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Vatican Warfare: Confusion and Chaos erupt after Benedict XVI distances himself from explosive new Book defending Priestly Celibacy

UPDATES 14-JAN-20 22:52 UTC:

UPDATE 15-JAN-20 19:25 UTC:

The latest Vatican chaos is complete.

As first reported on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, a new book defending priestly celibacy and opposing women’s ordination authored by “Pope Emeritus” Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) and head of the Congregation for Divine Worship “Cardinal” Robert Sarah will be released in French on Jan. 15 and in English sometime in February. Its title: From the Depths of Our Hearts (Ignatius Press).

It is amusing to see how some journalists have introduced this story by writing that “Benedict breaks his silence” — as though the man had actually been silent for any length of time since his retirement in 2013, but that’s not of primary concern now.

Several Novus Ordo sites quickly presented English excerpts from the book:

When this news first broke, reactions poured in rapidly, and rather predictably: For the most part, Bergoglio supporters were furious, and Bergoglio opponents were ecstatic. Writing for Vatican News, Francis’ in-house journalist Andrea Tornielli published a fairly calm and neutral report, suggesting agreement between the “Pope” and “Pope Emeritus” in the matter. So far, the only blogger we’ve seen give a refreshingly realistic assessment of it all is Louie Verrecchio.

Although it is true that Francis has stated in public before that he is in favor of mandatory priestly celibacy, after the last 6+ years we know that for someone like Francis, a change in this venerable and sacred discipline is only a footnote away. The Ratzinger/Sarah book itself by no means attacks Francis or tries to paint him as an opponent of mandatory celibacy, by the way. In fact, the two authors profess to be writing “in filial obedience to Pope Francis”, whatever that may be intended to mean.

On this blog, we hadn’t published anything about the explosive book yet because we were covering the developments on Twitter and were waiting for the dust to settle before including the essentials of the drama in our upcoming news digest. With the latest news coming from the Vatican, however, it is clear that a dedicated post is in order because what began as a major news item quickly turned into the usual Francis-vs.-Benedict kerfuffle and has now become a full-blown fiasco. Even now it is difficult to put a coherent post together on this because developments are happening in rapid succession.

So, what’s the deal? What is the story?

Aside from the predictable wars that immediately broke out between Bergoglians and Ratzingerites about whether publishing this book is right, prudent, even permitted, or an outrageous affront — and what its true significance is — a development of a different kind hit the news late on Jan. 13: Select pro-Bergoglio Vaticanists began asserting that Benedict didn’t in fact co-author the book. They were identified as including “Elisabetta Piqué (La Nación), Hendro Munstermann (Nederlands Dagblad), Christopher Lamb (The Tablet), Gerard O’Connell (America Magazine) and Juan Vicente Boo (” (source).

But things got more interesting still. Nicole Winfield of The Associated Press wrote:

Catholic Twitter accounts, amplifying the rift between right and left, buzzed with the implications of Benedict’s participation.

Francis’s supporters claimed Benedict had been manipulated by members of his right-wing entourage into writing something that amounted to a frontal attack on Francis. Some claimed it was evidence of elder abuse, given Benedict’s 92 years and increasing frailty.

(“Cardinal denies he manipulated retired pope on celibacy book”, Crux, Jan. 14, 2020)

In response to all these claims and rumors, “Cardinal” Sarah took to Twitter to disprove them. He furnished letters from the “Pope Emeritus” testifying to their collaboration on the work and approving publication.

Rome Reports summarizes the kerfuffle in this brief video:

The publisher of the English edition of the work, Ignatius Press, also weighed in and confirmed Sarah’s testimony, underscoring that Benedict XVI is indeed the co-author of the book.

Since then, things have only gotten worse.

The Vatican’s “Abp.” Georg Gänswein, who is both the head of Francis’ “papal” household as well as Benedict XVI’s private secretary, released a statement to the press today, Jan. 14. Vatican News reports as follows:

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Papal Household and Personal Secretary of the Pope Emeritus has issued a statement to the KNA and Ansa news agencies, regarding the book on priestly celibacy, carrying the signatures of Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah, to be published tomorrow in France.

“I can confirm that this morning, at the indication of the Pope emeritus, I asked Cardinal Robert Sarah to contact the publishers of the book requesting them to remove the name of Benedict XVI as co-author of the book itself, and also to remove his name from the introduction and conclusions”.

“The Pope emeritus in fact knew the Cardinal was preparing a book”, Archbishop Gänswein added, “and had sent a short text of his on the priesthood”, authorizing the Cardinal to use it as he wished. But the Pope emeritus “had not approved any project for a co-signed book, nor had he seen and authorized the cover. It was a misunderstanding, without questioning the good faith of Cardinal Sarah”.

(“The book on priestly celibacy: a clarification by Archbishop Gänswein”, Vatican News, Jan. 14, 2020)

Ah, it was all a big misunderstanding! How credible this claim is, is another matter.

For his part, Sarah released an official communiqué in French [English translation now available here] after having spoken to Ganswein on the phone. He is sticking by his version of events and emphasizes that Benedict approved the entire manuscript: “I solemnly say that Benedict XVI knew that our project would take the form of a book. I can say that we exchanged several drafts to set the corrections”. While accepting that Ratzinger would no longer be named as co-author (but apparently still as a contributor to the book), Sarah insisted that “the full text remains absolutely unchanged.” Furthermore, he affirmed: “My attachment to Benedict XVI remains in tact and my obedience to Pope Francis is absolute”, according to a report by ANSA.

Here are some additional news reports on this most recent development:

This is the latest as of almost 6:00 pm Rome time. Heaven knows what will happen next. One thing is for certain: Speculation as to what is going on behind the scenes will skyrocket with the removal of Benedict’s name and photo from the cover.

However, in this entire kerfuffle, let’s be sure not to miss the forest for the trees: The real story is that this new book is coming out right on cue.

On cue for what? For keeping the “good Modernist, bad Modernist” charade in the Vatican going, just as Francis prepares to release his dreaded post-synodal exhortation, which will probably permit married men to be made Novus Ordo priests in the remotest regions of the Amazon on the grounds that the people there are in dire need of sacramental administration. This will then prove to be the necessary proverbial foot in the door that will allow any future relaxing of clerical celibacy wherever there is claimed to be a similar “need”. In other words, the geographical peripheries will quickly morph into the ecclesiastical peripheries, in good Bergoglian fashion, and then decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis — wink, wink!

Image sources: own composite with elements from and Wikimedia Commons (François-Régis Salefran; cropped) /
License: paid and CC BY-SA 4.0 / fair use

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