The Vatican is attempting to downplay the significance of a book by former Pope Benedict XVI that reaffirms the "necessity" of Catholic priests remaining celibate, even as the current pontiff, Pope Francis, has broadly hinted that he may be interested in dialing back the requirement.
As The Associated Press reports, Benedict, who left the office of the pope in 2013, recently published his book, From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church. The English-language edition of the book, which he co-wrote with Cardinal Robert Sarah, is due to arrive on February 20.
In the book, Benedict advocates strongly for the institution to retain the requirement that its priests remain celibate, as it has for centuries.
"The priesthood of Jesus Christ causes us to enter into a life that consists of becoming one with him and renouncing all that belongs only to us. For priests, this is the foundation of the necessity of celibacy but also of liturgical prayer, meditation on the Word of God and the renunciation of material goods," Benedict writes.
The idea of Benedict writing a book when his role in the church is, at this point in his life and career, effectively that of a retired bishop, causes several knotty issues for the institution.
The biggest problem is that Benedict is not the pope, and Francis is. Benedict, when he retired in 2013, had promised to live a quiet life away from the public eye and in full obedience to Francis. He has largely done that, save for a few essays he's written, in one of which he blames the child sexual abuse problem in the Catholic Church on the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
A thornier problem, though it's mostly theoretical at this point, is the fact that some Catholics do not believe that Benedict's retirement as pope was legitimate, effectively believing that Benedict is truly the pope, and it's his word, not Francis's, that is the law in the Catholic Church.
In an attempt to get ahead of the curve of what is likely to be a matter of discussion among some Catholics, the Vatican's editorial director, Andrea Tornielli, wrote an op-ed in which he claimed that the book exists within the context of "continuity between the two Popes," as the AP describes it.
Francis, for his part, has hinted obliquely that he may be pushing toward, at the very least, attempting to change canonical thinking on the matter of celibacy.