I heard part of a sermon by a “traditional” priest who brought this very quote up. I have to admit that, after looking it up, I was livid, sinner that I am, at the way in which this quote was totally taken out of context to somehow insinuate that the document is teaching that there is no eternal damnation. How dare such a person scandalize their own flock and turn them against the Pope? I’m sorry, but even a college freshman taking an English Composition class knows better than to treat quotes like this.
First of all, it was evident to me that the priest in question probably did not read the full context of this quote. If he had, it would have been utterly, absolutely, and even painfully obvious that the Holy Father wasn’t speaking about eternal damnation at all. He was speaking of certain persons being, in some way, integrated into a particular parish. Just read the section:
It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” mercy. No one can be condemned for ever, be-cause that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and re-married, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves. Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach toothers; this is a case of something which separates from the community (cf.Mt18:17). Such a person needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion. Yet even for that person there can be some way of taking part in the life of community, whether in social service, prayer meetings or another way that his or her own initiative, together with the discernment of the parish priest, may suggest.
How on earth can someone read this and dare to judge the Pope as teaching heresy? What sort of stupidity can look at this and conclude that the Pope is secretly trying to overturn the Church’s doctrine on hell? Let me blunt: I don’t believe people DO read the full context. Why is there an animus against the Holy Father, wherein some people—not you, OP—seem to WANT there to be problematic statements coming from the Pope? It’s absolutely mind-boggling.
The fact that some theologian or group of theologians thinks they have found some way to interpret these statements in a problematic manner is their own problem. Maybe they think the Holy Father needs their approval for what he says or doesn’t say? And I want to wake you up a bit, OP: stop taking scandal, because it’s sinful.