Papal clash: Benedict accused of ‘interfering’ with a synodal process

By Barry Duke
January 13, 2020

Book image courtesy of Ignatius Press

DOMINATING religious and secular media outlets today is the ‘shocking’ news that Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has co-authored a book in which he insists that priestly celibacy must be retained by the Catholic Church.

Joshua J McElwee, writing for the National Catholic Reporter, says of the book – From the Depths of Our Hearts (Des profondeurs de nos cœurs):

Although the volume is yet to be seen in full, it appears to signify something as yet unexperienced in the two millennia history of the Catholic Church: a retired pope openly weighing in on something currently under consideration by his successor, the reigning pontiff.

According to excerpts from the volume, written in conjunction with Cardinal Robert Sarah, the head of the Vatican’s liturgy office, the ex-pontiff says he could not remain silent on the issue as Francis is contemplating allowing priests to marry, a move requested by the bishops from the nine-nation Amazon region at last October’s controversial Vatican synod gathering which outraged conservative Catholics – and was marked by an act of vandalism.

McElwee said that one noted theologian – Massimo Faggioli, a historian and theologian at Villanova University – called Benedict’s decision to write on the issue a “serious breach.”

It interferes with a synodal process that is still unfolding after the Amazon synod … and threatens to limit the freedom of the one Pope.

A Catholic World report points out that Ratzinger and Sarah insist that priestly celibacy is more than “a mere precept of ecclesiastical law”, and argue that a renewal of priestly celibacy is necessary for a renewal of a Church rocked by scandals.

According to a press release from the publisher, Ignatius Press:

The priesthood is going through a dark time. Wounded by the revelation of so many scandals, disconcerted by the constant questioning of their consecrated celibacy, many priests are tempted by the thought of giving up and abandoning everything.

Meanwhile the BBC reports that Pope Benedict says celibacy, a centuries-old tradition within the Church, has “great significance” because it allows priests to focus on their duties.

The 92-year-old says:

It doesn’t seem possible to realise both vocations [priesthood and marriage] simultaneously.

The BBC says it is rare for Pope Benedict, who was the first pontiff to resign in almost 600 years, to intervene in clerical matters.

The National Catholic Register points out that critics see the married priest proposal, extensively discussed at the synod and passed by just over two-thirds of the synod fathers:

As a step to weakening mandatory priestly celibacy in the Latin Church worldwide.

Quoting St Augustine of Hippo, Benedict and Cardinal Sarah state firmly: “Silere non possum!” (I cannot keep silent). And they call on bishops, priests and laity to cease being:

Impressed by poor arguments, theatrics, diabolical lies, and fashionable errors that want to devalue priestly celibacy.

According to a January 13 exclusive by Le Figaro’s Rome correspondent Jean-Marie Guènois, who has seen an advance copy of the book, Benedict draws on Christianity’s Jewish roots, dismisses Martin Luther’s theses in favor of married clergy and shows that priesthood and celibacy are part of the “new covenant” instituted by Christ in which “total oblation is the model.”



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