Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari has caused a new uproar by writing in Italy’s respected La Repubblica newspaper – a paper he founded – that Pope Francis does not believe that Jesus of Nazareth is God.
Scalfari, 95, is an atheist and longtime friend and interlocutor of Francis. He acknowledges that he does not record his interviews with the Pope, nor take notes, but writes his accounts later from memory. In the past he has caused controversy by claiming that Pope Francis had told him, on various occasions, that hell does not exist, that Communists think like true Christians, and that all divorced and remarried Catholics should be admitted to Communion. On each occasion the Vatican has indicated that the quotation could not be considered accurate, but Scalfari continues to publish his accounts of his purported conversations.
The latest piece by Scalfari is the most dramatic because it would point to heresy on the part of the Pope. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. During the first centuries, the Church had to defend and clarify this truth of faith against the heresies that falsified it.”
Scalfari wrote in La Repubblica: “Anyone who has had the good fortune to meet with him and speak with him in utmost confidence – as I have done several times – knows that Pope Francis conceives of Christ as Jesus of Nazareth: a man, not an incarnate god. Once incarnate, Jesus ceases to be a god and become a man, until his death on the cross.”
Scalfari claims that when he put this idea to Francis, he replied: “Jesus of Nazareth, once he became a man, although he was a man of exceptional virtue, was not a god at all.”
In response to questions from the media about Scalfari’s article, the Vatican issued a statement.
Matteo Bruni, the director of the Holy See’s press office, said: “As has been affirmed on other occasions, the words that Dr Eugenio attributes between quotes to the Holy Father during his colloquies held with him cannot be considered a faithful account of what was effectively said, but represent more a personal and free interpretation of what he heard, as appears entirely evident from what was written today concerning the divinity of Jesus Christ.”
Scalfari’s latest claim is apparently not based on a new interview, but on his recollections from previous encounters with the Pope Francis.
In his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, Francis speaks of the “divine life” of Jesus. And in a homily in December 2013 he said: “The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God... In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father.”