Retired Pope Benedict XVI sought to distance himself from an upcoming book that deals with the issue of priestly celibacy and asked that he no longer be listed as its author, his co-author, Cardinal Robert Sarah, said Tuesday.
A French newspaper published excerpts from the book over the weekend, angering some Roman Catholic scholars who said Benedict risked destabilizing the incumbent pope, Francis.
“It is decided that the author of the book for future publications will be: Cardinal Sarah, with the contribution of Benedict XVI,” Sarah, who heads the Vatican’s liturgy office and is from Guinea, said Tuesday.
He added that the full text of the book, “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” “remains absolutely unchanged.”
Benedict's personal secretary told Reuters on Tuesday that he had asked Sarah to contact the publishers and make the necessary changes.
Benedict’s reaffirmation of the “necessity” of priestly celibacy in the book is a fraught policy issue that Francis is expected to weigh in on, and the book ran the risk of being considered a public attempt by Benedict, who resigned in 2013, to sway Francis' thinking.
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Sarah also outlined on social media on Tuesday how the book came to be published after news reports quoting “sources close to Benedict” had claimed the retired pope never saw or approved the finished product.
Sarah said that he had been in touch with Benedict in September and asked him to write something “about the Catholic priesthood, with careful attention on celibacy.”
Benedict responded that he had already started writing on the topic. After seeing Benedict’s text, Sarah informed him that their joint writings would make a better book than an article, and Benedict agreed.
Providing further proof of their interactions, Sarah published letters between him and Benedict on his Facebook page.
Sarah ended Tuesday’s statement pledging his loyalty to Francis, as he and Benedict did in their joint introduction to the book, where they said they were writing “in a spirit of filial obedience, to Pope Francis."
The storm surrounding the book forced the Vatican press office to put out a statement Monday affirming Francis' commitment to celibacy and pointing out his recent statements on the topic.
"The position of the Holy Father on the issue of celibacy is well known," the Vatican said.
It quoted the pope as saying on a recent flight from Panama that "personally I think that celibacy is a gift for the Church. I do not agree with allowing celibacy as an option, no. This could be a possibility only in the most remote of areas — I think of the islands in the Pacific Ocean — where there are priesthood needs. Priests need to think of the faithful."
Benedict announced his decision to resign in February 2013, citing the physical and psychological strains of the papacy. Francis was elected the following month. At the time of his resignation, Benedict pledged to stay "hidden from the world" in prayer and isolation.
Rachel Elbaum reported from London, Deborah Lubov from Rome.