Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has published a book with Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah emphasizing the importance of priestly celibacy while resisting a push for the ordination of married men originating from the recent Vatican synod on the Amazon region. In October, a monthlong meeting of senior clergy in South America, the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, ended with a vote to suggest that the pope allow older, married men to be ordained to fill the shortfall.
In 2013, when he became the first pope in 700 years to resign, Benedict, who lives in the Vatican and is now 92 and in failing health, vowed to remain "hidden from the world".
Benedict caused a stir past year by writing an essay for a German newspaper in which he blamed the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal on the effects of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, homosexual cliques in seminaries and what he called a general collapse in morality.
In the book, to be published by Fayard on 15 January, and with different sections written and signed by different authors, Benedict argues that priesthood and marriage are not compatible, adding that renouncing marriage "in order to place oneself at fully at the disposal of the Lord has become a criterion for priestly ministry".
The implications for such an intervention are grave, and are likely to fuel renewed anxiety about the unprecedented situation of two popes, one retired and one reigning, living side by side in the Vatican gardens.
Benedict's book could be considered a public attempt by the retired pope to sway the thinking of the current pope.
The retired Pope also acknowledged that the Catholic priesthood has been "wounded by the revelation of so many scandals, disconcerted by the constant questioning of their consecrated celibacy". "They write in the book about church unity but this surely is not contributing to unity", said Mr O'Connell.
Supporters say it would not be necessary to rewrite church law; Francis could simply make an exemption to the rules, such as the one already granted to married Anglican pastors who later converted to Catholicism.
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In the book dedicated to priests of the world, the two authors however urged them to persevere as they also admonished Catholic faithfuls to hold firm and support them in their celibate ministry.
"It is urgent, necessary, that everyone, bishops, priests and laity, let themselves be guided once more by faith as they look upon the Church and on priestly celibacy that protects her mystery", they wrote.
Francis has expressed sympathy with the Amazonian plight, though it is not clear how he would come down on the issue. Although he has long reaffirmed the gift of a celibate priesthood in the Latin rite church, he has stressed that celibacy is a tradition, not doctrine, and therefore can change.
The book is being published at a moment of renewed interest in - and confusion about - the nature of the relationship between Francis and Benedict, thanks to the Netflix drama, "The Two Popes".
Will the Catholic Church ordain married men?
"It's a first for Benedict but also for the church", said Joshua McElwee, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.
Those meetings never happened, and the two men didn´t know one another well before Francis was elected to succeed Benedict.
"Why some folks choose to interpret the new book by Pope Emeritus Benedict and Cardinal Sarah in anti-Pope Francis ways speaks volumes", he tweeted.
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