Vatican Corner 01-26-2020

Pope Benedict XVI, was the first pope in the modern era to retire. He promised when he stepped down in 2013 and took the title of “Pope Emeritus” that he would remain “hidden to the world. However, he has not remained hidden entirely. A 6,000 word essay by the former pope came out in April, 2019 in a German magazine for priests, about the sex abuse crisis in the Church. Benedict claimed it was caused in part by the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the liberalization of the Church’s moral teaching. Conservatives hailed the essay while liberals called it an embarrassingly wrong explanation for the abuse of children by priests and the cover-up. Now a new book published January 15, 2020, written partly by Benedict makes a firm defense of priestly celibacy at the same time when Pope Francis is making a critical decision on the ma*er. Pope Francis may decide to lift the restriction on married priests for remote areas of the world such as the Amazon region. Conservative critics consider this the first step on a slippery slope that will result in the end of the centuries-old tradition of celibacy for priests. Former pope Benedict has no power to make any official Church decrees, but has maintained an influence over a small but powerful group of Church conservatives who look to him to validate their views. One question that has comes to mind is if the 92 year-old and increasingly feeble former pope is being taken advantage of by those conservatives? Church historian Roberto Rusconi considers the new book: “From the Depths of our Hearts” an open and direct attack on Francis by “reactionaries” inside the Church. The other author of the new book is Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, a Vatican official appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He is a top conservative. It was suggested that Cardinal Sarah inappropriately put Benedict’s name and face on the book cover. Cardinal Sarah rejected allegations that he had tricked Benedict into joining his opposition to Pope Francis on the ma*er of priestly celibacy. He said Benedict had agreed to the text to be published in the form he had seen. However, after the dispute arose over Benedict’s involvement in the new book, Benedict’s name was removed as coauthor. Benedict said “he never approved any project for a coauthored book, and never saw nor authorized the cover.” The 175 page book itself defends the “necessity” of a celibate priesthood where one enters a life as a priest, becoming one with Jesus Christ and renouncing all that belongs only to the individual. The book says since a married man is devoted entirely to his family and “serving the Lord” requires a similar degree of devotion, “it does not seem possible to carry on the two vocations simultaneously.” The Vatican tried to downplay the decision by retired Pope Benedict to reaffirm the “necessity” of a celibate priesthood, calling the new book having a mere contribution from Benedict that was written in full obedience to Francis. There has been some talk that it may be time to put restrictions on the conduct of papal retirees into canon law.