Vatican de­nies a rift be­tween the two popes

Bene­dict reaf­firms ‘ne­ces­sity’ of priestly celibacy in a new book be­fore Fran­cis weighs in on the is­sue.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD -

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Mon­day sought to down­play the de­ci­sion by re­tired Pope Bene­dict XVI to reaf­firm the “ne­ces­sity” of a celi­bate pri­est­hood, which comes just as Pope Fran­cis is con­sid­er­ing or­dain­ing mar­ried men. Of­fi­cials called his book a mere con­tri­bu­tion that was writ­ten in full obe­di­ence to Fran­cis.

The Vatican’s editorial di­rec­tor, An­drea Tornielli, penned an editorial that sought to put Bene­dict’s bomb­shell book in the con­text of a con­ti­nu­ity be­tween the two popes. He noted that Fran­cis too had up­held the “gift” of priestly celibacy and re­fused to make it op­tional across the board.

The French daily Le Fi­garo late Sun­day pub­lished ex­cerpts of the book, “From the Depths of Our Hearts: Pri­est­hood, Celibacy and the Cri­sis of the Catholic Church,” coau­thored with con­ser­va­tive Car­di­nal Robert Sarah. The As­so­ci­ated Press ob­tained gal­leys of the English edi­tion, which is be­ing pub­lished Feb. 20 by Ig­natius Press.

Bene­dict’s in­ter­ven­tion was ex­tra­or­di­nary, given he had promised to re­main “hid­den from the world” when he re­tired in 2013 and pledged his obe­di­ence to the new pope. He has largely held to that pledge, though he penned an odd es­say last year that blamed the sex­ual abuse cri­sis on the sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion of the 1960s.

His reaf­fir­ma­tion of priestly celibacy, how­ever, gets to the heart of a fraught pol­icy is­sue that Fran­cis is ex­pected to weigh in on in the com­ing weeks. It could well be con­sid­ered a pub­lic at­tempt by the former pope to sway the think­ing of the cur­rent one.

The im­pli­ca­tions for such an in­ter­ven­tion are grave, given that con­ser­va­tive and tra­di­tion­al­ist Catholics nos­tal­gic for Bene­dict’s ortho­doxy are al­ready deeply op­posed to Fran­cis.

The book is likely to fuel re­newed anx­i­ety about the wis­dom of Bene­dict’s de­ci­sion to call him­self “emer­i­tus pope,” rather than merely a re­tired bishop, and cre­ate the un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tion of a former pope liv­ing in the Vatican gar­dens.

In that light, it is sig­nif­i­cant that the English edi­tion of the book lists the au­thor as “Bene­dict XVI,” with no men­tion of his emer­i­tus pa­pal sta­tus on the cover.

The au­thors clearly an­tic­i­pated the po­ten­tial in­ter­pre­ta­tion of their book as crit­i­cism of the cur­rent pope and em­pha­sized in their in­tro­duc­tion that they were two bish­ops pen­ning it “in a spirit of fil­ial obe­di­ence, to Pope Fran­cis.” But they also said that the cur­rent “cri­sis” in the church re­quired they not re­main silent.

Fran­cis has said he will write a doc­u­ment based on the out­come of the Oc­to­ber synod of bish­ops on the Ama­zon re­gion. A ma­jor­ity of bish­ops at the meet­ing called for the or­di­na­tion of mar­ried men to ad­dress the priest short­age in the Ama­zon, where the faith­ful can go months with­out a Mass.

Fran­cis has ex­pressed sym­pa­thy with the Ama­zo­nian plight, though it is un­clear how he will come down on the is­sue. Although he has long reaf­firmed the gift of a celi­bate pri­est­hood in the Latin Rite church, he has em­pha­sized that celibacy is a tra­di­tion, not doc­trine, and there­fore can change.

Speak­ing to re­porters last Jan­uary, he noted that the­olo­gians had de­bated pas­toral rea­sons to al­low for an ex­cep­tion in a par­tic­u­lar place. But he said his de­ci­sion at that time was to say “no.”

Gre­go­rio Bor­gia As­so­ci­ated Press

POPE Bene­dict XVI, left, shown with Pope Fran­cis in 2014, pledged “fil­ial obe­di­ence” to Fran­cis in the book.

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