In Brief

Retired Pope Benedict warns against relaxing celibacy rules

Benedict says he ‘cannot keep silent’ on the issue in new book

The retired Pope Benedict XVI has defended priestly celibacy in the Catholic Church as his more liberal successor considers easing a ban on married men serving as priests.

The former pope made the remarks in a new book, From the Depths of our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church, co-authored with the conservative Guinean Cardinal, Robert Sarah.

In what CNN describes as “a passionate defense of priestly celibacy”, the co-authors encourage the church to not be swayed by “bad pleas, theatrics, diabolical lies and fashionable errors that want to devalue priestly celibacy”.

“I cannot keep silent,” Benedict, 92, says in the book, adding that it is urgent that 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”.

The Irish Times says the move is highly significant as it could “jeopardise a potential plan by Pope Francis to change the centuries-old requirement in areas of the Amazon”. In 2017, the announcement of a trial run in Brazil raised speculation that priestly celibacy in the Catholic Church could come to an end.

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The outburst is also a turnaround from Benedict, who had promised to “remain hidden” after his resignation. The Guardian reports that this is “the first time he has intervened on a matter that the more liberal Pope Francis is actively considering”. 

Joshua McElwee, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, said: “I can’t think of any example of a former pope speaking in public about something still under consideration.

“There’s a real worry that the figure of the former pope, who has a big following among those from more conservative circles, could prevent Francis from making a decision that he felt was right for the church.”

The Catholic Herald says: “The book is meant to be a message of hope, and an explanation of the biblical and spiritual importance of priestly celibacy”.

When he stepped down in 2013, Benedict admitted he had struggled with “burden” of the role, explaining: “It seemed like the Lord was sleeping.”

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