The Vatican has not denied Francis’ comments to the La Repubblica newspaper, saying only the journalist reconstructed a conversation.
The Vatican insisted that no quotations attributed to the Pope in an article in Italy’s La Repubblica ‘should be considered as a faithful transcription’ of his words.
It was the fifth time in five years Francis has spoken to Repubblica’s founder, Eugenio Scalfari, a devout atheist who admits he does not record or take notes during interviews.
Nearly every time a Francis interview has appeared on Repubblica’s front page, the Vatican press office has insisted the pope’s words were not necessarily accurate, without denying them outright.
That has prompted questions about why the pope continually lets himself be quoted by Scalfari.
Spokesman Greg Burke did not respond when asked whether the Pope believes in the existence of hell or not.
Francis has in the past spoke frequently about the devil and hell.
The doubts, however, have enraged Catholic conservatives, who have lost their patience with a pope who seems to care less about doctrine than dialogue, especially with atheists and people of other faiths.
Earlier on Friday the Vatican has had to seal off part of St. Peter’s Basilica after chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling.
Although bits of the ceiling rained down over worshippers near Michelangelo’s famed Pieta statue to the right of the main entrance, no-one was injured.
A Vatican spokesman said the basilica remains open with the affected areas sealed off until later on Friday.