VATICAN CITY — A Vatican spokesman directly denied on Thursday the report of an Italian journalist who wrote that Pope Francis said he did not believe that Jesus Christ was divine.
“The Holy Father never said what Scalfari wrote,” Vatican communications head Paolo Ruffini said at an Oct. 10 news conference, adding that “both the quoted remarks and the free reconstruction and interpretation by Dr. Scalfari of the conversations, which go back to more than two years ago, cannot be considered a faithful account of what was said by the Pope.”
“That will be found rather throughout the Church’s magisterium and Pope Francis’ own, on Jesus: true God and true man,” Ruffini added.
The statement came in response to an Oct. 9 column in La Repubblica, the newspaper founded by Scalfari, in which the 95-year-old self-declared atheist said that “Pope Francis conceives Christ as Jesus of Nazareth, a man, not God incarnate.”
“As already stated on other occasions, the words that Dr. Eugenio Scalfari attributes in quotation marks to the Holy Father during talks with him cannot be considered a faithful account of what was actually said but represent a personal and free interpretation of what he heard, as appears completely evident from what is written today regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ,” Bruni said.
Some commentators responded to Bruni’s initial statement with criticism, saying the statement was too vague or was unclear. Ruffini’s remarks seemed intended to respond to that criticism.
Scalfari’s column did not claim that he had recently interviewed the Pope, only saying that this was a topic he had discussed with Pope Francis at some time in the past.
Scalfari mentioned examples in Scripture in which Christ prayed, among them his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, to support his thesis that Jesus Christ was not divine.
He wrote that when he raised those points to Pope Francis, the Pope told him: “They are the definite proof that Jesus of Nazareth, once he became a man, even if he was a man of exceptional virtue, was not a God.”
Pope Francis has made reference to Christ’s divinity frequently.
In Evangelli Gaudium, the Pope speaks of the “divine life” of Jesus.
In his Dec. 24, 2013, homily, the Pope 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: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom; he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.”
Speaking of Jesus last October, the Pope said, “God chooses an uncomfortable throne, the cross, from which he reigns giving his life.”
Scalfari, who famously does not take notes during interviews, has misrepresented Pope Francis in the past.
In 2018, he claimed the Pope denied the existence of hell, and the Vatican subsequently said that the Pope had not granted an interview and that the journalist had inaccurately represented a conversation between the men during a private Easter visit.
“What is reported by the author in today’s article is the result of his reconstruction, in which the literal 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,” a Vatican statement said in March 2018.
The first time Scalfari reported that Pope Francis had made comments denying the existence of hell was in 2015. The Vatican dismissed that reporting, as well.
In November 2013, following intense controversy over quotes the journalist had attributed to Francis, Scalfari admitted that at least some of the words he had published a month prior “were not shared by the Pope himself.”