2 popes cause furor over celibacy issue
Pope Benedict reaffirms need for celibate priesthood while Pope Francis weighs whether to ordain married men.
VATICAN CITY — Ever since Benedict XVI announced he would become the first pope in 600 years to resign, Catholic theologians, canon lawyers and others warned of the potential confusion in having two popes living side by side in the Vatican, one reigning, the other retired but calling himself “emeritus pope” and still wearing the white cassock of the papacy.
Their worst fears came true this week.
In a saga befitting the Oscar-nominated movie “The Two Popes,” Benedict co-wrote a book reaffirming the “necessity” of a celibate priesthood. There was nothing novel with his position, but the book is coming out at the same time Pope Francis is weighing whether to ordain married men in the Amazon because of a priest shortage there.
The implications of Benedict’s intervention were grave, since the issue of priestly celibacy is perhaps the most consequential and controversial decision on the current pope’s agenda. It raised the specter of a parallel official church teaching at a time when the church is polarized between conservatives longing for the orthodox purity of Benedict and progressives cheering Francis’ liberalizing reforms.
“It’s one thing to publish, as a private citizen, a book about Jesus as Benedict did before he resigned,” the Rev. Jean-Francois Chiron, a theologian at the University of Lyon, wrote in the French Catholic daily La Croix. “It’s another thing to take sides in important, current questions.”
On Tuesday, Benedict distanced himself from the publication and asked to be removed as the co-author of the book, “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” which is coming out in English next month.
The book’s English-language publisher, Ignatius Press said the book would carry Benedict’s name as co-author.
Former Pope Benedict XVI, right, has publicly urged Pope Francis not to open the priesthood up to married men.