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Pope Francis setting the stage for divorced Catholics to receive Communion

Pope Francis preforming Mass at the Vatican
Pope Francis preforming Mass at the VaticanPhoto by Photo by Dan Kitwood

Argentine news agency Telam reports Pope Francis called a woman in Argentina last week and told her it was okay to receive Holy Communion even though her parish priest denied her the host. The woman wrote to the Pontiff asking if she could still receive communion at Mass even though she was married to a divorced man and their marriage was performed in a civil ceremony. As a devout Catholic it bothered her greatly to be denied the sacrament.

Catholics may not divorce and remarry without an annulment. Divorced Catholics and those not married in the Church are not supposed to receive Holy Communion. Pope Francis has recently asked the Church hierarchy to open debates on this the topic.

Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, confirmed the call took place but provided no details. Rosica did say, “It’s between the Pope and the woman. To draw any conclusions about this particular situation, that the Pope may be setting an agenda, is incorrect. The Pope is first and foremost an esteemed pastor, and dealing with a human situation is always complex.”

Mrs. Jacqueline Sabetta Lisbona spoke to a Buenos Aires radio station saying, “We used to go to Mass, not every day. 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.”

According to Lisbona she tried going to Mass last year but her parish priest told her she could not receive Communion and that she could no longer go to confession, since she would simply be returning home to a sinful situation afterwards. She says she wrote to Pope Francis in September, and again on Monday.

Lisbona said, “The phone rang and my husband answered. It was Fr. Bergoglio calling. (Before being elected Pope and taking the name Francis, the Pope was called Fr. Bergoglio) The father asked to speak to me. 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.”

She went on to say the Pope told her to go and take Communion in a different parish. Pope Francis said he was dealing with the issue of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. A special synod convened by Francis will be held in October. The synod will focus on the new challenges of the Church such as changes in families, unions of persons of the same sex, and birth control, among others.

An interesting twist to the story arose when Lisbona said the priest who initially told her not to take Communion has left ministry so he may marry. This will now leave him unable to receive Holy Communion.

It appears Pope Francis has once again set an example for the Church hierarchy without changing church doctrine. This is certainly keeping with the Pontiff’s character. Pope Francis has frequently shown his impatience with priests calling some “little monsters who cite small-minded rules rather than ministering mercy to people”.

While Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis rebuked the priests who would not baptize the babies of unwed mothers. He himself baptized the children of parents who were not married in the church.

Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J., issued the following statement.

“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 is 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”.

Previous reports have Pope Francis calling his newsagent in Buenos Aires to cancel a subscription and to comfort a mother grieving over her murdered daughter. The Vatican does not officially comment on the reports of personal calls from the Pope. Francis has been dubbed 'the cold call pope' by the tabloids.