(RNS) Did Pope Francis tell a divorced and remarried woman that it was okay to take Communion even though her parish priest denied her the host?

Pope Francis greets a crowd on his way to a meeting with cardinals at the Vatican on Feb. 21, 2014. RNS photo by David Gibson

Pope Francis greets a crowd on his way to a meeting with cardinals at the Vatican on Feb. 21, 2014. RNS photo by David Gibson

That’s the latest kerfuffle created by the “cold-call” pope who on Monday, the day after Easter, called an Argentine woman who had written to him about whether she should receive communion at Mass even though she was divorced and remarried.

“There are priests who are more papist than the pope,” the pope himself reportedly told Jacquelina Lisbona.

Great line, great story — but is any of it true? The details have been shifting.

The story first ran in Argentine media, was picked up by Italian outlets, made its way to the British press, and in the course of those peregrinations lost — and gained — a few details in the process.

This is potentially a big deal, as Damian Thompson of the Daily Telegraph put it, because Catholics who have divorced and remarried without an annulment are not supposed to take Communion — though Francis himself has asked the hierarchy to debate the topic, which they are, quite intensely.

“Has Pope Francis just thrown a hand grenade into traditional teaching on divorcees and Communion?” Thompson tweeted. “The Vatican MUST clarify this or the Catholic world will divide into celebration and panic.”

Kudos to CNN, which UPDATES the story with reporting from three continents (literally): CNN has a Vatican spokesman confirming that the call did indeed take place, but the Rev. Thomas Rosica provided no details.

“It’s between the Pope and the woman,” said Rosica, a consultant for the Vatican press office.

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

Then on Thursday, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, issued a statement that also confirmed the chat but threw cold water on Ms. Lisbona’s recounting of the details, as well as that of her husband:

Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships.

Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities, no information or comments are to be expected from the Holy See Press Office.

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.

Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.

That’s good to keep in mind, though this is a big deal in terms of the example Francis is setting rather than the doctrine that he is, in fact, not changing.

So here’s how this all came about:

First off, the initial report came via Telam, the Argentine new agency, and was largely based on a Facebook post by Julio Sabetta, the husband of Jacquelina Lisbona. Those reports said that a “Father Bergoglio” had called Jacquelina on Monday; she had written him last fall to say that her parish priest denied her Communion because she was divorced and remarried.

Second, the report was picked up by the Italian daily La Stampa, which led with the headline: “The Pope told me over the phone that a divorced Catholic can take communion.” Thompson at the Telegraph then picked up the story, also noting that the woman and her husband have been married 19 years and have two children.

Third, Lisbona then spoke to a Buenos Aires radio station and clarified that it was her husband who had been divorced, and that the pair had been married but only civilly, not in the church.

“We used to go to Mass, not every day,” Lisbona told the radio, according to a Vatican Insider translation. “Here at home, we pray every evening, turning to God always; when someone is in a difficult situation God is the first one they turn to. I wrote the letter spontaneously. I wrote to him (Pope Francis) because he’s Argentinean, he listens to people and I believe in miracles.”

Lisbona said she had tried going back to Mass last year but her parish priest told her she could not receive Communion, also that she could not go to confession since she would simply be going back to a sinful situation.

So she wrote to Francis in September, and then on Monday…

“The phone rang and my husband answered. It was Fr. Bergoglio calling. The father asked to speak to me and my husband asked: ‘Who’s calling?’, to which the voice replied ‘Fr. Bergoglio.’ I asked him if it was really him, the pope, and he said it was and that he was calling in response to my letter dated September.”

Lisbona said the pope told her she should go to Communion, though she did not provide many other details. She seems put off by all the fuss.

“This received too much public attention. He told me to go and take Communion in a different parish, but now I won’t be able to go anywhere,” she told the radio. The pope said he was “dealing with the issue” of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, and she added:

“Then he told me there are some priests who are more papist that the pope. He was completely normal with me on the phone and I tried to speak to him with the utmost respect. Now I am overwhelmed by the enormous effect this story has had and I feel moved by the fact that I spoke to Francis. I told him I would write to him again when I take Communion again.”

