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Vatican: Pope’s phone calls don’t change doctrine

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(CNN) — They’re just phone calls, people.

That’s the message the Vatican sent to reporters on Thursday, a day after news broke about a private conversation between the pontiff and a woman in Argentina.

Pope Francis, who is from Argentina and was archbishop of Buenos Aires for many years, reportedly called Jacqueline Sabetta Lisbona and told her it was OK to receive Communion, despite her civil marriage to a divorced man.

“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,” the woman’s husband, Julio Sabetta, told Channel 3 Rosario, a CNN affiliate in Argentina.

Does that mean the Pope was overturning centuries of church doctrine?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: No way, says the Vatican.

“Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships,” Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

That’s right, it’s far from the first time Francis has cold-called Catholics, who are often shocked to hear “Father Bergoglio” on the line. (Before he was elected pope last year, Francis was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires.)

But these calls are private, said Lombardi, and should not be construed as changing church doctrine.

“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,” Lombardi said.

“Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.”

As the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office, told CNN on Wednesday:  “The magisterium of the church is not defined by personal phone calls.”

There has been wide speculation, though, that the Pope has essentially laid out his position on divorce and Communion, months before a synod of bishops from around the world is scheduled to debate the issue.

While it is difficult to change canon law (after all, the church draws its teachings on marriage from Jesus himself), Catholic leaders have said they could at least streamline the annulment process, which sometimes drags on for years.

Any change would potentially affect millions of divorced and remarried Catholics around the world, many of whom have been pining for the church to allow them to receive Communion again.

As Julio Sabetta said on Wednesday, “I’m very happy, because I’m not the only one divorced.”

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