A new interview with Pope Francis by his friend Eugenio Scalfari (who is an atheist) that was just published in the paper La Repubblica is causing a major stir.

In the purported exchange, Scalfari asks this question to the pope:

Your Holiness, in our previous meeting you told me that our species will disappear in a certain moment and that God, still out of his creative force, will create new species. You have never spoken to me about the souls who died in sin and will go to hell to suffer it for eternity. You have however spoken to me of good souls, admitted to the contemplation of God. But what about bad souls? Where are they punished?

The pope reportedly said, “They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”

This would make Pope Francis an annihilationist and would serve as a major departure from hundreds of years of Catholic teaching.

It should be noted that Scalfari—who has interviewed the pope before—has an interesting interview style. He doesn’t record the conversations, but instead reconstructs them afterward.

The Vatican has released a statement that doesn’t deny the pope’s comments, but merely underscores that it might not be an exact quote:

“The Holy Father Francis recently received the founder of the newspaper La Repubblica in a private meeting on the occasion of Easter, without however giving him any interviews. What is reported by the author in today’s article [in La Repubblica] is the result of his reconstruction, in which the textual words pronounced by the Pope are not quoted. No quotation of the aforementioned article must therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father.”