Pope Francis called an Argentine woman married to a divorced man and reportedly told her that she could receive the sacrament of Communion, according to the woman’s husband, in an apparent contradiction of Catholic law.
Julio Sabetta, from San Lorenzo in the Pope’s home country, said his wife, Jacqueline Sabetta Lisbona, spoke with Francis on Monday.
Jacqueline Sabetta Lisbona wrote to the pontiff in September to ask for clarification on the Communion issue, according to her husband, who said his divorced status had prevented her from receiving the sacrament.
“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,” Sabetta told Channel 3 Rosario, a CNN affiliate.
A Vatican spokesman confirmed the telephone call but would not comment on the conversation’s content.
“It’s between the Pope and the woman,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant for the Vatican press office.
Rosica said that any comments made by the Pope should not be construed as a change in church doctrine. “The magisterium of the church is not defined by personal phone calls.”
Is anyone else getting really, really tired of this game?
Pope Francis consistently says things that cause serious concern among Catholics who know what the Church teaches. No sooner have the words left his mouth (and of course, been reported on far and wide) than the spin machine goes into high gear — powered in large part by Catholic bloggers who make a living promoting the status quo within the Church (no conflict of interest there!) — telling us why we should not worry about the obviously controversial thing because of one of the following reasons:
- It’s a translation issue
- It’s a contextual issue
- When he said “X” it’s clear that he probably meant “Y”
- The source is unreliable
- The information is not first-hand
- We must look at the issue through the Argentinian cultural lens
- The media is misrepresenting what he said
- He contradicted himself in another thing that he said during a homily last week
- Fr. Lombardi says it ain’t true
Take your pick. There are probably others. I imagine the Catholic apologists in the tank for this nonsense have a sort of flow chart they pass around every time they add a new option. “Did the Pope speak in Italian? –> IF YES, it’s not his native language. Lost in Translation. IF NO…”
It’s a spin-the-wheel sort of system. Maybe there’s a papal 8-ball out there (in white, of course) where you shake it up and it gives you a series of half-believable reasons why whatever he said wasn’t really heterodox. Across the spectrum of Catholic publications and social media, it’s become a giant excuse-making enterprise. Almost like the Pope Francis edition of whack-a-mole.
You’ll have to excuse my sarcasm. I’m starting to find this all incredibly offensive, and insulting to the collective intelligence of Catholics who see what is really going on.
The Holy Father is, for all intents and purposes, shooting a rail gun into the heart of the faith. He is undeniably causing mass division and confusion, which are not signs of God’s work, and these things are particularly afflicting the faithful Catholics who are in the tiny minority among the world’s self-professed Catholics.
You can’t simply look at each incident as an isolated issue. You have to look at the problem comprehensively. All this build up about divorce and remarriage and communion. The endless goings on about pastoral concerns trumping rubrics. The condemnations of triumphalism and neo-pelagianism. The public praising of Kasper’s dangerous speech on the topic, and of him as a theologian. The constant shaking up of the way things are done and the obvious disregard for the way things are supposed be. The false humility which masks the absolutely unilateral power with which tradition is dispensed with. The insistence on collegiality and delegating papal authority to local bishops, only for the pope to go directly to people and make these kinds of phone calls.
Disruption. Disruption. Disruption.
You have a PR and management team analyzing the media and communications around this pontificate. I once worked for one of the best PR firms in the country. I know what they do. They see the messages, the news stories, the thematic resonance. Things are weighed and measured. Responses are planned. If these people are not doing this, what are they doing? This is their job.
The pope has been made personally aware of the way people receive his comments (with “big eyes” no less.) He has responded directly (by phone!) to some of his critics, thanking them for their criticism (isn’t he MAGNANIMOUS?!). Still, he has not become sensitive to the fallout or changed his approach. He has not, in a word, become responsible.
So this phone call happens. It is reported that the pope tells this woman something that is clearly in contradiction with Church teaching. The Vatican press office is asked about it — and the story is confirmed — thus making the inner circle aware that people want to know, especially leading up to the synod in October, which will address this issue of communion for the divorced and remarried.
And yet, we receive no clarification. We get vagueries from Fr. Lombardi, which some are choosing to interpret as a polite way of saying that lies are being spread:
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 or comments are 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.
This doesn’t mean anything. It also makes no sense.
Why would this woman lie if she got the answer she wanted? Why make something up?
And if she didn’t get the answer she wanted and did lie about it, only the Pope himself can say, “Yes, I spoke to her, but this is not what was said.” Since he knows this is becoming a big story, it behooves him to do this if he cares about preserving doctrinal clarity and avoiding unnecessarily scandalizing the faithful. If he doesn’t want to speak to it directly, the statement that needs to be made by the press office, with his authorization, is astonishingly simple:
“The Holy Father cannot comment on the contents of a personal phone call, but suffice to say that in his discussion he did, in fact, reaffirm the Church’s longstanding teaching on divorce and remarriage, and the conditions for the reception of communion.”
That kills the noise. Instead, this continues to get bigger and spread and affect people’s perceptions of what is really going on. The pope understands by now how fast the media machine works. He should be pretty used to creating controversy at this point, and a man in his position with his obligation to safeguard the sensus fidei would, one would assume, care a great deal about setting the record straight.
This is EXACTLY what someone trying to change Church teaching through public perception rather than doctrinal alteration would want. If this isn’t planned, it’s the most unbelievably devilish luck.
I am forced to conclude that his silence is a form of consent. Which leads to other conclusions:
It is entirely possible that in order to maintain plausible deniability, he is not telling his own press people anything. After all, he’s the only one who could know the contents of the phone call other than Mrs. Sabetta, who has already told her side of the story. If they can only deny this in vagueries, what can come of it?
On the other hand, if he were to confirm he said this, it would send many faithful Catholics over the edge and into the camp with those of who believe we have a serious pope problem. Quite a risk.
So silence is a win/win for him. By not making it clear that he didn’t say this, he is showing that he has no problem with letting everyone believe that he did. Because nothing can be proven, many faithful Catholics will, in charity, assume that he would not say such a heretical thing. Those who ring the bell on this stuff [raises hand] will simply become a greater nuisance and further marginalized because they’re “apoplectic bedwetters” (or whatever unique epithet they’ll spin up) despite not knowing anything for certain.
And the inevitable, slow march toward allowing those living objectively in mortal sin to be admitted to communion will continue. No doubt many of them are already celebrating this story and the conclusions they may draw from it.
This follows the de jure vs. de facto hypothesis of fundamental Church transformation: the pope (and his ideological fellows) changes as much as possible through insinuation and indirect action. Everything is plausibly deniable or can be contextually explained away. But everyone hears that there is a new practice. They begin to act in kind. I have little doubt some divorced and remarried Catholics, seeing the handwriting on the wall, have already taken it upon themselves to present themselves for communion, feeling certain in their hearts that the pope himself is okay with this. What starts as an abuse may become an indult or pastoral discretionary provision, and later, just the norm.
Just like communion in the hand.
And like communion in the hand, this will not only cause a great many sacrilegious acts to occur, but it will erode still further the belief in the Real Presence until such superstitious nonsense (as it will no doubt be looked upon) will be nothing but an unhappy memory.
If I’m right about any of this, you have to give him credit. It’s a remarkably effective end run around the requirements of indefectibility. Change praxis sufficiently and doctrine becomes irrelevant.
Steve Skojec is a storyteller, writer, blogger, photographer, designer, and sci-fi fan. He is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. He lives in Arizona with his wife Jamie and six of their seven children.