Doctrine Doesn't Change Over the Phone
There's this Catholic woman in Argentina who's been living with a man for many years. They have two children together, and are civilly married. Her legal husband was married in the Church previously, but he got a divorce. So the woman is a Catholic who is living with man who is, in the eyes of the Church, apparently not her husband. As such, she is not in a state of grace, and may not receive Communion as long as she continues living as the wife of this divorced man.
A difficult and painful situation, one which the Church is rightly hoping to avoid in the future. A Catholic woman in this situation doesn't have a lot of easy choices, no matter how much she longs to be reunited with the Body of Christ.
There is one option she does not have, however, and that is to assume that a quickie phone call from the Pope is going to override hundreds of years of Catholic theology. But that seems to be what she did -- and the press is, of course, lapping it up like so many treat-hungry spaniels. According to the New York Post, under the singularly uninformative headline Pope tells unmarried woman to take Communion after she was denied, the woman's legal husband posted the news to her Facebook page:
“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 … and I can assure you that we he talks, he gives you total peace. Thanks God for this blessing!” Sabetta [the legal husband] wrote.
Lisbona [the woman] later told Argentine media the Pope told her to “go to confession and start taking communion at a different parish.”
Her husband's account to a CNN affiliate is even hinkier:
"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."
Absolution over the phone, apparently! So you see, almost no one reporting this story is especially detail-oriented -- or maybe there's some fast and loose translation going on. In the absence of actual facts, we are left to speculate charitably about what actually may have happened.
There are a couple of possibilities here. One is that the woman just made it up. She didn't get a phone call at all -- she just wishes she did, much as I wish the phone would ring and I would hear, "Good news! This is God speaking, and I just wanted to let you know that you will never have to do laundry again." It would be nice, but it ain't gonna happen.
Another possibility is that someone pranked her, pretending to be the Pope. Why would anyone do this? Who knows? To be a jerk, maybe; or maybe it was some well-meaning uncle who felt sorry for her, and thought he could cut through all this finicky Catholic nonsense and make her feel happy.
Another possibility is that the Pope said what she says he said, but the press doesn't understand the entire story. Maybe he actually does have an annulment, and the reporter didn't understand that this was a very important detail. Maybe she was living as brother and sister with the father of her children, and was mistakenly refraining from receiving Communion, and the Pope was reassuring her that her situation was not the illicit one that she imagined.
Another possibility -- to my mind, the most likely one -- is that the Pope really did call her, and she misunderstood what he said, or giddily extrapolated beyond what he actually said. Maybe she was so thrilled and flustered to get a call from the Vicar of Christ that she heard what she wanted to hear. Remember, we're talking about a phone call which got reported to Facebook which got reported to the local media which got reported to the national secular media which I am now blogging about. Talk about a game of telephone! What would be newsworthy is if it did get reported accurately.
What is not possible is that the Pope called her and said, "Feel free to flout Catholic teaching, disrespect your priest and your bishop, set an example of sin and rebellion for your two teenage daughters." Much as the Catholic Franciscophobes would like to believe it, the Pope has never said or taught anything that contradicts Church doctrine. Never.
It would be a wonderful thing if the Church found a way for fewer people to find themselves in painful and convoluted marital situations. But whatever happens in the future, we can all rest assured that it's not going to happen during a game of telephone