Oscar Crespo, a childhood friend of the Pope, said the pontiff revealed his “priorities” for his papacy during a visit to the Vatican in October. Mr Crespo, 77, from Buenos Aires, claimed the Pope told him he wanted to allow priests to marry because the law is “archaic”. The Pope also told him to pass a message to a woman “living in sin” who had been divorced that she could receive Holy Communion again. Argentinian teacher Claudia Garcia Larumbe told MailOnline she was “speechless” after receiving the message from the Pope. The Vatican said that “if” the Pope had these conversations they were private and “does not have any bearing on the teaching of the Church”.
By MATT ROPER IN BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
A childhood friend of Pope Francis has claimed that he intends to overturn the centuries-old ban on Catholic priests from getting married and that he told a divorcee “living in sin” that she could receive Holy Communion. The Pope considers the law on priestly celibacy “archaic” and ‘not part of the doctrine of the Church’, according to the confidante.
The friend also claimed the Argentinian-born pope also vowed to reform another Catholic rule which bars divorced people in new relationships from taking the Holy Communion, MailOnline can reveal. According to Oscar Crespo, Pope Francis said that changing the Catholic law which bars civil divorcees from taking a full part in church life is the “number one priority” of his papacy.
Mr. Crespo said that the Pope, 78, also sent a message to a divorced woman “living in sin” with a new partner assuring her that she was free to confess and receive the Eucharist. The Catholic church doesn’t recognise divorce, considering that anyone who remarries or starts a sexual relationship with another person other than the one they first married is committing adultery. Taking Holy Communion while in a state of sin is considered an even graver sin.
Argentinian teacher Claudia Garcia Larumbe had sent a message to the Pope via Mr. Crespo asking if she really was excluded from confessing or taking communion after moving in with her new partner. After Mr. Crespo reminded the Pope that church law “forbids” divorcees in new relationships from partaking in the holy sacraments, Francis said: “Just tell her the Pope said that she can”. Ms. Larumbe, 39, told MailOnline she was “speechless and emotional” after receiving the Holy Father’s personal dispensation to partake in the key Catholic sacraments. The revelations will bring fresh hope to millions of civilly divorced churchgoers, as well as thousands of clergymen who are increasingly uncomfortable about their lifetime celibacy vows. But in a sign the pontiff, who will celebrate his second anniversary as pope on Friday, does not intend to force through the radical reforms at the expense of Church unity, he told Mr Crespo: “Changes are made either with time or with blood, and I choose peace”.
Mr Crespo, 77, the best friend and former secondary school classmate of the Pope, travelled to Rome in October, and spent several hours with him in his private quarters at the Vatican. The retired food technician, who took with him letters and messages from students and staff of their former technical college, told MailOnline that the pontiff – real name Jorge Bergoglio, was ‘serious and passionate’ as he talked about what he described as his “two main plans”.
Speaking to MailOnline, he said: “He said, these were his priorities as Pope. The first of all is to change the rules for divorced couples”. “The second was to eliminate the law of celibacy. He said it was not part of the doctrine of the church. It was started more than 1,000 years ago by a pope, and he considers it archaic, an antiquity which needs to be reconsidered. “He thinks God made everyone to live in family, including priests”.
It is not the first time Francis – the first non-European pope for 1,700 years – has expressed his personal softer stance on the Church’s traditional views about priestly celibacy. In May, he told a group of reporters that celibacy is “a gift for the Church, but since it is not a dogma, the door is always open”. And a few weeks ago, when he was confronted by a campaigner for married priests, he replied that the issue “is in my diary”.
He made similar statements while Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and after his elevation to pope, his secretary of state told a newspaper that “celibacy is not an institution but look, it is also true that you can discuss (it) because as you say this is not a dogma, a dogma of the Church”. And last June the Pope abolished a rule which stopped Eastern Rite churches from ordaining married priests in countries where they have emigrant communities, such as the US. Until then married priests were allowed in countries where Eastern churches originated, but were banned in Western countries to where the churches migrated.
In October, the Pope convened an an extraordinary synod of bishops, where he invited the 150 holy fathers to focus on the family, including the the eligibility of divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. However, the summit, which many hoped would lead to a clear change of direction, ended with a watered-down document calling for further study on the issue after opposition from bishops. He has been even more outspoken about married divorcees, claiming that excluding them from Church life is akin to “excommunication”.
