April 23rd, 2014
03:46 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor
(CNN) - 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."
It's not the first time Pope Francis has cold-called Catholics, who are often surprised to hear "Father Bergoglio" on the line. (Before he was elected Pope last year, Francis was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires.)
His informal style, honed during years as a parish priest, has led some to call him the "people's Pope."
The Pope told Jacqueline Sabetta that the Vatican would be discussing its Communion restrictions, according to her husband.
Pope Francis and other top Vatican leaders have said the issue will be discussed at a gathering of bishops from around the world in October. The Pope was not pre-empting that debate, according to Rosica.
"To draw any conclusions about this particular situation, that the Pope may be setting an agenda, is incorrect," he said. "The Pope is first and foremost an esteemed pastor, and dealing with a human situation is always complex."
However, Pope Francis has signaled that some sort of change could be on the horizon.
Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reaffirmed church teaching in October that divorced and remarried Catholics may not receive Communion without an annulment.
Muller's clarification came after some German bishops planned to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
The issue of divorced Catholics receiving Communion forms a complex and controversial area of church law.
According to the church's catechism, "The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble."
Canon law further says, "If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman, he is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit adultery; and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has drawn another's husband to herself."
However, the church does allow divorced Catholics who do not remarry, as well as those whose marriages have been annulled, to receive Communion.
Church leaders like Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, a close confidant of Pope Francis', have suggested that the church cannot change its laws but could streamline the annulment process, which can sometimes drag on for years.
Jacqueline Sabetta Lisbona told La Red AM910 in Buenos Aires that her husband, not she, has been divorced. That makes little difference in church law, but Lisbona told the radio station that the Pope said he'll use her letter to "support his argument."
Julio Sabetta said he and his wife have been married for 19 years and have two children.
"I'm very happy, because I’m not the only one divorced. There are a lot of people who are divorced, and I hope that … that it happens for all divorced people and all those who want to get the Holy Communion,” Sabetta told Channel 3 Rosario.
CNN's Delia Gallagher and Cindy Rodriguez contributed to this report.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.