Controversy continues over a book penned by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Robert Sarah: From the Depths of our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy, and the Crisis of the Catholic Church.
A timely meditation on the priesthood and particularly on the place of celibacy in the order of priestly life, the news of the book’s release has generated significant heat. One area of discussion has been the manner in which the contributors to the volume are to be identified on the covers of the various editions.
The leading French daily, Le Figaro, which broke the story of the book’s impending publication, on Tuesday reported that the French first edition will be released Wednesday, as-is, but subsequent editions will have a new cover attributing the book to: Cardinal Sarah avec la contribution de Benoît XVI.
On Tuesday afternoon, Archbishop Gänswein told Le Figaro the introduction and conclusion of the work will be billed as: Written by Cardinal Sarah, read and approved by Benedict XVI. “This,” Gänswein further explained, “is so as to avoid the impression that this is a book written jointly (Fr. a quatre mains), while Benedict XVI made his simple contribution.”
Meanwhile, the English-language publisher of the book, Ignatius Press, say no one has asked them to change any part of it.
“We have not received any request to change anything,” the president of Ignatius Press, Mark Brumley, told the Catholic Herald. Brumley also said Ignatius had received the French manuscript “a little before Christmas” and that everything seemed to be in order. “All we have are tweets and news reports,” Brumley said, but no request to make alterations of the book, which is being prepared for printing.
After news of the book’s impending release in several languages broke on Sunday, a series of narratives developed.
First, Benedict was violating the self-imposed terms of his retirement in order to weigh in against the Pope on a major question of Church discipline. That narrative was seriously weakened when it became apparent that the Pope Emeritus and the cardinal prefect were defending the Pope’s own publicly stated opinion on the matter.
Commentators at the same time complained that the book would have the effect, at least, of reinforcing the notion that Benedict is still somehow officially responsible for safeguarding Church teaching and exercising Church governance.
The “parallel magisterium” line took a hit when galley proofs showed that Cardinal Sarah — not Benedict — was unambiguously the author of the most strident passages, including recommendations against any further change or exception to the long-standing discipline of the Latin Church with respect to priestly celibacy.
Then, sensational social media teasers and salacious headlines proclaimed Benedict did not co-author the book. It became clear in fairly short order, however, that the issue of authorship was rather technical in nature. The chapter attributed to the Pope Emeritus was “100% Benedict,” in the words of Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who is also the Prefect of the Papal Household, who spoke to Germany’s KNA.
Ganswein said the same on Tuesday afternoon to Le Figaro, which further quoted him as saying, “We have checked the translation of the original German text, not a comma has been changed.”
Some doubt remains regarding the introduction and conclusion, both of which appear under the signatures of both the Pope Emeritus and the cardinal prefect in the first editions.
Italy’s ANSA news agency also quoted Archbishop Gänswein as saying Benedict contributed to the book, and knew it would be published, though explained that the Pope Emeritus had neither seen nor approved the cover design. “The Pope emeritus knew that the cardinal was preparing a book and had sent his text on the priesthood authorising him to use it as he would,” Gänswein told ANSA, “but [Benedict] had not approved any plans for a jointly-signed book, nor had he seen and authorized the cover.” Gänswein further stated the Pope Emeritus was not responsible for the introduction or the conclusion to the book, proofs of which obtained by The Catholic Herald show the signatures of both men beneath the disputed parts.
Gänswein characterized the business as “a misunderstanding, without questioning the good faith of Cardinal Sarah.”
Cardinal Sarah, however, had already released a carefully worded statement on Tuesday morning — backed by photographs of his correspondence with the Pope Emeritus that he had previously shared — the purport of which appeared to be that Benedict had seen the project and approved it. Nicolas Diat of Fayard, the French-language publisher that first received the manuscript, told the National Catholic Register on Wednesday that he understood Sarah had personally shared the manuscript and cover with the Pope Emeritus. “Cardinal Sarah sent a confidential letter [to Benedict] on November 19 with the full text,” the Register quotes Diat as saying. “The proofs were complete: introduction, the two texts, and the conclusion,” Diat also told the Register. “Then, on December 3, he showed the draft cover during an audience with Benedict XVI.” That recollection tracks with Cardinal Sarah’s own statements.
Adding to the confusion was a tweet Cardinal Sarah sent on Tuesday, saying the Benedict XVI would be named on the cover as a contributor to the volume. “Considering the polemics caused by the publication of the book From the Depths of Our Hearts,” Sarah tweeted, “it was decided that the book’s author for future publications will be: ‘Cardinal Sarah, with the contribution of Benedict XVI’.” Sarah also said, “[T]he full text remains absolutely unchanged.”
While debating the difference between a book that was “jointly authored” and one that contains complementary contributions from two authors may approach the level of discussion surrounding the what the meaning of “is” is, what is certain is that attention to the dietrologia — the story behind the story — combined with a polarised media climate to produce a mighty tempest in a teacup.
So far, the spin controversy has distracted from discussion of the arguments the authors’ contributors make to a major issue in the life of the Church. Here’s hoping that will change, as the broad public has a chance to read it.