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‘I cannot keep silent’: Benedict XVI and Cdl Sarah defend priestly celibacy in new book

Benedict: 'Married men could only receive the sacrament of Holy Orders if they had committed themselves to sexual abstinence.’
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Diane Montagna By Diane Montagna

Diane Montagna By Diane Montagna

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ROME, January 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah have co-authored a new book on priestly celibacy, taking a firm stand against the priestly ordination of married men in the Latin Church. 

The timing of the new volume is significant. It comes ahead of Pope Francis’s highly anticipated post-apostolic exhortation on the recent Synod of Bishops on the Amazon. The meeting, which took place in October at the Vatican, proposed creating an exception to celibacy in the Latin priesthood.

Titled, “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” [De profoundeur de nos cœurs] the new book by the pope emeritus and the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments will first be released in French on January 15.

“The ability to renounce marriage in order to place oneself totally at the Lord’s disposal is a criterion for the priestly ministry,” Benedict XVI writes in the new book. “As for the concrete form of celibacy in the ancient Church, it should also be pointed out that married men could only receive the sacrament of Holy Orders if they had committed themselves to sexual abstinence, that is to say, to a Josephite marriage. Such a situation seems to have been quite normal during the first centuries.”

During the Amazon Synod last October, the synod fathers discussed the possibility of ordaining married men (viri probati) in the region as an exception.

In the wake of the synod, key members of the German hierarchy openly said that if such an exception is created, they too will make a push for married priests in Germany.

It is unknown where exactly Pope Francis stands on the issue of opening an exception for married clergy in the Latin Church. On January 27, 2019, during an inflight press conference on his return from Panama, Francis said he “personally” believes “celibacy is a gift to the Church” and does “not agree with allowing celibacy as an option.” But he added that he might envisage “some possibilities for very remote places,” like the Pacific Islands, where there is a “pastoral necessity.” 

This stance was reflected in the final document of the Amazon Synod. In section 111 of the document, which passed by a two thirds majority, the authors state: “We appreciate celibacy as a gift of God (SC1967 1) to the extent that this gift enables the missionary disciple, ordained to the priesthood, to dedicate himself fully to the service of the Holy People of God.”

However, the document went on to note that “some [of the synod fathers] were in favor of a more universal approach to the subject” and therefore proposed that “suitable and respected men of the community with a legitimately constituted and stable family, who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood” be ordained “in order to sustain the life of the Christian community … in the most remote areas of the Amazon region.” 

The new book by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah therefore comes amid a discussion on married priests opened by Francis and allows their voices to be heard. 

“I cannot in conscience, as a son of Africa, support the idea that the peoples on the road to evangelization should be deprived of this encounter with a priesthood lived to the full,” Cardinal Sarah writes in the new book. “The peoples of Amazonia have the right to a full experience of Christ the Bridegroom. They cannot be offered ‘second class’ priests. On the contrary, the younger a Church is, the more it needs to meet the radical nature of the Gospel.”

The book also comes in the wake of a crisis in priestly formation and homosexual corruption that enabled prelates such as former cardinal and convicted sex abuser Theodore McCarrick to ascend the ranks of the hierarchy unchecked.

In the introduction, the pope emeritus and the Guinean cardinal explain that the volume was born out of silence, prayer, and a series of conversations and  letters they exchanged in recent months.

With the fourth century doctor of the Church, St. Augustine, they affirm: “I cannot keep silent! I know how pernicious silence would be for me. For I do not wish to wallow in ecclesiastical honors, but I think that it is to Christ, the first of the Pastors, that I will have to give an account of the sheep entrusted to my care. I cannot keep silent or claim ignorance.”

Once news of the book broke in French, Mark Brumley took to Twitter announcing that Ignatius Press will be publishing the volume under the title: “From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy, and the Crisis of the Catholic Church.” The book will be available for pre-order on Monday, January 13 and will ship on February 20. 

“Their book is not just about priestly celibacy, important as that is in itself,” said Ignatius Press founder and editor Father Joseph Fessio in a press release on Sunday. “It is about, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes it in his first paragraph: ‘the lasting crisis that the priesthood has been going through for many years.’ But it is about more than that; it is about the nature of the Church and of Christian discipleship. This is a book that all should read. It is powerful and personal — from the depths of their hearts.”

Key passages from the new volume were published as an exclusive by the French daily Le Figaro on Sunday. Here below we publish an unofficial English translation of several excerpts. Passages taken from the introduction and conclusion of the book were written jointly by Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah. 

* * *

I CANNOT KEEP SILENT

In recent months, as the world resounded with the din created by a strange media synod that was taking precedence over the real synod, we met. We exchanged ideas and concerns. We prayed and meditated in silence. Each one of our meetings gave us a sense of comfort and calm. Our reflections in different ways led us to exchange letters. The similarity of our concerns and the convergence of our conclusions led us to put the fruit of our work and our spiritual friendship at the disposal of all the faithful, following the example of St. Augustine. Indeed, like him we can affirm: “Silere non possum! I cannot keep silent! I know how pernicious silence would be for me. For I do not wish to wallow in ecclesiastical honors, but I think that it is to Christ, the first of the Pastors, that I will have to give an account of the sheep entrusted to my care. I cannot keep silent or claim ignorance.” (...) We do so in a spirit of love for the unity of the Church. If ideology divides, truth unites hearts. Studying the doctrine of salvation can only unite the Church around its divine Master. We do so in a spirit of charity.

