(National Sentinel) Hell No: The Vatican on Thursday weakly attempted to walk back comments attributed to Pope Francis claiming that the pontiff said hell did not exist.

The leader of the Catholic Church’s comments, which went viral immediately, were reportedly made to an atheist friend.

“There is no hell,” Francis was quoted as saying.

Later in the day, Fox News reported that the Vatican neither confirmed nor denied Francis’ comments.

Here is the Vatican’s official response:

The Holy Father Francis recently received the founder of the newspaper La Repubblica in a private meeting on the occasion of Easter, without however giving him any interviews. What is reported by the author in today’s article [in La Repubblica] is the result of his reconstruction, in which the textual 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.

The pope was roundly criticized by the faithful.

“What did Christ die on the cross to save us from?” asked conservative columnist and author Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan noted that the pontiff was asked by his atheist journalist friend Eugenio Scalfari, “What about bad souls? Where are they punished?”

Bad souls “are not punished,” Pope Francis is quoted, “those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”

“If Francis made such a statement, it would be rank heresy,” Buchanan wrote, noting that such a claim refutes 2,000 years of Catholic doctrine and the word of Christ Himself.

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