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Pope Francis | Eugenio Scalfari

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ROME (LifeSiteNews) – Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, the favorite interviewer of Pope Francis, died earlier this month, and the pontiff released a lengthy statement praising the professed atheist and former leftist politician whose interviews with Francis repeatedly sparked widespread controversy.

READ: Cardinal Dolan endorses Fr. James Martin’s new LGBT activism group

Catholic journalist Diane Montagna on Friday posted a translation of the Pope’s statement, originally published in liberal, anti-clerical Italian newspaper la Repubblica, which Scalfari founded.

“I am saddened by the passing of Eugenio Scalfari,” Pope Francis wrote. “In these painful hours, I am close to his family, his loved ones, and all those who knew him and worked with him. He was for me a faithful friend.”

“Our conversations were pleasant and intense, the minutes with him flew by quickly and were punctuated by the peaceful confrontation of each other’s opinions and the sharing of our thoughts and ideas, and also by moments of cheerfulness,” he continued, describing Scalfari, who died on July 14 at age 98, as “an intellectual who was open to modernity, courageous, transparent in recounting his fears, never nostalgic for the glorious past, but looking forward.”

The Pope also noted that Scalfari “expressed his amazement” that he took the name Francis and “wanted to understand well the reasons for my decision.”

Scalfari’s numerous interviews with Pope Francis, published in la Repubblica, were infamous for causing international scandals, as in 2018, when the atheist journalist quoted Francis as saying “Hell doesn’t exist” and that sinful souls are annihilated, which is the heresy of Annihilationism.

The incident set off a firestorm in the media, and the Vatican later put out a statement disputing Scalfari’s transcription. Scalfari did not make recordings or take notes of his conversations with the Pope.

According to Scalfari, Pope Francis had allegedly affirmed to him on several previous occasions that unrepentant sinners would be annihilated and reportedly told him in 2017 that neither Heaven nor Purgatory exist.

“In this state of affairs, it is in any case highly credible that Francis truly said such things to Scalfari, seeing that he reported not once but four times in a row without the pope feeling the need to clarify anything, in each subsequent meeting with his friend,” veteran Vatican reporter Sandro Magister commented in 2018.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat also observed that Francis saw “an advantage in this sort of deliberately unreliable communication — whether as a form of freewheeling dialogue with a nonbeliever, a means to communicate very informally to supporters, or simply a way to talk casually without the strictures that an actual interview transcript would impose.”

Scalfari again made headlines in 2019 for claiming that Pope Francis told him Jesus Christ “was not God at all.” “Those who have had the chance, as I have had different times, to meet [Pope Francis] and speak to him with the greatest cultural confidence know that Pope Francis conceives Christ as Jesus of Nazareth, a man, not God incarnate,” the journalist attested.

He further insisted that the Pope rejected Jesus’ bodily resurrection. The Vatican again denied the claims.

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In his statement mourning Scalfari, Pope Francis heralded him for having “left an indelible mark on the lives of so many people, and he plowed a professional furrow in which many of his collaborators and successors are proceeding.”

Prior to founding la Repubblica, Scalfari was involved with the Italian Fascists and later served as a member of Italy’s national legislature. In 1955, he helped launch the left-wing, anti-Catholic Radical Party, which was one of the driving forces behind legalization of abortion and divorce in Italy, as LifeSite has reported.

READ: Vatican-approved journal suggests Pope Francis might soon contradict Church’s birth control ban

Pope Francis concluded his letter saying that he commended the soul of Scalfari “to God for eternity,” though the letter made no mention of him accepting Christ before his death. In an October 2013 interview with Scalfari, Pope Francis allegedly told atheists to “abide by their own conscience,” thereby downplaying the need for them to turn to God in this life in order to spend eternity with Him in Heaven.

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