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Pope Emeritus Benedict, Cardinal Sarah author new book on priesthood, celibacy

“The priesthood is going through a dark time,” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah say in their new book. “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.”

(Left) Pope Benedict XVI in February 2013; (right) Cardinal Robert Sarah in October 2018. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Image courtesy of Ignatius Press

A new book by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah will discuss the priesthood and clerical celibacy, and what the authors see as threats and challenges facing priestly ministry in the Church today.

From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy, and the Crisis of the Catholic Church, co-authored by the former pontiff and the current prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, will be published in English by Ignatius Press (which also publishes Catholic World Report).

The book came into being during the summer and fall of 2019, as the worldwide Church’s attention was turning to the Vatican’s Synod on the Amazon, which examined questions surrounding priestly ministry and celibacy in particular.

The authors 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. In a quote included in the press release, the Pope Emeritus and Cardinal Sarah state, “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.”

The book includes an introduction and conclusion by the two authors, and one chapter by each individually. In the introduction, the Pope Emeritus and Cardinal Sarah state that they “fraternally offer these reflections to the people of God and, of course, in a spirit of filial obedience, to Pope Francis.”

“Their book is not just about priestly celibacy, important as that is in itself,” Ignatius Press founder and editor Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, said. “It is about, as Pope Benedict describes it in his first paragraph: ‘the lasting crisis that the priesthood has been going through for many years.’ But it is about more than that; it is about the nature of the Church and of Christian discipleship. This is a book that all should read. It is powerful and personal — from the depths of their hearts.”

The book will be available for pre-order this week and is expected to ship February 20.

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  1. As I wrote to a friend…

    “Pretty big Church news hitting the shelves…A book cowritten by Cardinal Sarah and Benedict XVI emeritus/current/ex/pick-one Pope….politely telling Bergoglio to not screw with the priesthood, whether as to celibacy or ordaining women to the diaconate (which is a direct step to priesthood with younger vocations)….

    This is pretty much a game changer on that issue, as the German prelates have been in driver seat on this, with dreaded expectation Bergoglio is going to figure a way to weasle it in while proclaiming not really going against established doctrine but only a fuller expression flappatahflappatahflappatah….

    Of course, Bergoglio still could do so….but with a Cardinal still on his theoretical staff (even though neutered and isolated as was Mueller) plus a living former Pope, making the unprecidented public appeal through a thoroughly reasoned series of essays by masters of theology and both also truly saintly men, well, this is historic meddling, and expressing the same will and desire of at least half the world’s Catholics…

    And a mark of just how bad things have become…Benedict knows his time is limited…frail, wheelchair bound, failing voice, and mind still as brilliant as ever…but, he could go any day….and he considers it a duty to speak as he will be judged on whether he kept silent….and rest assured neither of those two men desire a schism, and see this as a way to lower the risk of that happening….absolutely no opponent of Bergoglio has said, “screw this guy, come follow us,” so dangerous do they see that prospect…

    But, this still has all the flirtation with exactly that schism happening, and shows alignments of power flexing muscle and resisting…”

    • And now Benedict requests his name removed from the book as author, placed there without his knowledge. Ha ha ha, “game changer” indeed. Just more Vatican backstabbing and back-biting.

  2. There are already married, formerly Anglican priests, working in England. One I happen to know personally, serves as a supply priest (substitute) for local parish priests who are worked to the point of exhaustion. As far as I know the sky has not fallen. Pope Benedict has been in ‘declining health’ for seven years. Cardinal Sarah is typical of conservative Anglican prelates from former colonies of the French and British. At age 75 he ought to try spending a week or two in the shoes of just about every parish priest I know, many of whom would enjoy the leisure time for writing books but are doing their best to keep alive the faith among a faltering, justifiably confused laity.

    • Can we give Pope Benedict and Cardinal Sarah credit for being attentive to the Holy Spirit and living out their vocations in truth? I’m certain if our Lord wanted the Cardinal to “try spending a week or two in the shoes of just about every parish priest” He is perfectly capable of letting him know. Perhaps it would be better if you let God be God.

  3. If celibacy is so essential to priesthood, why did Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI make it possible for many Anglican married priests to become priests in the Catholic Church. Celibacy while an important witness of service is obviously not essential to priesthood as St Peter would also testify. Make celibacy optional and I doubt if many priests will choose to be celibate. We need to stop glorifying celibacy over marriage and we need to stop glorifying the ministerial priesthood over the priesthood of all the baptised. There are many difficulties the Church is facing today. A book on the ministerial priesthood will do little to solve any of those problems. With 10 people leaving the Church for every one baptised, it is time for the Church to ask why and stop blaming secular culture or Vatican II.

    • Priests are not imitating St. Peter (you have no evidence to prove his wife was with him during his priestly ministry), rather they are acting as “another Christ” who was a celibate male.

      • Are you implying that St. Peter was not imitating Jesus because he was married? Just as there is “no evidence to prove his (Peter’s) wife was with him during his priestly ministry” neither is there any evidence in canonical scripture of Jesus’s marital status.

    • “Make celibacy optional and I doubt if many priests will choose to be celibate. ”


      I suppose we’ll not know that unless it’s tried but it’s not likely to greatly increase vocations. Have you looked at the numbers in denominations that allow clergy to be married? There’s no huge line of candidates there either. Mainline Protestant seminaries have been closing as church attendance shrinks.

      I think it’s partly about western Catholics having just one or two children & not encouraging an only son to become a priest. If you live in Nigeria & have eight children, you can be more generous. Africa’s where the Church is thriving & growing.

    • Mr. McCarthy, Pope Benedict XVI allowed Anglican married priests to become RC priests because he was respecting and responding to their sincere search for Truth. A search that led them to Rome. It is as simple as that.

