Confusion has reigned in Catholic corners of the Internet today, as reports circulated that Pope Francis telephoned an Argentinian woman earlier this week and allegedly told her that she may receive Communion despite being divorced and remarried. That story, which appears to have originated with a Facebook post by the woman’s husband, was reported first by the Argentinian and then the Italian media before being picked up by English outlets; clarification of some aspects of the story followed when the woman, Jacqui Lisbona, told an Argentinian radio station that she is not herself divorced, but that she is civilly married to a divorced man. The Vatican, meanwhile, seems to have confirmed that the phone call took place, while refraining from commenting on the content of the call itself.
The phone call seems to have been in response to a letter Lisbona wrote to Pope Francis last fall. From the National Catholic Reporter’s Joshua McElwee:
While the original stories, drawing on a Facebook posting by Lisbona’s husband, claimed Francis had told Lisbona she could receive Communion even though she had been divorced and remarried, Lisbona later clarified the matter in an interview with an Argentine radio station.
“I am not divorced,” she said, according to a Vatican Insider report of that interview, which is in Spanish. According to that report, Lisbona said she and her husband, who has been divorced, have been married 19 years and have two children.
She and her husband, Lisbona said, go to church frequently together. When she has presented herself to receive Communion, the parish priest has refused to distribute it to her. She also said she could not reconcile herself through the sacrament of reconciliation because “when I go back to my house, I am still in sin.”
Lisbona said she wrote directly to Francis because “I think that miracles exist.”
While Lisbona apparently does not provide many details about her call with the pope, she says he called on Monday, referring to himself as “Father Bergoglio” and telling her she could return to Communion “without problems.”
According to the Telegraph, Pope Francis allegedly told Lisbona, “It is an issue we are discussing in the Vatican, because a divorcee who takes communion is not doing anything wrong.”
When asked about the veracity of the quotes attributed to Pope Francis, a Vatican spokesman told the Telegraph: “We would neither confirm nor deny that – this was a private telephone call made by the Holy Father and we would not divulge the details.” While the director of the Vatican Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, did respond to reports last September that Pope Francis had called a gay Frenchman, stating, “The Pope never called this person,” the Vatican has, generally, refused to comment on reports of personal calls made by Pope Francis in the year since his election.
UPDATE: Father Thomas Rosica, English-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office, confirmed that the Pope called Lisbona, but declined to comment on what was said during the phone call. From CNN: “‘It’s between the Pope and the woman’ said the Rev. Thomas Rosica … Rosica said that any comments made by the Pope should not be construed as a change in church doctrine. ‘The magisterium of the church is not defined by personal phone calls.'”
Given the early errors in the way the story was reported, the many remaining unknown details (what information, exactly, did Pope Francis receive about the couple’s situation before and during the call? Have Lisbona and her husband accurately relayed what Francis said?, etc.), and the fact that official confirmation and/or clarification from the Vatican doesn’t appear to be forthcoming, the caution urged by, among others, Jimmy Akin and Edward Peters seems prudent (like Dr. Peters, I am also originally from Missouri). So take these reports with a grain of salt. And keep the salt shaker handy, since the Holy Father’s penchant for cold-calling members of his flock, coupled with the Vatican’s policy of silence on the content of those calls, may very well result in similar scenarios playing out in the future.
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