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Pope's call to woman raises questions on divorced and remarried

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A phone call from Pope Francis to an Argentine woman garnered wide interest Wednesday when it was reported the pope had told the woman she could receive the Eucharist, even though she had been divorced and remarried. 

Spanish-language reports of the encounter, however, clarified that the women is not herself divorced but is civilly married to a previously divorced man. 

On Thursday morning Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said in a statement that as Francis' telephone calls occur as part of his "personal pastoral relationships" and "do not in any way form part of the Pope's public activities, no information or comments are to be expected" from the Vatican press office on the matter.

"Consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences," Lombardi continued.

Early reports of the call first appeared Wednesday in Telam, an official Argentine news agency, and in the Italian daily LStampa. They concerned a conversation the pope had with Jaquelina Lisbona on Monday in response to a letter the woman had sent to the pope last fall.

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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." 

Late on Wednesday, a Canadian priest who assists the Vatican press office with English language translation confirmed the telephone call to CNN.

The contents of the call, said Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica, are "between the Pope and the woman."

Likewise on Thursday, Lombardi said in his statement: "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," said Lombardi, "consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences."

Catholic teaching currently prohibits divorced faithful from marrying again without first receiving an annulment of their first marriage. A fact sheet on marriage from New Jersey's Trenton diocese also clarifies that Catholics are not able to marry divorced people unless the divorced seek annulments.

"If a divorced person who is not Catholic wants to marry a Catholic, our Church requires proof that the prior marriage never had the binding force that Jesus taught," reads that fact sheet.

Expectations have been raised, however, that aspects of the church's pastoral practices toward divorced and remarried people may change following a worldwide meeting of bishops at the Vatican in October. That meeting, called by Pope Francis, is to focus on "Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization."

According to the Spanish-language report, Lisbona said the pontiff had told her that her initial letter and their conversation had helped him better understand situations people face in their marriages.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR national correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

A version of this story appeared in the print issue under the headline:
Divorce, Communion and papal phone calls
.

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