Well, sort of. What the Vatican Press Office did say, in effect, is “No comment.”
Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See Press Office, responded this morning to widespread news reports that Pope Francis telephoned an Argentinian woman, Jacqui Lisbona. According to a story originating with the Telegraph, the Holy Father called to tell Lisbona–who is divorced and remarried–that she could receive Holy Communion. “Father Bergoglio told me…,” insisted the woman.
Lisbona wrote to the Holy Father six months ago to tell him that she had been refused Communion by her local priest, since she was married in a civil ceremony to a previously divorced man. Prohibited from marrying in church, they had instead opted for a civil ceremony. The Pope is reported to have told her, “A divorcee who takes communion is not doing anything wrong.” And if the message is truthful, he went on to say, “There are some priests who are more papist than the Pope.”
Julio Sabetta, Lisbona’s husband, is an Argentinian pastry chef. It was Sabetta who first broke the story via his Facebook page, writing,
“One of the most wonderful things in my life has just happened–receiving a telephone call from none other than Papa Francesco.”
According to Sabetta, it was he who picked up the phone when the Pope called, and he handed the phone to his wife. “We’re Catholics,” Sabetta wrote,
“….we believe in God, and though we don’t go to Mass every Sunday, every evening we thank the Lord for our family and our work.”
As news of the apparent departure from long-standing Catholic teaching has spread worldwide, Father Lombardi issued the following brief statement.
Statement from the Director of the Holy See Press Office
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.
What Does Existing Canon Law Say Regarding Communion for Divorced and Remarried Catholics?
Cathy Caridi, J.C.L., an American canon lawyer who practices law and teaches in Rome, offers a helpful analysis on her blog, Canon Law Made Easy. She explains:
The fact is, the Church does not teach that Catholics are forbidden to receive Holy Communion if they are divorced. Rather, it teaches that a Catholic who has been divorced and remarried, without having first obtained an annulment of the first marriage, is not permitted to receive the Eucharist.
For those of us who believe what the Catholic Church teaches about the sacraments, the logic of this position is actually quite straightforward. A Christian marriage lasts until the death of one of the spouses—unless a Catholic marriage tribunal has ruled that the marriage was null from the beginning (see “Marriage and Annulment,” among many others, for further discussion of Catholic marriage annulments). If a Catholic obtains a civil divorce, but does not have a declaration from the Church that his marriage was null, he is still married in the eyes of the Church—even if civil law asserts that his marriage has ended. A person in this situation cannot remarry in the Catholic Church; he is impeded from doing so because he is already married to someone else (c. 1085).
Consequently, if a Catholic does remarry under these circumstances, he necessarily does so outside the Catholic Church, either in a non-Catholic religious ceremony, or in a civil proceeding (before a justice of the peace, for example). The Catholic Church naturally does not accept that this second marriage is valid! Instead, the Catechism teaches that the remarried Catholic is living in a state of sin with the new spouse:
Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ—“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery”—the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. (1650).
In other words, society reasonably presumes that a husband and wife are engaging in sexual relations. Consequently, the Church regards the relationship between a Catholic and a second spouse as adulterous, if the first spouse is still living. And since adultery constitutes a grave moral evil, a Catholic who is living in this situation is not permitted to receive the Eucharist. To quote the Catechism yet again, “The sexual act must take place exclusively within marriage. Outside of marriage it always constitutes a grave sin and excludes one from sacramental communion” (2390).
If a divorced and remarried Catholic wishes to receive Holy Communion, what can he do? Catholic sacramental theology is unequivocal on this point, and so it doesn’t give him a lot of options. This is where the reverence due to the Most Blessed Sacrament fits directly into the picture. In order to safeguard the dignity of the sacrament, the Church will never, ever condone the reception of the Eucharist by a Catholic who persists in an adulterous union. Therefore, if a divorced and remarried Catholic wishes to receive the Eucharist, he must first repent of his adultery, and receive sacramental absolution. But in order to be truly sorry for his sins, a Catholic must have the resolution to avoid them in future. Thus the adultery has to end—it’s as simple as that.
This is why paragraph 1650 of the Catechism, noted above, concludes as follows: “Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.” A remarried Catholic must resolve that he will no longer engage in sexual relations with his second spouse—ever. This means that he must either separate from the second spouse altogether; or they must henceforth live together as brother and sister, rather than as husband and wife.