A cardinal who co-authored a bombshell book with the retired former pope Benedict XVI in which he spoke out against allowing married men to become priests, has denied he manipulated him in order to push back against his reform-minded successor, Pope Francis.
The Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, who heads the Vatican’s liturgy office, spoke out after news reports quoting “sources close to Benedict” claimed Benedict never saw or approved the finished product.
Sarah reproduced letters from Benedict making clear the 92-year-old retired pope had written the text and approved its publication. “I solemnly affirm that Benedict XVI knew that our project would take the form of a book. I can say that we exchanged many drafts to make corrections,” he said.
The controversy underscores the conservative-progressive battle lines that have exploded in the Catholic church following Benedict’s decision in 2013 to retire and Francis’s election as his successor.
Benedict’s intervention in the book From the Depths of Our Hearts came weeks before Francis is expected to publish a document on whether married men could be ordained priests in the Amazon, to deal with a priest shortage there.
His reaffirmation in the book of the “necessity” of priestly celibacy gave the impression that the former pope was trying to influence the thinking of the current pontiff.
Benedict’s intervention was also surprising, given he had vowed to live “hidden from the world” when he retired in 2013, specifically to avoid any suggestion that he still wielded papal authority.
Catholic Twitter accounts, amplifying the rift between conservatives and progressives, were buzzing on Monday about the implications.
Francis’s supporters claimed the increasingly frail Benedict had been manipulated by members of his rightwing entourage into writing something that amounted to a frontal attack on Francis.
Conservatives claimed it was no such thing and noted that Francis, too, had reaffirmed the gift of priestly celibacy.
The Vatican insisted the book was a mere “contribution” to the discussion about priestly celibacy written by two bishops in “filial obedience” to Francis.
Sarah denied there was any manipulation on his part and said Benedict was very much a part of the process.
He tweeted three 2018 letters from Benedict making clear the retired pope had provided him the text prior to Francis’s Amazon synod, in which a majority of bishops backed ordaining married men as priests. After the synod concluded, Francis announced he would write his own reflections on its outcome.
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