- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2020

Leading Catholic thinkers on Monday offered context mixed with criticism of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s reaffirmation of celibacy in the priesthood in a new book, an apparent rebuke of Pope Francis‘ reported consideration of easing rules against marriage for clergy in the Amazon.

The Rev. James J. Martin, who is viewed as a Francis ally, is the editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America. On Twitter, he acknowledged that Benedict has the right to express his thoughts in public.

“But here, he is speaking out on an issue that was one of the main topics for the recent Synod on the Amazon and is now under consideration by the Pope,” the Rev. Martin tweeted. “Some may see this as a great theologian contributing to the conversation; but given his unique role, some may see this as a ‘parallel magisterium,’ which can lead to disunity.”

Ulrich L. Lehner, a history professor in the Theology Department at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, told The Washington Times that would-be critics of Benedict’s new book should remember that its contents aren’t new or revolutionary.

“The book clearly states that the contributions from Pope Benedict are from texts he had written in the past,” Mr. Lehner said. “I think Pope Francis will look favorably on these reflections as a good contribution to the dialogue over celibacy and the priesthood.”

Mr. Lehner pointed out that Francis‘ and Benedict’s words often have been “used for political games” within the Roman Catholic Church.

A French newspaper on Sunday excerpted part of “From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church,” a 175-page book that identifies Benedict and conservative Cardinal Robert Sarah as its co-authors. It will be published next month in English by Ignatius Press, a California-based Catholic publisher.

The book opens with pledge of obedience to Pope Francis, then argues forcefully against allowing married priests.

“Since serving the Lord likewise requires the total gift of a man, it does not seem possible to carry on the two vocations simultaneously,” Benedict writes. “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.”

Francis reportedly has mulled allowing priests in South America to marry in order to boost dwindling ranks and bring Mass and the Eucharist to remote portions of the Amazon, as discussed during October’s Amazon Synod. He is expected to release his own response to the synod next month.

Raymond Arroyo, anchor and news director of Catholic EWTN News, welcomed the retired pope’s words, calling them “big news.”

“Pope Emeritus Benedict and [Cardinal Sarah] have taken a stand against ordaining married men to the priesthood, which was endorsed at the Amazon Synod last year,” Mr. Arroyo said.

But Charles Collins, a managing editor of the online Catholic newspaper Crux, wrote that Benedict’s supposed rebuke falls flat, given that the two popes share beliefs about celibacy.

“[P]ainting this latest chapter as an attack on Francis is more the stuff of cable television than reality,” Mr. Collins wrote.

Meanwhile, Andrea Tornielli, an official with the Vatican’s own news service, posted an “editorial” to tamp down suggestions that Pope Francis, widely seen as more tolerant and less doctrinally rigid than Benedict, is soft on priestly celibacy. She noted that the Argentine Jesuit described celibacy as a “gift to the church” during an airborne press conference last year.

Still, Malta Archbishop Charles Scicluna, an ardent Francis supporter, warned Catholics in a tweet that they “forget the teaching & wisdom of the II Vatican Council to our peril,” noting a decree from the era of major church reform in the 1960s that said celibacy was “not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood.”

In order to administer the Eucharist in remote areas of the Amazon, Francis and other church leaders have contemplated allowing married men to become priests. Benedict himself allowed married Anglican priests to convert to Catholicism and become members of the clergy, though on a case-by-case basis.

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