In December, in an interview with Argentinian newspaper La Nacion, Pope Francis questioned the divorced being excluded from the life of the Church. He noted that divorcees “cannot be godfathers to any child being baptised, mass readings are not for divorcees, they cannot give communion, they cannot teach Sunday school, there are about seven things that they cannot do, I have the list over there. Come on! If I disclose any of this it will seem that they have been excommunicated in fact! Thus, let us open the doors a bit more. Why can’t they be godfathers and godmothers?”.
Among the letters and message Mr. Crespo had delivered from the Pope’s former school in Buenos Aires, the Technical Industrial School No 27, was a question from learning difficulties teacher Ms Larumbe. The 39-year-old divorcee had decided to ask Francis for guidance after being told she was excluded from confession, communion and other important religious acts after moving in with her new partner. Remembering the Pope’s reaction after he told Ms Larumbe’s story, Mr Crespo said: “I told him how she longed to confess and receive communion, and he told me, «go back and tell her that she can». I was surprised by his response and I said to him, «but isn’t that forbidden?». He said, «just tell her the Pope says that she can»”.
MailOnline tracked down Ms. Larumbe, a devout Catholic since childhood, who explained that after marrying aged 30 she had divorced just a year later because “things didn’t work out”. After moving in with her new partner two years later, she was told she was no longer able to confess or receive Communion because, according to Catholic teaching, she was considered to be “living in adultery”.
She said she eventually stopped frequenting the San Antonio de Padua church she had belonged to. She told MailOnline: “I was told I couldn’t be with someone else other than the person I had married. I was very confused. I had been part of Church all my life. I had no idea about this law, but as a good Catholic I accepted it. I didn’t feel like I was being treated badly, I felt like the sinner they said I was. I knew that God sees everything and didn’t want to fall out with God, so I felt it was better to obey the rules and stop being part of my Church”.
When Ms. Larumbe heard that the Pope’s old schoolmate Mr. Crespo was going to visit him at the Vatican, and had offered to deliver letters from students or staff, she decided to send a message. She said: “When I heard it was already too late for me to write a letter, so I called Oscar and asked if he could mention my situation to the Pope. I said I wanted to be part of the church, I wanted to be able to confess, but I wasn’t able to because I had divorced. I just wanted some advice, but I never expected to get an answer back. But when Oscar got back he called me and said he had spoken personally with the Pope and that he had given me permission himself. I was speechless and so emotional, I couldn’t believe I’d got a message directly from the Pope”. But she claims she kept Francis’ message to herself, for fear of offending her priest and fellow churchgoers. She said: “I still haven’t done them yet. I don’t feel comfortable, because of what other members of the community might think. I’ve decided to wait until it’s official for every Catholic, not just for me. I don’t want it to be allowed just for me, I want it to be allowed for everyone”.
In April last year, media reports claimed Pope Francis phoned an Argentinian woman from whom he had received a letter, Jaquelina Lisbona, telling her she may receive Communion despite being married to a man who is divorced. However, in a statement released by the Vatican, the pope’s spokesman said that, while the phone call had taken place, media reports about its content “cannot be confirmed as reliable”. He added that “the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences”.
In a sign that Pope Francis faces a tough battle to bring about reforms, Ms Lisbona’s priest, Fr. Jose Ceschi, later told a local radio station he didn’t believe the Pope would have given her permission to receive communion. He said: “The pope would never do that, is impossible. If he is coming from a previous sacrament and they are living together is absolutely impossible”.
On Mr. Crespo’s comments on the Pope’s view on divorce, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said: “If the Holy Father did have this conversation it forms part of his personal relationships and was a private conversation which does not have any bearing on the teaching of the Church. The Synod on the Family is in course so the issue [of the divorced in new relationships] is being addressed. The Pope has already said what he has to say on the divorced – remarried at the Synod last October and the issue will be discussed again at this year’s Synod”. On the issue of priestly celibacy, he said: ‘We don’t know what the Pope may have said as part of a private conversation. We only know what he says in public. Since such conversations do not form part of the Pope’s public activities, no comments from the press office should be expected. “Such conversations should be seen in the context of personal pastoral relationships”.