An interesting postscript: Lisbona said the priest who initially told her not to take Communion has left ministry so he can marry. He will, of course, be able to take Communion…

The Upshot (which is the latest cool new thing in journalism, as per the NYT):

Yes, the pope called Jacquelina Lisbona. The real question regards the content of the conversation. If indeed he said those things this would be a big deal because she is still in what the church would call an “irregular” marriage. Her husband is divorced, and they have not been married in the church.

But that’s a big, big “if.”

One caveat: Julio Sabetta’s comments to CNN’s Argentine desk do seem to stretch even Francis’ generous notions of mercy:

“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, a CNN affiliate.

That sounds like a formal absolution, which is unlikely the pontiff gave over the phone — because that’s not how confession works. And pastors in such a situation would be more likely to say that she should go to communion even as they try to regularize her situation by marrying the couple in the church — not that they aren’t doing anything wrong.

In any case, Francis once again has set an example for the rest of the hierarchy even without changing church law, and it’s in keeping with the pope’s character — Francis has frequently shown little patience with priests who are “little monsters” (his words) who cite “small-minded” rules rather than ministering mercy to people.

In fact, while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires he famously rebuked “hypocrite” priests who would not baptize the babies of unwed mothers, and he has baptized the children of parents who were not married in the church.

So stay tuned …

 

95 Comments

  1. The story seems to have merit. What a horrible example by the pope to tell Catholics to go ahead and break the rules. This must be one of the “small-minded” rules he was talking about before.

  2. One thing that does need corrected is that one “receives” Holy Communion. They do not take it. Might seem trivial to some but it is now becoming too commonly used.

  3. Statement from the Director of the Holy See Press Office

    Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships.

    Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities, no information or comments are to be expected from the Holy See Press Office.

    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.

    Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.

    http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2014/04/24/0292/00645.html

  4. Receiving the host is very different from participating in a sacramental exercise in which a person sincerely enters into communion with The Lord and his unique Church. If one rejects the teachings of the Lord there can be no communion – just an empty ritual.

  5. That’s a great news for the controversial topic answered by the Pope who can change the policies. I am a Targeted Individual and often surrounded by the strangers who sit around me at the church but they don’t take communion nor take the time to kiss the relics. There are Koreans and Chinese people often working with these people for the harassment. I hope he can do something to stop the particular ethnic group harassing someone with the nationality comes with the past enemy image. It goes more badly when the priests are acting like such with the power harassment. I don’t do nothing but pray and participate in the churches.

  6. “It’s between the Pope and the woman,” said Rosica, a consultant for the Vatican press office.”

    Hmmmmmmmmmmm, where have I heard THAT before…”Between the Serpent and the woman” or how about “Between a woman & her Doctor”

  7. Has anyone ever thought about the former wife of the man who divorced her so that he can marry another? What if the man was simply unfaithful to his former wife? What if his former wife suffered & still suffers from the divorce? What if she did not remarry & stays true to her Catholic faith? Where is her justice if her former husband & present wife are all forgiven & all is well in the eyes of the Catholic church? If that is the case, then it is free for all in getting divorced & remarrying as and when they like. Would’nt this be the church falling apart?

  8. The only thing that has ever worked to end poverty in any country in history is the emancipation of women.

    It has never failed. Every country which has tried it became wealthier.
    Religion works hard against that goal. No religion supports it.

    If the Pope wants to help people he should try to end poverty.
    He needs to end the religious claim that women are inferior to men – that they do not have the same rights to their bodies.

    • The Pope, nor the Church, claims that women are inferior to men. Does each sex have different gifts and therefore different ways in which to glorify God? Yes. Those gifts don’t make one superior or inferior to the other. In Church teaching, all people belong to God, and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit; so what we do with them is hugely important.

      • @Marcie,

        If what you say is true why are women forced BY GOD to marry their rapists without ever being allowed to divorce,
        but men are not?

        Why did God allow daughters to be sold as sex slaves with different rules from boys sold as sex slaves?

        Why did God command raping as punishment for the sins – of their husbands?

        The Bible is clear that slaves must not run away from their masters – NO MATTER HOW PERVERSE their masters are.

        Are you saying the Pope disowns the Bible?
        Does the Pope deny these laws ever happened under God’s eternal perfection?

