Pope Francis: ‘I Like to Think of Hell as Empty’

Pope Francis has previously spoken about the existence of hell in public speeches during the past ten years of his pontificate.

Pope Francis appearing on Che Tempo Che Fa on Jan. 14.
Pope Francis appearing on Che Tempo Che Fa on Jan. 14. (photo: NOVE)

Pope Francis appeared on Italy’s most popular prime-time talk show on Sunday night where the pontiff shared how he hopes that hell is “empty.”

Three million people in Italy tuned in to watch the nearly hour-long television interview with Pope Francis on January 14 in which the Pope responded to resistance to the recent Vatican declaration on same-sex blessings, previewed prospective papal trips to Polynesia and Argentina, and spoke of his fear of nuclear armageddon.

The 87-year-old Pope began his appearance on the television show “Che Tempo Che Fa,” by joking that he is “still alive” and has no plans to resign.

“For as long as I feel I still have the capacity to serve, I will go on. When I can no longer do it, it will be time to think about it,” Francis said.

“Hell as Empty”?

When asked by the interviewer, Fabio Fazio, how he “imagines hell,” Pope Francis gave a short response.

“What I am going to say is not a dogma of faith, but my own personal view: I like to think of hell as empty; I hope it is,” Pope Francis said.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that Catholic teaching “affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs."

The catechism also says: “In hope, the Church prays for ‘all men to be saved.’”

Theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? have put forward the possibility that one could “hope” that hell might be empty because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, making the distinction between universal salvation as a hope and universal salvation as a doctrine, which he rejects.

American Catholic evangelist Ralph Martin wrote in his book Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization, published a few years after Balthasar, that “what motivated the Apostles and the whole history of Christian missions was knowing from divine revelation that the human race is lost, eternally lost, without Christ, and even though it is possible for people to be saved under certain stringent conditions without explicit faith and baptism, ‘very often,’ this is not actually the case.”

Pope Francis has previously spoken about the existence of hell in public speeches during the past ten years of his pontificate. In March 2014 he said in an address that members of the mafia should change their lives “while there is still time, so that you do not end up in hell. That is what awaits you if you continue on this path."

A Long-Awaited Trip to Argentina?

In the interview, Pope Francis also confirmed that he plans to travel to Polynesia in August and that a potential trip to his native Argentina could take place later in 2024.

The Pope, who served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires for 15 years, has not returned to Argentina since he became pope in 2013.

The new president of Argentina, Javier Milei, sent Pope Francis a formal invitation to visit his homeland earlier this month. 

Pope Francis said that he would like to go to Argentina “if it can be done” and also noted that it is “a difficult time for the country.”

“It worries me because people are suffering so much,” he said. 

What is Pope Francis Afraid Of?

Pope Francis spoke extensively in the interview about his desire for peace in the wars in Ukraine and in the Holy Land, telling the TV host that he speaks every day to the Catholic parish in Gaza on the telephone. 

When asked what scares him, Pope Francis replied that the “escalation of war scares me,” bringing up the spectre of nuclear war. 

He said that with the potential for nuclear weapons to “destroy everything,” one wonders “how we will end up, like Noah’s ark?”

“That scares me — the capacity for self-destruction that humanity has today,” Francis said.

This was the second time Pope Francis has appeared on Che Tempo Che Fa, which often airs live interviews with politicians, celebrities, artists, and athletes. Recent guests on the program include former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2021 and Lady Gaga.

Pope Francis spoke with the TV program, which is recorded in Milan, northern Italy, remotely from the Vatican.

Why Pope Francis Constantly Asks for Prayers

In the interview, Pope Francis was also asked why he ends every speech and public audience asking for people to pray for him.

“Because I am a sinner and I need God's help to remain faithful to the vocation He has given me,” the pope replied.

“As a bishop I have a very great responsibility to the Church. I recognize my weaknesses — that’s why I have to ask for prayers, for everyone to pray for me to remain faithful in the service of the Lord, that I do not end up in the attitude of a mediocre shepherd who does not take care of his flock,” he added.