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Two Popes, and One Big Furor After Benedict Weighs in on Priestly Celibacy

In a new book, the former pope makes a firm defense of celibacy for priests as Pope Francis is expected to decide whether to allow married priests in remote regions. Let the intrigue begin.


The theologically fraught relationship between two living popes — fictionalised in a current movie — is beginning to have very real consequences for the Roman Catholic Church. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Pope Benedict XVI, the first pope in the modern era to retire, promised when he stepped down in 2013 and took the title “Pope Emeritus” that he would remain “hidden to the world.”

But in a new book written in part by Benedict, to be published on Wednesday in France, the former pope makes a firm defence of priestly celibacy at the same time that his successor, Pope Francis, faces a critical decision on whether to lift the restriction on married priests. It is a move that Francis seems open to, but his critics consider a first step on slippery slope toward the end of the centuries-old tradition.

In the book “From the Depths of our Hearts, the retired pope makes an impassioned case for priestly celibacy, writing about the “impossibility of a marital bond” for priests and that in the church’s tradition, renouncing marriage “became a criterion for priestly ministry.” The excerpt became an opening salvo.

Whisper campaigns conducted by pro-pope and pro-pope-emeritus partisans are nourishing a duelling pope’s story line, with anonymous allegations from team Benedict in the Italian press suggesting that Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, a top conservative prelate and Vatican official, had inappropriately put Benedict’s name and face on the cover of his book . Talk grew over whether the time had come to enshrine restrictions on the conduct of papal retirees into canon law, and the Vatican scrambled to insist that there was nothing to see here.

Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Benedict’s closest collaborator, told the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress that at the pope emeritus’ request, Sarah had called his publisher to ask that Benedict’s name and photograph be removed from the book cover. Benedict had not co-authored the book, Ganswein explained, but had merely contributed sections with his thoughts on the priesthood.Sarah declined to comment.

While French publisher Fayard has agreed, the book’s US publisher, Mark Brumley, the president of Ignatius Press, where said he had no intention of stripping Benedict’s name from the book’s cover. “The text we received indicates the two authors are Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah,” he said. NYT

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