VATICAN CITY — The controversy regarding the book on the priesthood and priestly celibacy with parts penned by Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah has produced plenty of heat but not much light.
So what are the hard facts, as far as we know? Perhaps the first place to look is precisely what Cardinal Sarah and Benedict had previously agreed upon concerning the book entitled From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church.
Beginning with Cardinal Sarah’s statement, published Jan. 14, we learn that:
- On Sept. 5 last year, after visiting Benedict XVI at his Mater Ecclesiae residence, Cardinal Sarah wrote to the Pope Emeritus to ask him to write a text on the priesthood, especially on celibacy.
- He told him he didn’t expect Benedict to agree because of the “polemics” that such reflections could “potentially stir in the media” but that he was “convinced the entire Church needs this gift” that could be published around Christmas.
- On Sept. 20 Benedict replied, saying he had actually begun to write a text on the subject and Cardinal Sarah’s letter had encouraged him to finish the task.
- On Oct. 12, Benedict gave him a “long text” and Cardinal Sarah thought it too profound and lengthy for a newspaper. He therefore “proposed to the pope the publication of a book, integrating his own texts as well as mine.”
- Following “several exchanges in order to develop the book,” on Nov. 19 he sent a “complete manuscript” to Benedict, “as we had jointly decided, the cover, a common introduction and conclusion, the text of Benedict XVI and my own text.”
- On Nov. 25, the Pope Emeritus expressed his “great satisfaction concerning the sections prepared in common” and wrote a key sentence: “For my part, the text can be published in the form which you have planned.”
- On Dec. 3, he visited Benedict to explain “our book” would be printed over the Christmas holidays and released on Jan. 15 and that he would “bring him the work at the beginning of January after returning from a trip to my homeland.”
Following the announcement of the book which first appeared in the French newspaper Le Figaro on Jan. 12, a storm of criticism ensued against the cardinal and the pope emeritus, portraying both of them as at odds with Pope Francis and criticizing the cardinal for “using” Benedict in his dotage. Cardinal Sarah, widely seen as an honest man of integrity, said in his statement: “The polemic which has aimed to tarnish me for several hours by implying that Benedict was not informed of the appearance of the book From the Depths of Our Hearts is completely despicable.” He also said he “sincerely forgive[s] those who calumny me or who desire to put me in opposition to Pope Francis.”
“My attachment to Benedict remains intact, and my filial obedience to Pope Francis absolute,” he wrote.
In letters from Benedict to Cardinal Sarah, also published by the cardinal on Jan. 13, we have the confirmation from Benedict that prior to his letter, he had already begun “some reflections on the priesthood” but that his physical strength no longer allowed him to edit a theological text.
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