—Introduction 

ONTOLOGICAL ABSTINENCE

The daily celebration of the Eucharist, which implies a permanent state of service to God, does not spontaneously leave the impossibility of a matrimonial bond. It can be said that sexual abstinence which was functional has transformed itself into ontological abstinence. (...) Nowadays, it is too easily claimed that all this is simply the consequence of a disregard for corporeality and sexuality. (...) Such a judgment is erroneous. To prove this, we need only recall that the Church has always considered marriage as a gift granted by God from heaven on earth. However, the conjugal state concerns man in his totality, and since the service of the Lord also requires the total gift of man, it does not seem possible to realize the two vocations simultaneously. Thus, the ability to renounce marriage in order to place oneself totally at the Lord’s disposal is a criterion for the priestly ministry. As for the concrete form of celibacy in the ancient Church, it should also be pointed out that married men could only receive the sacrament of Holy Orders if they had committed themselves to sexual abstinence, that is to say, to a Josephite marriage. Such a situation seems to have been quite normal during the first centuries.

Benedict XVI

RENUNCIATION OF ALL COMPROMISE

Without the renunciation of material goods, there can be no priesthood. The call to follow Jesus is not possible without this sign of freedom and renunciation of all compromise. I believe that celibacy has great significance as the abandonment of a possible earthly domain and circle of family life; celibacy even becomes truly indispensable so that our journey towards God can remain the foundation of our life and express itself concretely. This means, of course, that celibacy must permeate all the attitudes of life with its demands. It cannot attain its full meaning if we conform to the rules of property and the attitudes of life commonly practiced today. There can be no stability if we do not put our union with God at the center of our lives.

Benedict XVI

THE MISSION OF THE PRIEST

What does it mean to be a priest of Jesus Christ? (...) The essence of the priestly ministry is defined in the first place by the fact of standing before the Lord, to keep watch for Him, being there for Him. (...) This means for us to stand before the Lord who is present; that is, it points to the Eucharist as the center of priestly life. (...) The priest must be someone who watches. He must be vigilant in the face of the threatening powers of evil. He must keep the world alert for God. He must be someone who stands on the edge: straight in the face of the current of time. Straight in the truth. Straight in commitment to the service of good. Standing before the Lord must always also mean taking care of men before the Lord who, in turn, takes care of all of us before the Father. And this must mean supporting Christ, his Word, his truth, his love. The priest must be upright, courageous and even willing to suffer insults for the Lord. (...) The priest must be a person full of rectitude, vigilant, who stands upright. To all this is added the need to serve. (...) If the liturgy is a central duty of the priest, it also means that prayer must be a priority reality which must be learned ever anew and ever more deeply at the school of Christ and of the saints of all times.

Benedict XVI

WHAT DOES THE WORD “HOLY” MEAN?

The word “holy” expresses the special nature of God. He alone is the Holy One. Man becomes holy in the measure that he begins to be with God. To be with God is to set aside that which is only the "I" and become one with the whole of God's life. However, this liberation of the self can be very painful, and is never accomplished once and for all. However, the term “sanctify” can also be understood in a very concrete way to mean priestly ordination, in the sense that it implies that the living God radically claims a man in order to make him serve Him.

Benedict XVI

NO SECOND-CLASS PRIESTS

Priestly celibacy well understood, if it is sometimes a trial, is a liberation. It allows the priest to establish himself coherently in his identity as spouse of the Church. The project of depriving communities and priests of this joy is not a work of mercy. I cannot in conscience, as a son of Africa, support the idea that the peoples on the road to evangelization should be deprived of this encounter with a priesthood lived to the full. The peoples of Amazonia have the right to a full experience of Christ the Bridegroom. They cannot be offered “second class” priests. On the contrary, the younger a Church is, the more it needs to meet the radicality of the Gospel.

Cardinal Robert Sarah

IT IS A LIE TO TALK ABOUT EXCEPTIONS

The ordination of married men, even if they were previously permanent deacons, is not an exception, but a breach, a wound in the coherence of the priesthood. To speak of exceptions is an abuse of language or a lie (...). Moreover, the ordination of married men in young Christian communities would forbid the fostering of priestly vocations of unmarried priests. The exception would become a permanent state prejudicial to the proper understanding of the priesthood.

Cardinal Robert Sarah

THE CHURCH IS NOT A HUMAN ORGANIZATION...

We live in sadness and suffering in these difficult and troubled times. It was our sacred duty to recall the truth of the Catholic priesthood. For through him the whole beauty of the Church is called into question. The Church is not just a human organization. She is a mystery. She is the mystical Bride of Christ. This is what our priestly celibacy constantly reminds the world of. It is urgent, necessary, that everyone, bishops, priests and lay people, no longer allow themselves to be impressed by bad pleas, theatrical productions, diabolical lies, and fashionable errors that seek to devalue priestly celibacy. It is urgent, necessary, that all, bishops, priests and laity, rediscover a gaze of faith on the Church and on priestly celibacy which protects its mystery. This will be the best defense against the spirit of division, against the political spirit but also against the spirit of indifference and relativism.

Conclusion


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