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Cardinal Sarah: The priesthood “is in mortal danger … going through a major crisis”

The Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments talks with Edward Pentin about celibacy, criticisms of Benedict XVI, the formation of priests, and  the clerical sexual abuse scandals.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, smiles as he chats with U.S. bishops before a meeting at the congregation at the Vatican Jan. 14, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In an exclusive interview with National Catholic Register‘s Edward Pentin, Cardinal Robert Sarah addresses a number of controversies while discussing From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church, written with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and due out soon in English from Ignatius Press.

A few excerpts:

• On reason for writing the book: “Because the Christian priesthood is in mortal danger! It’s going through a major crisis.”

• On Benedict XVI: “Just like today, attempts have been made to silence him. And like today, diversionary maneuvers were mounted to divert attention from his prophetic message. Yet I am convinced that he has told us the essential — what no one wants to hear. He has shown that at the root of the abuses committed by clerics, there is a deep flaw in their formation.”

• On criticisms of Benedict XVI: “I know that he takes on everything that is written in this book with determination, and I know that he is delighted with its publication. He wanted to write and publicly express this joy, but they would like to prevent him from expressing it. But to recount in detail, hour by hour, these maneuvers is useless. I prefer not to dwell on these sordid machinations, for which those responsible will one day give an account before God.”

• On criticism of the book: “So they try to delegitimize the book itself. Having nothing to oppose in the text, they attack the cover. What a pity! They make the pope emeritus out to be an old man. But have you read what he writes? Do you think one can write pages of such depth without having all one’s faculties? Some people want to pass us off as naïve. They try to make us believe that our publishers have manipulated us and have taken advantage of a misunderstanding to mount I don’t know what kind of communication stunt. This is totally false! There is no misunderstanding.”

• On the effects of poor priestly formation: “Some [priests] have fallen into the diabolical logic of abuse of authority and sexual crimes. If a priest doesn’t daily experience he is only an instrument in God’s hands, if he doesn’t stand constantly before God to serve him with all his heart, then he risks becoming intoxicated with a sense of power. If a priest’s life is not a consecrated life, then he is in great danger of illusion and diversion.”

• On the scandal of celibacy: “Celibacy for God is an absurdity in the eyes of the secularized and atheistic world. Celibacy is a scandal for the contemporary mind. It shows that God is a reality. If the life of priests does not concretely show that God is enough to make us happy and to give meaning to our existence, then who will proclaim him? More than ever our societies need celibacy because they need God.”

Read the entire interview on the National Catholic Register site.

An excerpt from Benedict XVI’s chapter in From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church can be read here at CWR: “The Catholic Priesthood”.

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. They would like to prevent Benedict, They try to make us believe we’re naive, manipulated. On scandal of celibacy A witness to the world that God fulfills our existence (Cardinal Sarah). The loved by many impugned by less than many Cardinal finally addresses his contentiousness with They. He has been chided for not naming the ‘They’ his traditionalist critics seems to know. Who are they? Does ‘they’ envision Pope Francis’ biographer and those ‘they’ who are within the chain of ecclesial command? From my perspective it’s neither important nor prudent to name names. ‘They’ know full well who they are. Ancient scripture Leviticus spells out the essence of Cardinal Sarah’s theology of Roman Catholic [some call us with hidden admiration those Latins] priesthood. The Levite priest is to have no inheritance, no portion of land. God is his reward.

    • It goes well behind names. For example – excessive bureaucratization. Or destruction of Christian culture, namely theology.

      We can name some bad theologians or some arrogant bureaucrats but this alone doesn’t guarantee nothing. Since what is really missing is appreciation of Christ’s “I am the way, the truth, and the life”.

      We don’t have to look into medieval success of the Church. This was unique in human history. Rather, Christianity is back in ancient-like times with really a few followers of living Christ.

  2. Long has a spectrum of unbelief consigned the seven sacraments a range of diminished importance. The present offensive on all seven coming from within the Church itself speaks indeed their depth significance or they would not be under rabid assault.
    Outward and efficacious signs instituted by Christ to give grace, that they are.
    We know them to be indeed efficacious because observing them abused and abandoned – debased as anthropological artifacts, cultural artifices – by those who would have Roman Catholicism eradicated by means of a carefully staged and systematic deconstructionism termed post-conciliar Catholicism or a “new paradigm” – their agenda is bearing its toxic fruit.
    1 Corinthians 11:27 sears the mind.
    Shadow “sacraments,” life in Christ unsustainable, no Church, Christ abandoned.
    If pre-concilar Roman Catholicism was in need of substantial “reform” the program did not require it to be dismantled and recreated in the image and likeness of … who?
    What did we get?
    After their protracted and reptilian effort, Bergoglio and his syndicate.
    No, any approach to upholding the Church and its restoration need have been approached with the scrupulousness of a surgeon. As a conservator undertakes the repair of a fine work of art. Not with a bulldozer and replacing it with a confection of his own. We are in the hands of unbelieving Philistines.
    God reward Cardinal Sarah and the other preciously few faithful watchmen.

  3. It is well worth reading the full interview with Cardinal Sarah on the NCR site.
    He speaks with great passion and power because he is speaking the truth.

  4. In the book “To the priests, Our Lady’s beloved sons,” written over a span of about 25 years, starting in the early 70’s, all the scandals of the priesthood that emerged in recent years are described as well as the causes and solutions to the Church’s problems today.

  5. NO, no no. Lo que el Cardenal Sarah trata de explicarles es que la clerecía está en el peligro de creer en su ‘aristocrática posición de privilegio’ cuando son en realidad los servidores del laicado universal en el ministerio de la Gratia Gratis Data.

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