Inside a home in an Argentine river town called San Lorenzo, a telephone rang. For the next 10 minutes, an ordinary Argentine woman says she spoke to Pope Francis — and that their discussion may signal a profound change for millions of Catholics across the world. Could it be? The Church has confirmed the Monday telephone call happened. But it won’t say what it was about.
Either way, Jaqui Lisbona, a dark-haired Argentine woman with a broad smile, says her life had changed.
Her story begins with a problem. Jaqui Lisbona loved her civil law husband. She had been with him for 19 years. They had had two children together and shared a life. They considered themselves staunch Catholics. She and her husband prayed every night and turned to God “always.” “When someone is in a difficult situation, God is the first one to turn to,” she says.
But her husband, Julio Sabetta, had previously been divorced — a fact that, according to Church teachings, would restrict him and possibly even her from receiving communion. Jaqui Lisbona didn’t know what to do. The last time she tried to take the Eucharist was last year, but the local priest not only denied her communion, but also told her she couldn’t go to confession. “[They told me that] when I went home, I resumed a life of sin,” she told the Buenos Aires radio station La Red Am910.
Distraught, she “spontaneously” wrote down her concerns about “violating church rules” – and shipped it off to the Vatican for Pope Francis. “I wrote to him because he’s Argentinean, he listens to people and I believe in miracles,” she said.
Six months passed. Then on Monday, the phone chirped at her San Lorenzo home. Her husband answered it. On the other end was someone who identified himself as “Father Bergoglio” — and he was asking to speak with Lisbona. “My husband asked, ‘Who’s calling?’ The voice replied, ‘Father 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 in September.”
Lisbona claims the Pope told her “there was no problem” with her taking communion, and that he was “dealing with the issue” of remarried divorcees, the Vatican Insider reports. ”He said my letter was useful in helping him address this issue. … Then he told me there are some priests who are more papist than the Pope.”
The Vatican declined to comment on Wednesday, but doesn’t deny the phone call occurred. The Vatican considers the Pope’s personal phone calls to individuals private, according to the Catholic Reporter. ”It’s between the Pope and the woman,” one spokesperson told CNN.
Lisbona’s recollection, if true, marks another sharp departure from tradition for a pope who today is widely recognized as the most tolerant pontiff in a generation. From his widely-publicized “who am I to judge?” remark on homosexuality to his repudiation of some of the luxuries his position affords, Pope Francis hasn’t shown reservation over wading into some of today’s most contentious issues.
But even by his standards, his reported leniency on divorce — not to mention the phone call’s unusual circumstances — may represent just how open to change Pope Francis has become. The alleged discussion has heightened expectation that there may be additional, and more concrete, alterations to Church teachings ahead. In October, a worldwide meeting of bishops will revolve around what Pope Frances has called ”pastoral challenges to the family.”
Catholic teaching holds that a divorced members of the Church must first obtain an official annulment of their marriages if they’re to be remarried in the Church. What’s more, according to the New Jersey Trenton diocese, Catholics aren’t allowed to marry someone who is divorced unless he or she has had an annulment.
Neither Lisbona nor husband Julio Sabetta responded to requests from The Washington Post on Thursday morning, and it’s unclear whether Sabetta has had an annulment. What is clear, however, is that he was pretty stoked on Monday about the Pope’s alleged phone call.
“After the birth of my daughters, today passed one of the most beautiful things,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “I had my house called by no one more or less than PAPA Francisco and it was the biggest thrill. The call originated with a letter my wife sent him. And he took the time to call and talk to her. … Thank God for this blessing.”
And from the The Vatican Insider comes this interesting footnote: “The priest who apparently refused to administer Communion to [Lisbona], no longer exercises his ministry. He asked to be dispensed from his obligations as priest so he could get married.”