  4. This is a profound response to a possible disaster. I would ask can you imagine Our Lady(as priest) saying at Mass This is my body. Christ was in her womb, not part of her body.

  5. James Casper
    “Cardinal Sarah is typical of conservative Anglican prelates from former colonies of the French and British.”


    I’m not sure of your experience in former French colonies but Anglican prelates aren’t usually in large supply. And I’m puzzled how Cardinal Sarah would be typical of Anglicans in the first place? But perhaps I’m missing something in your comments?

    I might agree that colonies tend to be more conservative/traditional than their mother countries, but I think that conserving what’s good is wise & sometimes the further you’re away from home, the more you appreciate its customs & traditions.
    Languages work that way, too. Older words & archaic usage can persist in colonies. Some of my neighbors still use words that died out of common use in 17th Century France.

  6. The sky not falling? Care to compare Anglican and Catholic ordination numbers or Sunday attendance numbers? These men accepted into ministry in the Roman Church were only an anomoly in order to provide them safe haven for orthodoxy, and in no way an edorsement AGAINST orthodoxy.

  7. Can’t say I think much of Mr. James Casper’s comment but he is typical of the don’t know anything about what Christ meant for his Church and priesthood to be ilk. Pope Benedict XVI is the one who allowed the Anglican priests to become Catholic and they are faithful and wonderful. However, the priesthood is still meant for celibate priests and we await God’s blessing to give us these wonderful men if we get past the current pontificate and secular world views.

  8. The conclusion of A Call to Arms, by Matthew Schmitz, senior editor of First Things:

    In different ways, Benedict and Sarah both recognize that clerical celibacy is not an arbitrary discipline. It is a sign that the Church refuses to follow the logic of this world and instead follows the logic of a world where men do not marry. So long as Christians are tempted to idolize earthly powers—party, nation, and market—we cannot dispense with this sign of loyalty to the heavenly city.

  9. This excerpt authored by Cardinal Sarah is a most beautiful testament to the true nature of priest celibacy, “In early 1976, when I was a young priest, I went to some remote villages in Guinea. Some of them had not received a visit from a priest in almost ten years, because the European missionaries had been expelled from Sékou Touré in 1967. However, the Christians continued to teach catechism to children and to recite the daily prayers and the rosary. They showed great devotion to the Virgin Mary and gathered on Sunday to listen to the Word of God. May I be allowed to say with certainty and with force: I believe that if married men had been ordained in every village, the Eucharistic hunger of the faithful would have died out. The people would have been separated from this joy of receiving, in the priest, another Christ. Because, with the instinct of faith, the poor know that a priest who has renounced marriage gives them the gift of all his spousal love” (Sandro Magister 1.13.20 from the French edition). During my mission experiences I never came across similar in Africa since missions once initiated generally continued. Except in the Am Southwest in remote areas of N New Mexico in and around Red River Mestizo settlements were cut off for various reasons, the Mexican Am War, ecclesial political issues between Spanish Franciscans and French Jesuits, difficult access. During the interim the people kept the faith with variances although their expression was exceptional retaining communal traditions like Las Posadas. Creating some of the most beautiful hymns ever. When we arrived [that is when they the first priests since the interim] the people expected complete dedication and holiness. If we fail Him Our Lord apparently turns to the laity.

    • The text I quoted was wrongly translated in the article as expelled “from” Sékou Touré. It should instead read expelled ‘by’ Sékou Touré. Ahmed Sékou Touré a Muslim was president of Guinea from 1958-1984.

  10. Pope Benedict’s sainted predecessor, Peter, spread the word of God throughout the known world. He, himself, traveling to the center of the Roman Empire. He was married when he did all this.

    A celebrate priesthood is a man made rule only enforced since the 16th century. No where in the bible does Jesus instruct the leaders of his community to live celebrate lives.

    The Catholic Church already has a married priesthood, the priests of the 20+ eastern rites. Even the Roman rite has married priests, those who converted from Anglican or Lutheran communions.

    The main hindrance to a married priesthood is financial. The church would have to pay the priests a living wage so the could afford to raise a family. This is a problem in the Eastern churches. May bishops consult with the wife of the priest about the potential hardships a transfer would have on the family and the family finances.

    • Please provide the evidence that Peter’s wife was alive when he was an apostle or that she traveled with him in his ministry.

      Celibacy was recommended and pushed well before your fanciful 16th century. Read on the council of Elvira.

    • “The main hindrance to a married priesthood is financial…. This is a problem in the Eastern churches.”

      This may be less of a problem in their home countries, in so far as a larger and more stable economic base is present.

    • ” He was married when he did all this. ”

      Oh? The only reason we know he was ever married was that his mother-in-law rose from her sickbed and ministered to Jesus and his followers. No mention of Peter’s wife’s being there or ministering to them; the logical conclusion would be that she was dead.

      “A celebrate [sic] priesthood is a man made rule only enforced since the 16th century.”

      Nonsense. It was centuries before that.

      “The main hindrance to a married priesthood is financial. ”

      Hardly. In 1 Corinthians 32-33 St. Paul doesn’t say anything about money. He does say, “He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord: how he may please God. 33But he that is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world: how he may please his wife. And he is divided.”

    • 1 After being choosen by Christ Peter lived in celibacy.
      2 When Paul speaks about bishop as one wife husband he is talking about moral life of candidate to preisthood regarded 6 commandment. Becouse you know early belivers became converted as adults so they were married and sometimes lead very bad life as for as 6 commandment is concerned before their convertions.
      3 There is not so much preasure and underline about celibacy in NT becouse it was obvious. Like for example 100 years ago nobody in any case had to underline that marriage is between man and woman and that there is only 2 genders. So nevertheless it is easy to find passages about pristly celibacy in NT

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