Thursday 23 January 2020

Cardinal denies he tricked Benedict over celibacy book

Two popes: Francis and Benedict XVI differ in their views about priestly celibacy. Photo: Reuters
Two popes: Francis and Benedict XVI differ in their views about priestly celibacy. Photo: Reuters

Nicole Winfield

The Vatican cardinal who co-authored a controversial book with Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI reaffirming priestly celibacy has denied that he manipulated the retired pontiff into publishing it.

Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, who heads the Vatican's liturgy office, spoke out after news reports quoting "sources close to Benedict" claimed the retired pope never saw or approved the finished product.

Cardinal Sarah reproduced letters from Benedict making clear the 92-year-old pope had written the text and approved publishing it.

The controversy underlines the conservative-versus-progressive battle lines within the Catholic Church following Benedict's 2013 decision to retire, and his successor Pope Francis' more reform-minded papacy.

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Benedict's intervention in the book 'From the Depths of Our Hearts' had the appearance of being an attempt to interfere with Pope Francis' ministry.

Francis has said he will publish a document in the coming weeks that is expected to touch on whether married men could be ordained priests in the Amazon in South America to deal with a shortage of priests in the region.

Benedict's reaffirmation of the "necessity" of priestly celibacy in the book gave the impression the former pope was trying to influence the thinking of the current one.

His intervention was also surprising, given he had vowed to live "hidden from the world" when he retired in 2013, specifically to avoid any suggestion that he still wielded papal authority.

Catholic Twitter accounts, amplifying the rift between right and left, were buzzing about the implications of Benedict's intervention.

Francis's supporters claimed Benedict had been manipulated by members of his right-wing entourage into writing something that amounted to a direct attack on Francis. Some claimed it was evidence of elder abuse, given Benedict is 92 and increasingly frail.

Conservatives, many of whom long for Benedict's orthodoxy, claimed it was no such thing and noted Francis too has reaffirmed the gift of priestly celibacy.

The Vatican tried to dampen down the furore by insisting the book was a mere "contribution" to the discussion about priestly celibacy written by two bishops in "filial obedience" to Francis.

Cardinal Sarah denied there was any manipulation on his part and said Benedict was a part of the process. He tweeted three 2018 letters from Benedict making clear the retired pope had provided him the text.

Irish Independent

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