VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Robert Sarah has made a further impassioned plea not to weaken the mandatory celibacy rule for priests, saying it would be a catastrophe that would amount to an “attack on the Church and her mystery.”
In an exclusive Feb. 7 interview with the Register in advance of the publication later this month of the English edition of From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church, his new book on the priesthood with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the Guinean cardinal explains why he and Benedict wrote the book — namely to warn that separating celibacy from the priesthood, even just as an exception, would remove the priest’s imitation of Christ as spouse of the Church and turn her into a “mere human institution.”
And, in advance of next Wednesday’s release of Pope Francis’ post-apostolic exhortation on the Pan-Amazon synod, Cardinal Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, also explains how the exception proposed at the synod is different to previous exceptions and the situation with the Eastern Churches, and he notes that even when there were married priests in the early Church, they lived chaste lives.
He also discusses what he sees as one of the most serious problems facing the priesthood today: lack of apostolic fervor in the Church and lukewarmness. He urges radical discipleship and priests who are “radically saints.”
Cardinal Sarah also touches on the fracas over the book’s launch in French, stressing there was no misunderstanding but rather “sordid machinations” enacted by “opponents of the priesthood,” intent on diverting attention from the “content of the book.”
“They know their arguments are based on historical errors, on theological misunderstandings,” he says. “They know that celibacy is necessary for evangelization in mission countries. So they try to delegitimize the book itself.”
Your Eminence, why did you want to write this book?
Because the Christian priesthood is in mortal danger! It’s going through a major crisis.
The discovery of the great number of sexual abuses committed by priests, and even bishops, is an indisputable symptom of this. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had already spoken out strongly on this subject. But then his thinking was distorted and ignored. Just like today, attempts have been made to silence him. And like today, diversionary maneuvers were mounted to divert attention from his prophetic message. Yet I am convinced that he has told us the essential — what no one wants to hear. He has shown that at the root of the abuses committed by clerics, there is a deep flaw in their formation. The priest is a man set apart for the service of God and the Church. He is a consecrated person. His whole life is set apart for God. And yet they wanted to desacralize priestly life. They wanted to trivialize it, to render it profane, to secularize it. They wanted to make the priest a man like any other. Some priests were formed without putting God, prayer, the celebration of Mass, the ardent search for holiness at the center of their lives.
As Benedict XVI said, “Why has pedophilia reached such proportions? In the final analysis, the reason is the absence of God. It is only where Faith no longer determines man’s actions that such crimes are possible.”
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