Vatican Spokesmen Urge Caution Over Pope's Phone Call Reports

Say No Change in Doctrine on Divorce, Remarriage, Eucharist

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Various news sources are reporting that Pope Francis has told an Argentine woman who has been civilly married to a divorced man for 19 years that she can receive Holy Communion.

Allegedly, Jaqui Lisbona of Saint Lawrence, Argentina, had written a letter to the Holy Father after her pastor denied her from receiving the Sacrament on account that she was not validly married to the man she was living with.

Although some reports say Lisbona was divorced and remarried, Spanish media sources have said that it is her husband, Julio Sabetta, who is divorced.

After the alleged phone conversation, which took place Easter Monday, Sabetta announced on his Facebook account that his wife had received a phone call from the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, but made no mention of the subject of the conversation.

It was not until the local press contacted Sabetta that the question of divorce, remarriage, and Holy Communion came up.

«She spoke with the Pope, and he said she was absolved of all sins and she could go and get the Holy Communion because she was not doing anything wrong,» Sabetta told Channel 3 Rosario.

Lisbona claims she wrote Pope Francis last September after her local priest denied her reception of the Blessed Sacrament. In an interview with the radio station, La Red Am91, she added that the same priest also denied her from receiving the Sacrament of Confession. “[He told me that] when I went home, I resumed a life of sin,” she said.

The woman recounted that «he [the Pope] told me there are some priests who are more papist that the Pope,” she said. “I told him I would write to him again when I take Communion again.»

According to Catholic teaching, civil divorce is not in itself an impediment to reception of Holy Communion. However, when a divorced person who has not obtained an annulment enters into a subsequent civil marriage, the original, sacramental marriage continues to bind. He or she is unable to enter into sacramental marriage again while his/her spouse is still living. 

An annulment is a judgement that a sacramental marriage never took place, due to one or another factor impeding the would-be spouse from performing the sacrament.

Lisbona said Pope Francis told her he is “dealing with the issue” of remarried divorcees, adding: “He said my letter was useful in helping him address this issue.»

Two synods of bishops, one this year and one next year, are scheduled to consider the various pastoral implications of Christ’s teaching on marriage. 

Truth in Question

Although it appears that a conversation between the Pope and Lisbona did take place, the veracity of its contents is, at best, non-verifiable, according to official sources.

In a statement this morning, the director of the Holy See Press office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said such phone calls are part of Pope Francis’ «personal pastoral relationships» and «do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities.»

“That which has been communicated in relation to this matter, outside the scope of personal relationships, and the consequent media amplification, cannot be confirmed as reliable, and is a source of misunderstanding and confusion,» he said.

He added that “consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.»

The conversation which allegedly took place is «between the Pope and the woman,» said Fr. Thomas Rosica, English language attaché to Fr. Lombardi, in an interview with CNN.

Fr. Rosica added that private conversations of this nature do not signal a change in Church doctrine. «The magisterium of the Church is not defined by personal phone calls,» he said.

“To draw any conclusions about this particular situation, that the Pope may be setting an agenda, is incorrect,» he said. «The Pope is first and foremost an esteemed pastor, and dealing with a human situation is always complex.»

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Ann Schneible

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