        • It’s very odd how you keep returning to this thing about women being “forced to marry a rapist.” In the first place the words used in the relevant passage do not necessarily signify a rape; they can just as easily speak of a consensual act of premarital intercourse. In the second place, the woman was not forced to marry the man–he was forced to marry her, if she and her family so chose. The decision was entirely up to them. Either way he had to pay damages, which would help provide for her if she was unable to marry as a result of the incident, or alternatively could be added to her dowry to make her a more attractive marital prospect to someone else.

          For heaven’s sake, quit wasting your time on propaganda sites and actually learn some biblical history.

          • @Shawnie5:

            Bible study:
            GOD SAYS: WOMEN MUST MARRY THEIR RAPISTS

            “If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he MUST marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.” (Deut. 22:28)

            1. What happens if a woman rapes a man? I happens.
            2. Why does this punishment not fit the crime from a ‘just’ god?
            3. Why is the woman being treated only as damaged goods?
            4. Why is none of this optional for the woman?
            5. Under these rules, why would a man NOT rape any beautiful woman he wants – as a way to force her hand in marriage?
            6. Why is none of this optional for the parents of the woman?
            7. Where is God’s Grace in this situation?
            8. What would Jesus do – and if different, How can it be if Jesus was God?
            9. Was Jesus God? Would he enforce this law? If not, what does that imply?

          • The passage from Deutoronomy is merely a restatement of Exodus 22:16-17: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.”

            Again, the language used in the passage was quite general and does not necessarily signify a rape. The provision was simply to ensure that men assumed responsibility for their sexual behavior.

          • @Shawnie5,

            So you completely agree that RAPE seals the deal.

            Under God’s law
            a man may select his wife this way:
            He finds the most beautiful woman, rapes her so that he is caught, and is “punished” by having to marry her.

            She has no choice in the matter.
            Her parents have no choice in the matter.

            Ask Elle Macpherson or Christie Brinkley how this works for them.
            I’d like to know.

          • @SHAWNIE5,

            You said, “….does not signify rape”

            Are you a woman? Do you know what Rape is?
            You know that the word used in Deuteronomy is “Raping” right?

          • Are you reading my posts at all? The choice belonged to the woman and her family. The man’s actions “sealed” nothing except the certainty of paying substantial damages in the amount of a customary dowry.

            And no, for the third time, the words used do NOT directly signify rape, although they have sometimes been translated that way. The word used in Exodus, “pathah,” means “to entice, seduce, persuade.” The word used in the corresponding Deutoronomy passage, ‘taphas” means “to take hold of” and does not necessarily imply force–as does another word “chazaq,” which was used in the incident with Amnon and Tamar. .

          • @SHAWNIE –

            IT is not I who is not reading!

            “Then he MUST marry the young woman because he violated her”
            (Deut. 22:28)

            I’m waiting for you to explain why beautiful, alluring women might not find this to be completely against their favor and unfair. It gives the ugly disgusting cads every reason to rape whomever they choose to get their hand in marriage.

            The woman is not given a choice.
            SHE MUST MARRY HER RAPIST.

          • @SHAWNIE:

            So “caught in the act of raping” doesn’t mean raping?
            No doesn’t mean no?

            Deuternomy calls it “VIOLATION” and if that doesn’t mean rape where are you going with this?

            Your Graceless, disgusting god is saying that rape is exactly the best way to get your beautiful woman.

            If Christie Brinkley turns you down – God offers you a plan B !

          • “I’m waiting for you to explain why beautiful, alluring women might not find this to be completely against their favor and unfair.”

            Certainly it would be, which is why the corresponding provision in Exodus gave the woman and her family the choice–for the fourth time now.

            “So “caught in the act of raping” doesn’t mean raping?”

            It doesn’t say that. It says “…and THEY are discovered.”

            “Deuternomy calls it “VIOLATION””

            Any sexual contact with a virgin outside of a lawful marriage, consensual or not, was considered a violation in that culture, as it put a woman at an enormous disadvantage.

            Reading comprehension, Max. Take a course or something. It’s never too late to improve yourself.

          • @Shawnie,

            “If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he MUST marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.” (Deut. 22:28-29)

            Yes. my comprehension keeps seeing the word “raping”.

            God allows a man to grab any beautiful woman and rape her.
            He then forces HIM to marry HER.
            She cannot say no as God says HE MUST MARRY HER.

            I know, and you know that this is not just permission to rape – but is encouragement to rape.

            Good luck with your God of Rape.

