Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has entered the debate over the future of the priesthood, contributing to a book by Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Vatican’s liturgy chief, which defends the general rule of clerical celibacy.
The book’s publication was marred by confusion over Benedict’s role. It was first announced as a jointly authored book, but a Benedict aide then said there had been a misunderstanding and that Benedict had asked not to be listed as co-author.
What the book says
Only extracts had appeared at the time of going to press. These suggest that the book has an urgent tone, calling on “everyone – bishops, priests and lay people – to stop letting themselves be intimidated by the wrong-headed pleas, the theatrical productions, the diabolical lies and the fashionable errors that try to put down priestly celibacy”.
Benedict’s contribution is a reflection on priestly self-sacrifice as presented in the Old Testament – where the Levites could not own land – and the New, where “priests, because they are radically consecrated to God, renounce marriage and family”.
Cardinal Sarah writes that his Guinean village was converted partly by the “radical character” of the missionaries’ lives, including the example of their celibacy, which helped inspire the cardinal himself to become a priest.
What commentators are saying
At One Peter Five, Steve Skojec said that this was a new development in Benedict’s public role since relinquishing the papacy: “the first time he’s spoken out in such a direct manner to confront something that is currently unfolding in the Church”.
Le Figaro’s Rome correspondent Jean-Marie Guénois pointed out that the book contains “no aggression or polemics” against Pope Francis; on the contrary, the writers stress their obedience to and respect for the Pope.
But Sandro Magister of L’Espresso quoted the book as begging the Pope to veto “any weakening of the law of priestly celibacy, even if limited to one region”. Francis convened the Amazon synod, Magister wrote, “which in reality, more than on rivers and forests, was a furious discussion on the future of the Catholic priesthood”.
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