'Eternal damnation is continually distancing oneself from God. It is the worst pain, an unsatisfied heart, a heart that was created to find God but which, out of arrogance and self-confidence, distances itself from God.' ~ Pope Francis
Hell is not about simply distance from God.
Hell is separation from God.
Hell is exclusion from God's presence forever.
Hell is also a place of torment and punishment.
This is what the Gospel says. This is what the Lord Jesus says.
And whosoever shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me; it were better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck, and he were cast into the sea. And if thy hand scandalize thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life, maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into unquenchable fire: Where there worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished. And if thy foot scandalize thee, cut it off. It is better for thee to enter lame into life everlasting, than having two feet, to be cast into the hell of unquenchable fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished. And if thy eye scandalize thee, pluck it out. It is better for thee with one eye to enter into the kingdom of God, than having two eyes to be cast into the hell of fire: Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished. (St Mark, 9:48)
How clear can Jesus be?
Black and white?
The 'distancing' oneself from God is not 'the fire', as if 'fire' is simply being used by Christ as a metaphor for being far away. The Pope today makes eternal damnation sound like a kind of unhappy limbo, a place of depression.
Many Saints and mystics have described what Hell is like and its awful torments, and they have said clearly that despite the punishments the damned undergo in Hell, the worst experience is the knowledge that they will never see God and the terrible despair this sensation induces. Nevertheless, it is Dominical teaching that the fire of Hell is not a nuanced linguistic turn of phrase used by Christ to indicate distance from God, but a reality which is stored up for the punishment of those who reject Him who die in mortal sin, including the devil and the fallen angels.
'Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.' (St Matthew, 25, 31-46)
Christ reveals in the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus that there is no mere 'distance' from the soul and God should that soul be damned. There is a chasm, a gulf, a separation, a place of comfort and peace for those who die in God's friendship and a place of agony for those who die His enemies...
'The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ (St Luke, 16, 22-26)
It is interesting - and I hope mere coincidence that the Pope uses this phrase of 'distancing' in his interview in which he discusses those who attend the Extraordinary Form:
"The Latin Mass? Only one exception. Pope Benedict has made a proper and generous gesture to accommodate a certain mentality of some groups and persons who are nostalgic and have distanced themselves. But it is an exception."
Distanced themselves from whom or distanced themselves from what? From Christ? From the Saints? From modernism? From the Pope?
Jesus Christ tells us the truth about Hell because He does not wish us to go there. He does not remain silent on it. He wishes to save us from it. He wants us to choose Him and be with Him. Nevertheless, Hell is real and it is exclusion from God forever and it is a place of agony and flames that will never be extinguished. Let us then choose Jesus Christ, choose Salvation and devote ourselves to our Salvation and the Salvation of souls. We cannot improve on Christ's own words. We do none any favours should we try to weaken Christ's teachings.