Fretting over the fate of Judas wouldn’t seem a high priority for a pope. But it is a subject that gnaws at Pope Francis.
In 2014, the Religion News Service ran an article entitled “Pope Francis: Judas Wasn’t So Bad.” It quoted from a sermon in which he said all of Jesus Christ’s disciples were sinners:
Judas was not the one who sinned the most: I don’t know who sinned the most.… Judas, poor man, is the one who closed himself to love and that is why he became a traitor. And they all ran away during the difficult time of the Passion and left Jesus alone. They are all sinners.
This last week Pope Francis returned to the subject of Judas. In a homily last Wednesday, he speculated on the eternal destination of Judas, saying he didn’t know if he went to Hell. Pope Francis said,
Something that calls my attention is that Jesus never calls him “traitor”: [Jesus] says he will be betrayed, but he doesn’t say to [Judas], “traitor.” He never says, “Go away, traitor.” Never. In fact, he calls him, “Friend,” and he kisses him. The mystery of Judas.… What is the mystery of Judas? I don’t know.… Don Primo Mazzolari explains it better than me.… Yes, it consoles me to contemplate that capital [of the column] of Vezelay: How did Judas end up? I don’t know. Jesus threatens forcefully here; he threatens forcefully: “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” But does that mean that Judas is in Hell? I don’t know. I look at that capital. And I listen to the word of Jesus: “Friend.”
Here, as on so many other matters, the pope seeks to open up an issue the tradition of the Church had closed. The doctors of the Church, such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, have never hesitated to say that Judas went to Hell. Pope Francis takes his cue, instead, from contemporary theology, which is very eager to say that Hell is empty.
The game of contemporary theology is to explain away the plain words of Jesus Christ and propose theological novelties in place of established doctrines. Pope Francis is happy to entertain those heretical musings. Recall that in 2018 he used that year’s Holy Week to give an interview to the apostate Eugenio Scalfari in which he pronounced that the damned don’t go to Hell but simply “disappear.”
The Pope was endorsing a theological theory of “annihilation” rather than damnation that he no doubt had picked up from his flaky confrères in the Jesuit order. Only this pope would use Holy Week to fool around with the Church’s teaching on Hell — a teaching that is essential to the meaning of Jesus Christ’s passion and resurrection. If that teaching is false, Holy Week is incomprehensible.
Pope Francis’s fellow Jesuit, Thomas Reese, under the sway of heretical contemporary theology, has dismissed Good Friday as a boring and pointless guilt trip:
There is another reason I hate Holy Week, especially Good Friday. When I was a child, we were taught that Jesus had to die for our sins because sin is an infinite insult to God that requires an infinite sacrifice as reparation.
I am sorry, but I don’t think I have ever done anything so bad that it requires me or anyone else to be crucified, let alone Jesus. While I might be grateful to Jesus for taking the blame for my sins, this theology turned God the Father into a legalistic ogre concerned about balancing the scales of justice, not mercy. The Father in this theology sounds nothing like the Father described by Jesus. Alas, some of the liturgical prayers still reflect this theology.
Today, I would rather see the death of Jesus a consequence of his commitment to the mission given to him by his Father, to preach the good news of God’s love for us and our need to respond by loving one another, especially the poor. Jesus, like Oscar Romero, was killed because of what he preached, not because his Father had to be appeased. Jesus is in solidarity with all those who died for justice and human rights.
In other words, Jesus is nothing more than a political savior — saving us not from Hell but from some temporal evil. To those who cast Jesus Christ in those terms, Judas has to be explained away according to some political analysis — he was an instrument of capitalism, etc. Perhaps this is why the fate of Judas preoccupies the pope, who prefers to ascribe sin to “society” rather than individuals. But such musings have the effect of trivializing Holy Week, making it more baffling than joyful.