Eugenio Scalfari, a 95-year-old self-professed atheist and journalist who has been a longtime friend of Pope Francis, recently claimed the pontiff doesn’t believe Jesus Christ incarnate was divine.
Scalfari wrote in the Italian publication La Repubblica that the pontiff told him that once Jesus Christ became incarnate, He was a man, a "man of exceptional virtues" but "not at all a God," according to CNS News.
Responding to the report this week, Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See’s press office, said in a statement cited by the Catholic News Agency that Scalfari’s recollection of his conversation with the pope was not a “faithful account” of what he was told on the subject.
"As already stated on other occasions, the words that Dr. Eugenio Scalfari attributes in quotation marks to the Holy Father during talks with him cannot be considered a faithful account of what was actually said but represent a personal and free interpretation of what he heard, as appears completely evident from what is written today regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ,” Bruni said.
According to Rorate Caeli, a highly respected Catholic blog and Radio Spada in Italy, Scalfari states in the Oct. 9 edition of La Repubblica that: "Those who, as it has happened many times with me, have had the luck of meeting him (Pope Francis) and speaking to him with the greatest cultural intimacy, know that Pope Francis conceives Christ as Jesus of Nazareth, man, not God incarnate."
"Once incarnate, Jesus stops being a God and becomes a man until his death on the cross," Scalfari recalled.
He continued: "When I had the chance of discussing these sentences, Pope Francis told me: 'They are the proven proof that Jesus of Nazareth, once having become a man, was, though a man of exceptional virtues, not at all a God.'"
On Thursday, Paolo Ruffini, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Communications at the Vatican, forcefully denied the claims about what Francis believes.
“On this [latest editorial by Eugenio Scalfari], as you know, there has already been a clear denial by the Director of the Press Office, Dr. [Matteo] Bruni. However, I would like to reiterate that the Holy Father never said what Scalfari wrote that he said. Therefore, both the quoted remarks, and the free reconstruction and interpretation by Dr. Scalfari of the colloquies — which go back to more than two years ago — cannot be considered a faithful account of what was said by the pope. And that will be found rather throughout the Church’s magisterium and Pope Francis’s own, on Jesus: true God and true man,” he said.
The Catholic Herald further noted that Pope Francis has a history of granting interviews to Scalfari, who doesn’t take notes and reconstructs his reports of conversations from memory. There have been other similar episodes following Scalfari’s printed reconstructions, followed by other less forceful statements from the Vatican. That history likely did not help put a damper on the story.