          • You keep saying it because it is a mistranslation. The literal Hebrew says: ” If a man finds a girl who is an unbetrothed virgin, an he lays hold of her (taphas) and lies with her (shakab), and they are found (matsa’), then the man lying down with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty pieces of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he may not put her away all his days.”

            Unless, of course: “If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.” Exodus 22:17. For the fifth time.

            So what is your problem? Inability to read, or emotional investment in the most negative (and least plausible ) interpretation possible of a book that you hate?

        • @Shawnie,

          Your Hebrew translation fixed nothing.
          The hebrew is not an improvement.
          I’ve found other translations which are much worse even than King James.

          Intercourse, sex, lie with – all of these terms mean violation of the woman’s body under circumstances where she gives no consent. So Rape was a perfectly good translation.
          Instead of consent the man must pay for the damaged goods.

          Where is God’s grace in this mess?

          The Exodus clause is not relevant to this situation. I do not accept that.
          Must means must. Exodus just shows that the Bible is contradictory in countless ways.

          • How is the Exodus clause not relevant? It describes the same situation. And by virtue of its very name Deutoronomy is a repetition of the laws of Exodus and Leviticus. Why are the laws it repeats not relevant to the repetition?

            Rape would be a “perfectly good translation” (passing by the obvious irony of the likes of Max deciding what a perfectly good translation is..LOL) if the words used in the passage conveyed force. They don’t.

            And pray tell what is the support for your assertion that all biblical references to intercourse are about non-consensual sex? I do believe this is the first time I’ve heard of such a thing, and being that it’s coming from such a scripturally ignorant commenter you must forgive me for being a bit skeptical of it.

          • Carol Montgomery

            That’s just it…no one is speaking about God’s grace. When Jesus came He forgave us of ALL sins….HIs forgiveness is like a waterfall constantly washing us clean. God puts our sins in the sea of forgetfulness and remembers them NO MORE! Man is making rules and tries to mix them with grace when it is convenient and that is not right. The law shows us that we are sinful but when Jesus came he traded his righteousness for our sinfulness and we put on His righteousness. When one studies the Bible and studies the history, mores, etc., of that time and comes to understand what is going on in that light one can understand, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit. I encourage to do just that:)

  9. Francis is the man. Great that he has called out “monster priests” who are into rules but not the gospel. If Jesus can speak to a woman who had five husbands why cannot there be reconciliation for anyone who is living a faithful life with one’s present spouse and has not harmed anyone.

    Bernard Haring would have been proud.

  10. Carol Compton

    I hope for the sake of the church the pope is not making such decisions without considering what he doing to the rest of the people trying to faithfully follow their religion

  11. OMG, ARE YOU THERE LISTENING TO ALL THIS ____? DON’T PEOPLE KNOW THAT YOU ARE IN CONTROL? WE NEED TO TAKE A STEP BACK AND WAIT ON THE FATHER AND THE POPE TO DEAL WITH ALL THESE QUESTIONS AND HALF-ANSWERS…

  12. If this is true, that the Pope is allowing Holy Communion for someone who is living in Mortal Sin, why did St. Thomas Moore, St. John Fisher, and John the Baptist all suffer martyrdom because they did not condone divorce?

    • Mary,
      “why did St. Thomas Moore, St. John Fisher, and John the Baptist all suffer martyrdom”?

      Because this is all a fantasy. God and the Bible are entirely man-made and it shows. It isn’t worth dedicating 10 minutes to believe in these things – and certainly not one’s life – to this nonsense.

      • AM Why are you arguing with those with whom you have no relationship? What we do is our business not yours. We will pay the consequences, not you. Go and post no more. You are too ignorant to waste time on.

        • @vin,

          I wish I could ignore you religion folks
          but apparently your churches can’t keep out of our laws. And we Atheists and secularists really can’t let you keep doing that without a challenge.
          We need to resist the Christian Taliban and its Christian Sharia!

          Christians feel the need to push me around:
          Evangelicals like ‘Truth In Action Ministries’, spend millions of dollars a year on causes like these:

          State Legalized Murder of Doctors – South Dakota
          Mandatory Trans-vaginal probes – Virginia Legislature

          PREACHING of the Bible in public schools – funded by Hobby Lobby
          Blocking even married people from family planning – Texas, 5 other states.
          Obstruction of prescriptions – Illinois, Washington

          Discrimination as religious choice -Arizona (SB-1062)

          Anti-Gay laws – Texas
 & elsewhere
          Anti-women’s rights laws – Texas, Louisina, Virginia

          Biased Counseling laws – South Dakota
          Creationism to replace Science Education: 12 States

          So as long as you are funding these faith-based programs among others I will have to challenge you.

