Ignatius Press: Claim that Benedict XVI did not co-author book on celibacy is false

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

.- The publisher of a new book on priestly celibacy, written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, told CNA Monday that critics suggesting that the pope emeritus did not co-author the book, or authorize its publication, are wrong.

“Are these people really implying that Cardinal Sarah is involved in a conspiracy to distort the truth?” Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, editor-in-chief of Ignatius Press, asked Jan. 13.

“If Cardinal Sarah is telling [Ignatius Press] that the chapters from Pope Benedict are from Pope Benedict, we take his word for it,” Fessio said, adding that the publisher stands by its attribution of the book to both Sarah and Benedict.

The priest’s comments were a response to a tweet from Eva Fernandez, Vatican correspondent for COPE Radio, a radio station owned by the Spanish bishops’ conference.

Eva Fernández@evaenlaradio

Una fuente muy cercana a asegura que él no ha escrito el libro “a 4 manos” junto al cardenal Sarah y que no ha dado su autorización a que se publicara.
Tan sólo le facilitó un escrito sobre el sacerdocio en el que estaba trabajando.
Lo contamos en @linternacope

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Fernandez tweeted that “a source” close to Benedict XVI had told her that Benedict did not write the book with Sarah, or give authorization for its publication.

Fernandez said that Benedict “only made available a text about the priesthood on which he was working.”

Fessio, a long-time friend of the pope emeritus, told CNA that was untrue.

“Regarding Ignatius Press: we don’t do ‘fake news’” he told CNA.

The book, “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” consists of chapters written individually by Benedict and Sarah, as well as an introduction and conclusion credited jointly to them.

In the book, Benedict and Sarah argue that priestly celibacy is not merely an optional feature of Church life today, but an ontological necessity for the priesthood.

The introduction to the book says that it arose from a series of meetings in recent months between Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah, “while the world was echoing with the din created by a strange media synod that overrode the real Synod.”

Some voices at the October 2019 synod made a case for the priestly ordination of married men in the Amazon region, ostensibly as a response to a lack of vocations. But other synod participants said that the lack of priests in the Amazon region is not caused by the obligation of priestly celibacy, and that the Church must pray for vocations and strengthen priestly formation in the region.

Cardinal Sarah was among the synod participants opposed to the idea of relaxing ecclesial discipline on celibacy.

Priestly celibacy is also on the agenda of the “binding synodal process” undertaken by the Church in Germany.

Responding to this ongoing discussion, Benedict and Sarah are releasing “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” published in English by Ignatius Press. It can now be preordered, and is due to ship Feb. 20. Itis due to be published in French this week.

In the book, Benedict examines the history of the priesthood in the Old and New Testaments, saying that a proper understanding of the nature of the priesthood is crucial in answering contemporary questions about the priesthood.

“At the foundation of the serious situation in which the priesthood finds itself today, we find a methodological flaw in the reception of Scripture as Word of God,” Benedict said.

Abandoning a Christological interpretation of the Old Testament has led to a “deficient theology of worship” among many modern scholars, who fail to recognize that Jesus fulfilled the worship owed to God, rather than abolishing it, he continued.

Looking at the history of the priesthood in the Old Testament, Benedict said that “the relation between sexual abstinence and divine worship was absolutely clear in the common awareness of Israel.”

He noted that the priests of Israel were required to observe sexual abstinence during their time that they spend leading worship, when they were “in contact with the divine mystery.”

“Given that the priests of the Old Testament had to dedicate themselves to worship only during set times, marriage and the priesthood were compatible,” he said. “But because of the regular and often even daily celebration of the Eucharist, the situation of the priests of the Church of Jesus Christ has changed radically.”

Since the entire life of the priest in the New Covenant is “in contact with the divine mystery,” he said, it demands “exclusivity with regard to God” and becomes incompatible with marriage, which also requires one’s whole life.

“From the daily celebration of the Eucharist, which implies a permanent state of service to God, was born spontaneously the impossibility of a matrimonial bond. We can say that the sexual abstinence that was functional was transformed automatically into an ontological abstinence. Thus its motivation and its significance were changed from within and profoundly.”

The pope emeritus rejected the idea that priestly celibacy is based on a contempt for human sexuality within the Church. He noted that this claim was also dismissed by the Church Fathers, and that the Church has always viewed marriage as a gift from God.

