Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pope's telephone call re-opens debate over communion for remarried divorcees

Andres Beltramo Alvarez
Vatican Insider
April 23, 2014

“There are priests who are more papist than the Pope.” A set phrase like any other. Only this time, the lips that uttered it were those of Francis himself, during a conversation with fellow Argentinean, Jakelina Lisbona. A woman who married a divorced man. Bergoglio advised her to take Communion regardless of her personal situation. This little detail ended up as a news story that made it half way around the world.

“Pope assures there’s no harm in a divorced person taking Communion”. This is the title that has been causing a buzz in the media in the last few hours. But it is a misinterpretation because the person the Pope spoke with was not divorced as was originally believed.

“It’s not me who’s divorced,” one of the female protagonists in this story said in an interview with Buenos Aires radio station La Red Am910. Lisbona said it was her husband, Julio Zabeta, who had divorced, but she never married in the Church. The two have been united in civil matrimony for the past nineteen years and have two daughters.

“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 because he’s Argentinean, he listens to people and I believe in miracles,” she said.

The woman also said she tried taking Communion again last year but not only did the local priest apparently say he could not give her Communion, he even said she could not access the sacrament of Confession either. “[They told me that] when I went home, I resumed a life of sin,” she added.

The woman finally decided to write to Pope Francis to explain her situation to him. The letter was sent last September.

“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,” he explained.

Lisbona did not want to give too many details during the radio interview but she revealed the piece of advice Francis apparently gave her and that was that there was no problem in her approaching the sacrament of Communion. “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 also revealed an interesting fact: the priest who apparently refused to administer Communion to her, no longer exercises his ministry. He asked to be dispensed from his obligations as priest so he could get married.

According to the woman, Pope Francis also said he is “dealing with the issue” of remarried divorcees; a clear reference to the next two assemblies on the pastoral challenges of the family which the Synod of Bishops is due to hold in 2014 and 2015. “He said my letter was useful in helping him address this issue,” 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,” she said.

The Holy See did not wish to comment on whether Bergoglio really did make the call to Jakelina Lisbona or not. But it has not denied the news either. As far as the Vatican newsroom is concerned, the Pope’s communication was private and so there is no comment to be made.

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