Pope Benedict XVI makes rare statement on priest celibacy debate

Cheryl Sanders
January 14, 2020

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. In their book, however, Benedict and Cardinal Sarah argue that while the early Church allowed married men to be ordained, those married priests were required to abstain from sex.

"I can not be silent" write the two prelates in their introduction to the work, which rose out of discussions during last fall's synod of bishops on the Amazon region, in which certain participants pushed for the ordination of married men in remote regions to alleviate the Catholic priest shortage.

Upon stepping down from the papacy on February 28, 2013, the conservative Benedict pledged to remain "hidden from the world" and promised "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor.

Benedict caused a stir past year by writing an essay for a German newspaper in which he blamed the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal on the effects of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, homosexual cliques in seminaries and what he called a general collapse in morality.

To more fully understand Benedict and Sarah's point, look no further than Deutsche Welle's report on the new book: "Some believe the more progressive Pope Francis may attempt to remove celibacy as a requirement for all priests" - even though Francis is on record saying the exact opposite.

The 92-year-old says "it doesn't seem possible to realise both vocations [priesthood and marriage] simultaneously".

"Thus, the ability to renounce marriage so as to place oneself totally at the Lord's disposition became a criterion for priestly ministry", he wrote, according to an excerpt published by the Associated Press. The retired Pope has issued a defence of celibacy for priests in what has been described as an unusual intervention in clerical matters.

This file handout picture taken and released by Vatican Media on December 21, 2018, shows Pope Francis (L) meeting with Pope Benedict XVI (R) at the Vatican.

The book has raised fundamental questions about Benedict's role as emeritus pope and to what extent he has become a lightning rod for conservatives unhappy with Francis's reformist agenda. "I would say that I do not agree with allowing optional celibacy, no".

Kurt Martens, professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, said: "A former pope should not speak in public about anything at all".

"Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift to the Church".

Benedict's 2009 document Anglicanorum Coetibus provided for the establishment of Ordinariates to provide pastoral care for former Anglicans who had become Catholic; including their mostly married clergy.

Grasso said that the office of emeritus pope has not been clearly defined, leaving what he called "a willful ambiguity within the Church".

'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 write. "For priests, this is the foundation of the necessity of celibacy but also of liturgical prayer, meditation on the Word of God and the renunciation of material goods".

Those meetings never happened, and the two men didn't know one another well before Francis was elected pope. But while the film takes artistic liberties for the sake of narrative, it gets the point across that Francis and Benedict indeed have very different ideas - which the new book bears out. "Let's pray for healing for the critics that they can rejoice in a new work from two great churchmen of our time, including a major theologian".

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