“However, the married state involves a man in his totality, and since serving the Lord likewise requires the total gift of a man, it does not seem possible to carry on the two vocations simultaneously,” he said. “Thus, the ability to renounce marriage so as to place oneself totally at the Lord’s disposition became a criterion for priestly ministry.”

Just as the priests from the Tribe of Levi renounced ownership of land, priests in the New Covenant renounce marriage and family, as a sign of their radical commitment to God, he said.

This is seen in the Psalm prayed when a man entered the clergy before the Second Vatican Council, he said: “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yes, I have a goodly heritage.”

Benedict’s theological reflection is followed in the book by a set of pastoral considerations from Sarah.

“My bishop’s heart is worried. I have met with many priests who are disoriented, disturbed and wounded in the very depths of their spiritual life by the violent challenges to the Church’s doctrine,” Sarah said.

“I speak up so that everywhere in the Church, in a spirit of true synodality, a calm, prayerful reflection on the spiritual reality of the sacrament of Holy Orders can commence and be renewed.”

The cardinal called priestly celibacy “the expression of the intention to place oneself at the disposal of the Lord and of men and women,” adding that “Priestly celibacy, far from being merely an ascetical discipline, is necessary to the identity of the Church.”

Ordaining married men would create a “pastoral catastrophe,” risking the Church’s understanding of both the priesthood and itself, Sarah warned. “If we reduce priestly celibacy to a question of discipline, of adaptation to customs and cultures, we isolate the priesthood from its foundation.”

“This total delivering of himself in Christ is the condition for a total gift of self to all men and women,” he said. “He who has not given himself totally to God is not given perfectly to his brethren.”

While some exceptions exist – such as when some married Protestant pastors become Catholic and are able to be ordained priests – the shortage of priests in isolated areas is not such an exception, he said.  Ordaining married men in these communities “would prevent them from giving rise to priestly vocations of celibate priests,” which would create “a permanent state detrimental to the correct understanding of the priesthood.”

Sarah questioned whether the call for married priests among “isolated, poorly evangelized populations” is intended “to prevent them from discovering the fullness of the Christian priesthood.”

The cardinal said that he has met with isolated communities who were living the faith through prayer and scripture without the support of priests and sacraments, similar to the situation faced by some communities in the Amazon. He recalled their “unimaginable joy” at being able to participate in a celebration of the Mass.

“Allow me to state forcefully and with certainty: I think that if they had ordained married men in each village, they would have extinguished the Eucharistic hunger of the faithful,” he said. Ordaining married men would prevent young Churches from the experience of seeing themselves as the Bride of Christ and encountering Christ as Bridegroom through the radical encounter of a celibate priest, he said.

Sarah added that he would not be a priest today if it were not for his encounter with celibate missionary priests in his youth, because it was the radical nature of their lives that impacted him.

The cardinal also argued that “[t]he Eastern married clergy is in crisis,” pointing to comments by some members of these churches noting tension between the priestly and married states, as well as the problem of divorce by priests.

He also rejected calls for female ordination, while encouraging a deeper study of “the feminine charism,” in order to properly recognize the role and contributions of women in the Church.

Concluding their work, Benedict and Sarah encouraged the discussion surrounding celibacy in the Church to be carried out with a proper understanding of the nature of the priesthood.

“It is urgent and necessary for 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,” they said.

They called for priestly celibacy to be examined through a “fresh look with the eyes of faith.”

“This fresh look will be the best rampart against the spirit of division, against the spirit of politics but also against the spirit of indifference and relativism,” they said.

On Jan. 13, Andrea Tornielli, editorial director for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, wrote an op-ed praising the book.

“Ratzinger and Sarah — who describe themselves as two Bishops ‘in filial obedience to Pope Francis’ who ‘are seeking the truth’ in ‘a spirit of love for the unity of the Church’ — defend the discipline of celibacy and put forth the reasons that they feel counsel against changing it,” Tornielli wrote.

[Editor’s note: Catholic World Report is owned and operated by Ignatius Press.]


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7 Comments

  1. I have translated into English many works by Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger and three volumes by Robert Cardinal Sarah, and therefore am well acquainted with the characteristic argumentation and inimitable style of each author. I have carefully read *From the Depths of Our Hearts* in the French edition by Fayard, and I’m certain that each author wrote the chapter of the book attributed to him and that the two authors co-wrote the introduction and conclusion. Cui bono? [Latin: For whose benefit?] For the good of the Church.

