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Relax; the Pope didn't change Church teaching with a phone call

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 24, 2014

At times, rather than reporting all the known facts about a news story, it would be easier to report all the things we don’t know. The Pope’s telephone conversation with a woman in Argentina is a conspicuous example.

We know that Pope Francis spoke with Jaquelina Lisbona. That much has been confirmed. But we don’t know exactly what the Pope told the Argentine woman. Nor do we know the particulars of her situation.

Did the Pope really say that divorced people can receive Communion? But of course they can! The obstacle is not divorce in itself, but remarriage. Jaquelina Lisbona is neither divorced nor remarried. Her husband is. But for all we know, she and her husband are now living as brother and sister, in which case there would be no reason why she could not resume receiving the sacraments.

It’s significant that Jaquelina Lisbona was not happy with the international attention that came her way when this story broke. She was looking for pastoral advice, not publicity. Now suddenly her marital situation is splashed across the world’s headlines.

The mass media, always hungry for details, would like Pope Francis to issue a clarification, explaining exactly what he said during that phone call. But how could he do so, without violating the confidentiality of the conversation? The public has neither a need nor a right to know about the details of Jaquelina’s relationship with Julio Sabetta.

But this much we do know: The Pope did not change the Church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage. Catholic doctrines are not altered by phone calls.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Apr. 25, 2014 6:37 PM ET USA

    What concerns me is that people are even thinking that Church teaching is going to change. Something has happened whereby even faithful Catholics feel nervous about whether core Church teachings are going to change. I work in a Diocesan Chancery and it is a time of confusion, largely spurred by the media, but by a confused presentation of doctrine.. There is a great deal of uncertainty, and progressive Catholics are empowered by media soundbytes, and believe they have an ally in Pope Francis.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Apr. 25, 2014 9:26 AM ET USA

    No, they are not altered, but they can be undermined. It's hard to see what exactly Francis hoped to accomplish here, but they were not in a confessional and he should have understood the conversation might be "leaked", at least in part. That possibility always presents an opening for those interested in watering-down or questioning the Church's teachings. Of all people, Francis should have learned this by now.

  • Posted by: lak321 - Apr. 24, 2014 9:13 PM ET USA

    Great analysis. Thank you!