The emeritus Pope Benedict caused a stir with comments on celibacy. Together with the West African cardinal Robert Sarah, he vehemently defended obligatory celibacy for Roman Catholic priests in the 175-page book “Des profondeurs de nos coeurs” (“From the depths of our hearts”). “I believe that celibacy is very important,” wrote 92-year-old Benedict, according to the French newspaper “Le Figaro”, which published an excerpt in advance.

In it, both Benedict and Cardinal Sarah, who comes from Guinea in Africa, oppose the lifting of the celibacy rule. They reject regional exceptions to celibacy. They also reject a consecration of women.

The last Synod of Bishops in the Vatican in autumn dealt with the question of whether priests in the Amazon region could also be married in exceptional cases. The majority of the participants had spoken in favor of this in order to combat the extreme shortage of priests in the Latin American region. Critics saw this as a gateway to abolish celibacy altogether.

Pope Francis has repeatedly rejected this. He plans to publish a postsynodal letter on the synod shortly. It is all the more remarkable that Benedict now comments on this before the publication of the pontiff.

Sharp criticism of ideas from the Amazon conference

In their foreword, written jointly, the authors emphasize that they acted “out of love for the unity of the church”. In view of the recent debates on reforms and the state of the church, they quote the church father Augustine (354-430): “I cannot remain silent.” Then both express their views in two separate contributions before ending the statements with a common closing word ,

Benedikt’s statements in particular are also significant because when he retired in 2013 he announced that he would remain “hidden from the world” in the future. Since then, however, he has sometimes spoken out publicly on theological issues.

In the excerpts published by “Le Figaro”, the pope emeritus emphasizes that the tradition of celibacy goes back to the old church. Even then, priests were obliged to abstain from sexual activity. Married men should have lived in a so-called Joseph’s marriage, i.e. without sexual contact with their wife.

Cardinal Robert Sarah Sarah sharply criticized the debate initiated at the Amazon Synod. “We wanted to make us believe that church celibacy is nothing more than a young exercise,” he said in an interview that “Le Figaro” published together with the excerpts from the book.

“Historical lies and theological approaches have been piled up. We were told to believe that the ordination of married men or the establishment of consecration offices for women was the solution for all evils. ”But Sarah considered this to be wrong, emphasized Sarah. “The only possible reform for the Church is a return to the radicality of the gospel.”

In the book, Sarah writes that loosening the celibacy rule, even if it is confined to a particular region, means “an injury, a wound in the inner coherence of the priesthood.” (dpa, KNA)


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