A hell without fire and brimstone. That's the Roman Catholic Church's latest view on what life in the hereafter might be like. And it comes straight from the Pope.

The Pope made the statement yesterday in the Vatican City.

At this morning's mass at the basilica of St. John's, news of the Pope's statement caught most of the people completely by surprise. "The Pope said what?" asked one man. "I'd have to see it before I believe it."

For centuries the popular image of the wrath of God has been fire, brimstone, and every imaginable - and unimaginable - horror. The modern teaching of the Catholic church does not refer to hell as a place.

So, for many practicing Catholics, like Frank O'Leary, the Pope has simply confirmed what they believe anyway. "A lot of these things are metaphorical," he says. "I never really thought of heaven as a physical place. It is not surprising to me that the Holy Father would point out that hell is not physical in the sense of this physical plane that we're on right now."

The Pope isn't saying there's no hell at all. He's saying that hell is the state of eternal torment a soul ends up in when it cuts itself off from God.

And so another piece of religious folklore gives way to the rational mood of our times. It was only last year that Catholics heard from their Pope about the need to build more bridges between faith and reason. And just last week he set the record straight about heaven. Not as a place in the clouds but as a state of eternal union with God.