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By Francis X. Maier, First Things, Jan. 15, 2020
Francis X. Maier writes from Philadelphia.
Author’s note: On January 14, in the latest curiosity from Rome, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI asked through a spokesman that his name be removed from a pending book on priestly celibacy, in which he and Cardinal Robert Sarah were listed as coauthors. While acknowledging that the pope emeritus had collaborated with Sarah, the spokesman stated Benedict had never agreed to be named coauthor. Cardinal Sarah, for his part, stressed that Benedict had been fully aware of the book project, and following “several exchanges in order to develop the book,” he had sent a “complete manuscript” to the pope emeritus in November: “as we had jointly decided, the cover, a common introduction and conclusion, the text of Benedict XVI and my own text.” In an alternate, more tranquil (and healthier) reality, one with less frenzied media and less toxic ecclesial politics, the book with its shared concerns might proceed to public consumption. If it did, a review, based on the actual, advance-copy text, would go like this:
In the wake of the recent Amazon Synod, Catholics are living through another conflict on the matter of priestly celibacy. Happily, From the Depths of Our Hearts, by Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah, serves our obligation to honesty and clarity exceptionally well in any discussions of a married priesthood.
Mandatory priestly celibacy has been a source of controversy since Vatican II. Among the arguments advanced against it are today’s obvious need for more priests, as well as the centuries-long tradition of a married priesthood in Eastern Orthodox and various Eastern Catholic communities. If priestly celibacy is merely a discipline of the Western Church, then disciplines can be changed. Moreover, a married presbyterate—so the reasoning goes—would have practical advantages: Mission cultures often see celibacy as an alien and negative value; more men would be willing to consider the priesthood if they could marry; and incidents of clerical sex abuse might thereby be reduced. …