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The Pope And Hell

April 13, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

By JACK KENNY

A report is circulating that Pope Francis has said there is no Hell. What a relief! Instead of standing in the pews each Sunday, saying “I believe” in a creed that contains a whole lot of messy doctrine about Heaven and Hell, we may now stand and say with a shout of gladness, “I’m off the hook!”
Supposedly the Pope said to a journalist in a one-on-one interview that souls who do not repent and therefore cannot be forgiven simply “disappear” and are no more. I doubt there is a bureau of the Vatican candidly labeled, “Office of Damage Control,” but someone has put out a statement that the heretical words were not a direct quotation from His Holiness, or they have been misunderstood, or misinterpreted, or taken out of context, or whatever the Latin word is for “Whatever.”
To many within the Church, it hardly matters. We have for a long time been acting as though there were no Hell. We speak of it only in jokes, sometimes even jokes from the pulpit. I believe it was Mark Twain who said we might prefer Heaven for its climate, but Hell for the company. Let us not kid ourselves. The company in Hell will be, well, hellish.
It’s not surprising that people speak and, indeed, have come to think that way. It is the hell-bound who seem to be having the most fun in life and are the most fun to be around. Perhaps only a few highly spiritual people here on Earth would have preferred the company of St. Thomas More to that of King Henry VIII. Many would make that choice for safety’s sake, of course. Those who shunned the king’s company or disputed his edicts might lose their heads as surely as St. Thomas lost his.
But aside from that, King Henry was a great party animal, knowing no restraint to his desire to eat, drink, and be merry with whatever and how many women — or wives — he chose. Thomas, who was faithful to his wife and devoted to the Church and his family, was perhaps not as much fun to be with when he was praying his way through Lent while fasting on bread and water. While we cannot be sure of the fate of King Henry, we may be sure the company of St. Thomas in the presence of our Lord is devoutly to be desired.
We tend to speak of Hell when shouting directions to an offending motorist. And there are all too many of us who don’t want to believe in anything deeper than a sitcom, a soap opera, or the inevitable realization that the Boston bullpen will surely let us down. Even the esteemed A. Bartlett Giamatti, when he was president of Yale University and before he received the higher calling to be Commissioner of Major League Baseball, told freshmen at Old Eli that “God alone knows” when human life begins.
I never went to Yale, unless you count the summer I spent there as a night watchman. But I learned in a tenth-grade public high school biology class that life begins at conception. I guess that only applies to pigs and frogs and such. What is living and growing in the womb of a woman who chooses to “terminate her pregnancy” is probably a semi-reasonable facsimile of a kangaroo or giraffe.
But then what should we expect when we have an educational establishment that cannot say how many genders there are. G.K. Chesterton warned long ago that we are in danger of creating a race of men too modest to acknowledge the multiplication table. Well, that prophecy has come true. We do have quite a number of men, and not a few women, who can’t multiply, add, or subtract. They are in charge of federal spending and would be in charge of the federal budget if Congress could actually pass one.
But modesty has nothing to do with it. Dishonesty is what it’s all about. Dishonesty on steroids. We know full well when life begins. And the political and educational establishments that take up so much of our time and money are showing us every day where rational thought ends.
I don’t know what excuse Giamatti, a highly educated one-time Catholic, might have had, but Pope Francis is a highly educated Jesuit, and in recent times Jesuits, renowned for the rigor of their academic training, have not been anything like the “Pope’s Marines” of old. Orthodoxy is not their long suit. They seem to prefer sociology over theology and heterodoxy over orthodoxy. What’s more, Pope Francis appears to be, as Pat Buchanan has described him, a Jesuit socialist. His hostility to free markets has been amply documented. Free markets, as any capitalist can tell you, involves making choices and living with the consequences. And the Church has always taught us that the same is true in the moral life.
But just as socialists deplore the free market because it leaves some behind while others prosper, so there are many who can’t stand the thought of some going to Hell, even if that is the inevitable consequence of the choices they have made. That is not to say that all who are poor in a free-market society are poor because of bad or immoral decisions. Nor have those who have objectively fallen into a state of sin necessarily in that state because they have deliberately chosen it.
And in charity, we must help ameliorate to the extent possible, the poverty or depravity of people in material or spiritual matters. But in the end, Scripture tells us, we reap as we have sown. And when the Apostle Paul speaks and writes of sowing “unto destruction,” he does not suggest the souls bound for destruction will painlessly “disappear.”
Nor did Jesus suggest any such thing when He spoke of the “fires of Gehenna.” The Church has been plagued for decades with theologians who read the Bible, as W.C. Fields reputedly did, “looking for loopholes.” Or they read it as the U.S. Supreme Court reads the Constitution, endlessly subtracting rights here and adding them there, making new discoveries in the “penumbras formed by emanations.”
When the coalition that ruled Iraq faced the thorny task of coming up with a constitution that might meet the needs of a nation made up of warring sects and ideologies, the late and incomparably witty columnist Joseph Sobran suggested, “Why don’t we just give them our (Constitution), since we’re not using it.”
Protestants don’t like to acknowledge it, but it was the Catholic Church that gave the world the complete Bible. The Church has also given the world the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However much of the world does or does not accept the gift, let us not be offering it because “we’re not using it.”

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