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The Phone Call Heard ‘Round the World

by Christopher A. Ferrara
April 28, 2014

Ever since Pope Francis made a seemingly favorable reference to the practice of the Orthodox churches, which allow up to three marriages for their members as a “pastoral” measure according to oikonomia, it is fair to say that Francis has been engaged in a veritable campaign to introduce into the Catholic Church the possibility of a “pastoral solution” that would allow “some” divorced and “remarried” Catholics to receive the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion without committing to continence.

The facts speak for themselves:

  • Within days of his election, Francis publicly praised the patently heterodox Cardinal Kasper, who openly denies the historicity of the Apostolic Succession. In his very first Angelus address, Francis made it a point to single out Kasper, among all the theologians in the Catholic world, as “a talented theologian, a good theologian”.

  • The Pope designated Kasper as the only speaker at the recent “Extraordinary Consistory” of the Cardinals (February 20-21) in preparation for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod in October, which will consider precisely the supposed “pastoral problem” of the divorced and remarried.

  • During the Consistory, Kasper read a presentation to the Cardinals whose text included a five-point plan for the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Holy Communion without a commitment to continence — an impossibility rejected by John Paul II in Familiaris consortio and by Pope Francis’ own Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under (of all people) Cardinal Muller!

  • On the second day of the Consistory, Francis praised Kasper’s revolutionary proposal as “profound theology, and also a serene theological reflection,” noting that he had “read and reread Cardinal Walter Kasper’s document...”

  • On March 5, 2014, in an interview with Corriere della Sera, the Pope again praised Kasper’s address to the Cardinals, calling it “a beautiful and profound presentation...”
  • And then the phone call heard ‘round the world. The worldwide press is agog with the news that Pope Francis, in another of his famous “cold calls,” told an Argentinian woman who had married a divorced Catholic man that “a divorced person who goes to Communion is not doing anything wrong,” and that the parish priest who had refused her Communion is one of those “who are more papist than the Pope.” The Pope, strangely referring to himself as “Father Bergoglio” during the call, was responding to a letter from the woman asking him to intervene in her situation. The woman, one Jacquelina Lisbona, further claimed that “Father Bergoglio” told her to “go to confession and start taking Communion at a different parish.”

    As reported by CNN and all other major news outlets, Rev. Thomas Rosica of the Vatican Press Office confirmed the telephone call but would not comment on its contents. “It’s between the Pope and the woman,” he said. Clearly in desperate damage control mode, Rosica added: “The magisterium of the church is not defined by personal phone calls” and that “[t]he Pope is first and foremost an esteemed pastor, and dealing with a human situation is always complex.” In other words, the Pope must have said something along the lines of what Lisbona claimed while discussing her “complex” situation. Otherwise, why talk about “complexity” instead of simply declaring that Lisbona’s account is inaccurate?

    But what is so “complex” about this woman’s situation that would justify the Pope’s apparent total disregard for the constant teaching of the Church, affirmed by his own predecessor, whom Francis is about to canonize? As John Paul II insisted in Familiaris consortio:

    [T]he Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.
    Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance, which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples (internal quotation marks omitted).

    Of course, this teaching applies to Lisbona, who married a divorced man and thus stands with him in a state of continuing adultery, precisely as her parish priest informed her when refusing her the sacraments, prompting her letter to Francis.

    A further confirmation of the telephone call came from the head of the Vatican Press Office himself, Father Federico Lombardi, on April 24, 2014. Admitting that the call had been made, Lombardi stated:

    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.

    Simply amazing: the Vatican Press office must issue a warning that Catholics must not pay attention to what the Pope does when it comes to Catholic doctrine. The phrase “cannot be confirmed as reliable” is also interesting. Could not the Vatican Press Office have simply asked the Pope, or at least his secretary, whether the woman’s report of the conversation was accurate? Is it really the case that the same Pope who uses the telephone to call complete strangers out of the blue will not speak to his own official press spokesman to provide a confirmation or denial of what he said?

    One detects a tone of irritation or perhaps exasperation in Fr. Lombardi’s statement. And I am not the only one to notice it. I agree with Huffington Post that “Pope Francis’s habit of picking up the phone and cold calling people who write to him is landing the Vatican in hot water and spokesman Federico Lombardi has had enough.”

    Nor is Lombardi the only prominent cleric who has had enough. The popular blogger Father Dwight Longenecker can hardly be called a “radical traditionalist.” He is a converted Anglican cleric with a wife and children (presumably re-ordained under the Anglican Ordinariate approved by Rome for converted Anglican ministers). Yet here is what he had to say about Pope Francis’ latest eruption of spontaneity:

    I’ll be frank. For all his strengths, Pope Francis doesn’t seem to know his proper boundaries. He calls up a woman in Argentina to give her personal advice about her marriage? In doing so he criticizes one of his priests? As a parish priest I would never give personal advice to a parishioner from another parish unless that pastor knew the person was coming to me for advice and agreed to it. I would also never criticize another priest to one of the faithful....
    But the Holy Father thinks it is his job to call one of the lay faithful, advise them on their marriage and criticize their priest? Is this pope a micro manager or what? Reports from Rome are that he is an extreme micro manager and for all his warmth of personality and dynamism [and] “humility” he is very controlling.

    The neo-Catholic excuse factory is working overtime on this disaster. Jimmy Akin, then unaware that Lisbona had married a divorcee but was not herself divorced, offered the preposterous theory that the Pope annulled her first marriage and then performed a “radical sanation” (validation) of her civil marriage — over the telephone! Now I suppose Akin will argue that the Pope telephonically annulled the husband’s prior marriage and then validated the civil marriage to Lisbona, even though the Pope never even spoke to the husband, who simply handed the phone to his wife.

    Face the facts, neo-Catholics: we have an out-of-control Pope who will simply do whatever he pleases, whenever he pleases, leaving the Vatican Press Office to try to clean up one mess after another, left behind by a Pope who, indeed, “doesn’t seem to know his proper boundaries.” Only the Holy Ghost can protect the Church from the catastrophe Francis threatens to provoke in October if his Extraordinary Synod, following Kasper’s “beautiful and profound” theology of capitulation to endemic sin, opens the floodgates to Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried without requiring them to abstain from further sexual relations — thereby unleashing demands that all manner of obdurate public sinners receive the same “pastoral” consideration.

    Meanwhile, what of the damage this latest papal cold call will inflict on the Church? It is already truly incalculable.