Empty Hell? Empty Head? Empty Church?

It’s often said that Satan’s greatest achievement is to convince people that he doesn’t exist. If we believe he doesn’t exist, then there is less motivation for us to avoid temptation and more likelihood that we will fall into sin more often—the very thing that Satan seeks.

By implication, the belief that Hell is empty will have similar consequences. As Crisis, editor Eric Sammons puts it, “[If] you believe everyone is getting to Heaven regardless of how they live here on earth…then the importance of both practicing the Faith and sharing it with others collapses.”

Yet, last month Pope Francis expressed a hope that Hell is empty: “This isn’t dogma,” he said, “just my thought: I like to think of Hell as being empty. I hope it is.”

One hopes that the Pope learns to keep his thoughts to himself. He must know by now that no matter how much he qualifies a controversial statement, the media will reduce it to its simplest terms, e.g., “pope says hell is empty.”

As Sammons points out, “an empty Hell undermines the entire purpose of Catholicism,” and also “makes a mockery out of the words of Jesus, who warned us to avoid Hell…”

One might think that if Francis understood that he risks undermining “the entire purpose of Catholicism,” he would be more careful about what he says. But what if undermining the entire purpose of Catholicism is his goal? What if he considers Catholicism as currently constituted to be riven with faults? What if he considers it his duty to tear down traditional Catholicism and replace it with a new and improved version—one that puts more emphasis on inclusivity and less on sin and– excuse the language—Hell?

One could look upon the “empty hell” remark as a well-intentioned but careless comment. Or one could look upon it as a calculated move in a decade-long campaign to minimize the gravity of sin (Francis’s frequent jokes about “sins below the belt,” his insistence that unrepented sins should be forgiven, his opposition to the death penalty, etc.).

Some people, myself included, believe that Francis is deliberately attempting to demolish the Church. But even if you believe him to be nothing more than a well-intentioned progressive whose goal is simply to lift the burden of sin and guilt from the shoulders of Catholics, it’s hard to deny that he has done great harm to the Church.

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