          The reason you are angry is because your religion can’t stand the light of reason.

          Jesus won’t stand up to scrutiny.

  13. My simple comment is that His Holiness Pope Francis should really be more prudent with His liberal approach in such matters which contains article of FAITH and SACRAMENTS———– the main essence of the life and existence of the church particularly the catholic church. I do wish to remind Him with all due respect that considering His position in the world He should take His public communications to real prayerful reflections first as they carry lots of weight that could edify some or scandalise some just as this latest issue.

  14. IT PAINS ME TO LEARN THAT HIS HOLINESS HAS NOTHING ELSE TO DO EXCEPT TO MAKE SUCH PHONE CALL TO A WOMAN WHO DOESE NOT WANT TO LIVE BY THE CATHOLIC SIMPLE CATECHISM WHICH WAS TAUGHT DURING THE FIRST HOLY COMMUNION PRPARATION WHEN SHE WAS AGED 7 TO 10 YEARS OLD, REPEATED DURING PREPARATION FOR THE SACRAMENT FO CONFIMATION. MY ADVICE TO THAT WOMAN IS THAT THE CHURCH IS NOT FORCING ANYONE TO REMAIN IN IT BUT IF YOU STILL WISH TO BE PART OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH YOU HAVE TO UPHOLD IT;S ETHOS BY LIVING LIKE A CONVINCED ROMAN CATHOLIC MEMBER . HENCE YOU CAN MAKE BETTER MEDIA HEAD LINES IN THAT WAY

  15. The Catholic Church is the true Church that Jesus founded and the Apostles established. It divided because of schism into the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, and Church of the East over the centuries but there remains always the Catholic Church.

  16. @atheist max, why do you insist that believers need to listen to you, when you refuse to listen to them? Respond if you like, because I know that egomaniacs like you always have to respond…

  17. “”There are priests who are more papist than the pope,” the pope himself reportedly told Jacquelina Lisbona.””

    That is a skewed understanding of upholding the faith. The correct way to say this is, ‘There are priests who are more Catholic than the pope.’ It is the right and duty of the faithful to correct a pope if he is in error. This has always been the case and it has happened numerous times, with popes retracting their errors.

  18. I won’t tell you anything new, but this is just the same in any other field.
    You’d think history showes us anything, but alas.
    Feel free to disagree but the world changes rapidly, and we have no control whatsoever over it.
    E.g., If only Obama had any balls to put Vladimir to his place, but it seems like it’s never happening, welcome world war.
    A truly inspiring post, thanks!

    • Yes. Why can’t everybody just believe in God?
      Riddle me this Atheists…
      If God doesn’t exist, who is it that usually ignores our prayers, lets children die for the improvement of the adults they leave behind and especially lets praying people die by the thousands in storms, tsunamis and earthquakes?
      Who hired Palin, Bachmann and Huckabee for his key marketing firm and who is it that only speaks to us through hallucinations and near death experiences?
      Huh?

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  26. Jesus is God. He is alive. He is real. The atheist is obsessed with finding an error in the Bible, so he can justify not believing in Jesus. But, I have met Jesus face to face. He is alive, and He is real. And, He is God.

    Mr. Atheist, repent and believe. Forget your useless and flawed attacks. That will not give you excuse at the time of judgment, if you do not repent and believe.

  27. Poor, angry Atheist Max, bless your heart. The Catholic Church has withstood over 2000 years of attacks by foes far more formidable than you, including a schism or two, a reformation, a bunch of Muslim crusades, and a number of antipopes. And we’re still here! We’re not going anywhere.

  28. The Christian’s miracles are true.
    So Islam’s miracles are valid, too.

    Allah then, is confirmed as real.
    Yet, He grants Yahweh no appeal.

    So Jesus, Yahweh and Allah fight
    For who among them is in the right.

    Where is Athena? Where is Zeus?
    Don’t they know whats on the loose?

    Like warring Gods of ancient times
    Modern things and foolish rhymes.

    - Atheist Max

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