VATICAN CITY — Media frenzy over an alleged phone call Pope Francis made to a divorced and remarried woman allowing her to receive Communion has seen a rise in conflicting details — and has been lamented by the Vatican as causing “confusion.”
Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said today that the Holy See will not officially comment on the alleged phone call Pope Francis made to an Argentinean woman this week, as the Holy Father’s “personal pastoral” relationships “do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities.”
“That which has been communicated in relation to this matter,” he stressed in an April 24 statement, “and the consequent media amplification, cannot be confirmed as reliable, and is a source of misunderstanding and confusion.”
The story of a woman in Argentina who allegedly received a phone call from Pope Francis on Easter Monday, giving her “permission” to receive Communion since she is married with a divorced man, has become more complex and doubtful in some of its details.
The situation involves Jaquelina Lisbona, 47, and Julio Sabetta, 50, of San Lorenzo — a small city 185 miles northwest from Buenos Aires.
Sabetta was married in the Catholic Church in 1985, but got legally divorced in 1992. In 1994, he was re-introduced to Jaquelina — they had been boyfriend and girlfriend in their teens — and the two started to live together in a civil union. Since then, they had two children, Candela and Josefina, aged 17 and 14, respectively.
Six years ago, during Candela’s preparation for her confirmation — both daughters have been baptized, received first Holy Communion and have been confirmed — the local pastor at that time, who has been erroneously described as having left the priesthood by some news sources, told Jaquelina that she could not receive Communion because of her marital status.
Contacted the Pope
Last September, encouraged by a friend, she decided to write Pope Francis about her situation and her desire to receive Communion.
The story of the Pope’s “permission” to Jaquelina to receive Communion was first posted on Monday evening by Sabetta on his Facebook page when he wrote: “Today one of the most beautiful things happened to me since the birth of my two daughters, 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 we he talks, he gives you total peace. Thanks God for this blessing!”
The story was originally picked up by the local radio station La Red, and the local newspaper La Capital. It was then mentioned by the national Argentinean news agency TELAM and by Wednesday the news story spread globally, including the Drudge Report.
What the Pope exactly told Jaquelina is a matter of controversy. Speaking to La Red, Jaquelina said that after talking for about ten minutes with the Pope, he allegedly told her that there are some priests who are “more Papist than the Pope” and that she should “go to confession and start taking Communion at a different parish.”
In a second interview, overwhelmed by the international attention and the phone calls from around the world, she confirmed that she received “permission” to receive Communion by the Pope, but she complained “this was supposed to be discreet, now I don’t think I will be able to go anywhere now.” Since Wednesday, Jaquelina has not been available for comments.
A call from CNA at their home was responded by her daughter Candela, who confirmed that “Pope Francis called, we are overjoyed and humbled as a family.” But she said that her mother was overwhelmed and was neither taking calls nor working at the small grocery store that the family owns across the street.
Sabetta instead has been happy to respond to the press. According to his version: “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 only told her to go to Communion to another parish to avoid frictions [with the pastor].”
The Couple’s Pastor
But the pastor of San Lorenzo’s church, Father José Ceschi, said late on Wednesday that the alleged “permission” to receive communion given by the Pope is “absurd.”
Speaking to local radio station La Ocho, Father Ceschi said that “first of all, I am very happy to know that the Pope called someone in San Lorenzo, the Pope surprises with these calls and people is so surprised, and that makes me happy. I do believe in the call, but what is hard to believe is that he gave her permission to go to Communion.”
“The Pope would never do that, is impossible. If he is coming from a previous sacrament and they are living together is absolutely impossible,” Father Ceschi told the radio station.
“What happens is that the Pope, like all bishops and priests, needs to be father, mother and teacher, always with an open heart, while telling things as they are.”
Speaking of his predecessor, who told Jaquelina that she could not receive Communion, the priest noted that “Father Sergio was right, if a previous sacrament of marriage is involved, the Church cannot go beyond what Jesus has taught.”
“If Father Sergio would have given absolution, it would have been like someone writing you a check for an empty bank account, is worthless!” he said.
“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,” he reiterated.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi concluded his statement Thursday emphasizing that “consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.”