stained money, blood-stained power – you will not be able to take that with you to the other life.”

If Pope Francis denies or questions hell’s existence, as Lawler alleges, then how could the Holy Father believe that unrepentant mafioso will end up there? Moreover, how could Pope Francis believe that members of the mob end up there in the next life rather than the present life? After all, one cannot both believe and not believe that hell exists as the afterlife fate the unrepentant.

Of course Lawler is one of three authors to recently publish books attacking Pope Francis and his leadership of the Church. Moreover, his wife Leila is on record as stating both she and Phil believe Francis is “a bad pope”. So one should not be surprised that Lawler attempts an anti-Francis spin.

Yet it surprises me that Lawler, in suggesting the Holy Father denies or undermines belief in hell, fails to reference the Holy Father’s dire warning to mobsters. Lawler is a former editor of Crisis magazine and Catholic World Report. He boasts over 20 years of online Catholic media experience. According to an online bio he “attended Harvard College and did graduate work in political philosophy at the University of Chicago before entering a career in journalism.”

So how does someone with Lawler’s academic and journalist background happen to miss Pope Francis’s warning of hell? Especially when the Holy Father’s warning was republished by so many internationally-recognized English-language news sources? Sources that took me a mere five seconds on Google to find. (Just type “Pope Francis” and “hell” and click return.)

The Holy Father’s warning to unrepentant mafia does not fit the narrative promoted by the anti-Francis cottage media Lawler helped found. In fact, the Holy Father’s warning directly contradicts Lawler’s narrative. Which makes the warning convenient to ignore by someone looking to boost sales of his narrative.

So am I wrong for suspecting that the cause of confusion over Pope Francis and hell is not the Holy Father, but Lawler himself?

UPDATE: For an earlier and much more in-depth rebuttal to Phil Lawler on this issue, please see the following blog by my friend and Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong.

UPDATE II: Not only is hell presented as very real in Pope Francis’s papal statements, but so too is Satan. Check out Fr Rosica’s Why is Pope Francis so obsessed with the devil? for more information.

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Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.

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