What Did the Pope Really Say About Divorcees?

Jaquelina Lisbona and her civil law husband, Julio Sabetto

Jaquelina Lisbona and her civil law husband, Julio Sabetto

Once again the faithful are enduring a media-inspired kerfuffle over an alleged statement made by Pope Francis during a personal phone call to a divorcee who remarried outside the Church that she can take Communion; however, the Vatican calls these reports “unreliable” and the woman’s pastor says the whole episode is “impossible.”

CNA/EWTN News is reporting on the phone call which took place on Monday of this week between Jaquelina Lisbona, 47, and Pope Francis. Lisbona lives with her husband, Julio Sabetta, 50, in San Lorenzo, a small town about 185 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. Sabetto was divorced from his first wife in 1992 and began living with Lisbona in 1994. It was when their two daughters were preparing to receive the sacraments that the pastor of her parish informed her that she could not receive Communion because she was in a civil law union with a divorced man.

Last fall, after being prompted by a friend, Lisbona decided to write to the pope to tell him about her desire to receive Communion.

The pope apparently called her on Monday, apologized for the lateness in his reply and according to various accounts, told her “there was no problem” with her receiving Communion. He also said that he was dealing with the issue of remarried divorcees and that her letter was “useful in helping him address the issue.” He then told her that “there are some priests who are more papist than the pope”.

News of the phone call spread after Lisbona’s husband posted an account of the phone call on his Facebook page:

“Today one of the most beautiful things happened to me since the birth of my two daughters,” Sabetto wrote. “I got a call in my home from none other than Pope Francis, it was a big emotion, we cannot figure it out yet, this call was originated by my wife who sent him a letter and he took his time to call her and talk to her and I can assure you that when he talks, he gives you total peace. Thanks God for this blessing!”

From there, the story was picked up by local radio station La Red and La Capital newspaper. The Argentinean News Agency TELAM picked it up by Wednesday and then spread globally being picked up by all the major media outlets.

However, what exactly the Pope said to Lisbona remains a matter of controversy. Speaking to a news outlet, Lisbona said the two spoke for about 10 minutes during which time he allegedly told her that there she should “go to confession and start taking communion at a different parish.”

In a second interview, she confirmed that the pope had given her permission to receive Communion, but complained that “this was supposed to be discrete, now I don’t think I will be able to go anywhere now.”

The Vatican Press Office quickly weighed in on the matter. Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., issued a statement yesterday morning in which he said that they would not relay the contents of the Pope’s private phone conversations. However, “that which has been communicated in relation to this matter . . . . and the consequent media amplification, cannot be confirmed as reliable, and is a source of misunderstanding and confusion.”

He added: “Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences”.

But that hasn’t stopped the press from making all kinds of wild speculations about how Pope Francis is going to  change the rules regarded divorcees who remarry outside the Church just like he was supposed to change the rules about homosexuals after saying “who am I to judge” aboard the papal plane last year.

During an interview with CNA, Sabetto insisted that “Francisco told my wife that she was free from all sin, that she should go to communion, that she should go with peace of mind, since a divorced who goes (to Communion) is doing nothing wrong.”

He also claims the pope told her to go to Mass at another parish to avoid friction with their pastor.

However, the couple’s pastor, Fr. Jose Ceschi of San Lorenzo’s parish, told the local radio station La Ocho that the idea that the pope would give this permission was “absurd.”

“I do believe in the call, but what is hard to believe is that he gave her permission to go to communion,” Fr. Ceschi said. “The Pope would never do that, (it) is impossible. If he is coming from a previous sacrament and they are living together (it) is absolutely impossible.”

Speaking of his predecessor, Fr. Sergio, who was erroneously reported as having left the priesthood, told Jaquelina that she could not receive communion.

“Fr. Sergio was right, if a previous sacrament of marriage is involved, the Church cannot go beyond what Jesus has taught,” Fr. Ceschi said. “If Fr. Sergio would have given absolution, it would have been like someone writing you a check for an empty bank account, (it) is worthless!”

He added: “Again, I believe that the call happened, I just don’t believe the Pope would go over the head of the (local) bishop – it is absurd.”

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