  2. With great respect for the authors, and while affirming the profound value of celibacy, some thoughts…

    ´Since the entire life of the priest in the New Covenant is “in contact with the divine mystery,” he said, it demands “exclusivity with regard to God” and becomes incompatible with marriage, which also requires one’s whole life…´

    Isn´t the incompatibility from the perspective of the general tradition of the Latin rite? Surely there is no implication that the ´exceptions´ in the Latin rite (eg: former Anglican clergy who are married) or the tradition in some of the Eastern rite Churches constitute some form of – (unsure how to phrase this…perhaps) – ´incompatible´ ´deficiency´…?

    ´“However, the married state involves a man in his totality, and since serving the Lord likewise requires the total gift of a man, it does not seem possible to carry on the two vocations simultaneously,”…´

    Again, does this imply that married Eastern rite priests / Latin rite exceptions are NOT carrying out the two vocations simultaneously?

    (https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2019/05/08/eastern-rite-priest-tells-pope-marriage-has-made-him-a-better-cleric.html )

    “Thus, the ability to renounce marriage so as to place oneself totally at the Lord’s disposition became a criterion for priestly ministry.”…´

    became a criterion for priestly ministry *in the Latin rite.*

    “He who has not given himself totally to God is not given perfectly to his brethren.”

    Surely there is no implication that married priests in the Eastern rite have, simply by the fact of being married, not given themselves totally to God…?

    Not saying that the authors of the book had such an intention – but the public discussion and debate on this issue should proceed carefully without giving an impression that the tradition and experience of the Eastern rite Churches with married clergy is somehow ´subpar´.

    ´…Ordaining married men would create a “pastoral catastrophe”…´

    Sweeping generalization?
    Ordaining married men as an exception in remote areas which don´t see a priest for many months
    and
    ordaining married men across the board / making celibacy optional
    – surely there is a difference between the two?

    Ordaining married men in these communities “would prevent them from giving rise to priestly vocations of celibate priests,” which would create “a permanent state detrimental to the correct understanding of the priesthood.”…´

    ´Prevent´ and ´permanent´ seem to be strong and definitive words. Is there an implication that the Holy Spirit´s ´hands´ would be so tied up that He cannot stir up priestly vocations of celibate priests even in remote communities where married priests are allowed as an exception?

    ´Sarah questioned whether the call for married priests among “isolated, poorly evangelized populations” is intended “to prevent them from discovering the fullness of the Christian priesthood”…´

    Is there an (unintended) implication that ´the fullness of the Christian priesthood´ lies in celibate priests alone (from which it follows that the Eastern rite tradition is ipso facto ´subpar´)?

    ´…I think that if they had ordained married men in each village, they would have extinguished the Eucharistic hunger of the faithful…´

    Would there be a difference between ¨each¨ village and ´some remote villages´?
    And once again – does this imply that there is no (or ¨less¨) ´Eucharistic hunger of the faithful´ in Eastern rite communities?

    ´Ordaining married men would prevent young Churches from the experience of seeing themselves as the Bride of Christ and encountering Christ as Bridegroom through the radical encounter of a celibate priest, he said.´

    Implying that (Eastern rite) Churches that do have married men are preventing the faithful from the experience of seeing themselves as the Bride of Christ?
    Does encountering Christ as Bridegroom through the radical encounter of a celibate priest imply that Eastern rite communities have never encountered Christ as Bridegroom because they are served by married priests?

    ´The cardinal also argued that “[t]he Eastern married clergy is in crisis,” pointing to comments by some members of these churches noting tension between the priestly and married states, as well as the problem of divorce by priests…´

    Is the crisis due to clergy being allowed to be married?

    (https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2019/08/21/married-priesthood-celibacy-and-the-amazon-synod-an-eastern-catholic-priests-perspective/ )

  3. “´Ordaining married men would prevent young Churches from the experience of seeing themselves as the Bride of Christ and encountering Christ as Bridegroom through the radical encounter of a celibate priest, he said.´”

    That image is metaphorical anyways… there are other bigger problems in proclaiming the kerygma and catechizing the faithful.

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