A new book, titled From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy, and the Crisis of the Catholic Church, was recently announced, and controversy started almost immediately. The book is coauthored by Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, with the cover of the book prominently displaying photos of both men.
The controversy began when Gerard O’Connell, Vatican correspondent for America magazine tweeted:
Bendict XVI did not coauthor the book on priesthood and celibacy with Cardinal Sarah…. story coming soon on America magazine
— Gerard O’Connell (@gerryorome) January 13, 2020
O’Connell published an article in America the following day alleging that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI did not coauthor the book with Cardinal Sarah, and had asked to have his name removed as coauthor. O’Connell cited as a source Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who is prefect of the papal household.
After much back and forth about the origins of the book and the correspondence between Cardinal Sarah and Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Sarah tweeted, “Considering the polemics provoked by the publication of the book, ‘From the Depths of Our Hearts,’ it has been decided that the author of the book for future editions will be Cardinal Sarah, with the contribution of Benedict XVI.”
“However,” he affirmed, “the full text remains absolutely unchanged.”
Ignatius Press is the English-language publisher of the book, and its founder, Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, stopped by A Closer Look™ this week to explain how the book came about, why the pope emeritus was credited as a coauthor, and why the book is significant for this moment in the Church.
Fr. Fessio explained that during the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region there was much discussion about the possibility of lifting the requirements of priestly celibacy and ordaining ‘mature married men’ in the region, due to the shortage of priests.
Fr. Fessio told A Closer Look host Sheila Liaugminas, “Pope Benedict himself had been writing on the priesthood, but he was old and feeble, and he kind of gave up the project. But when this issue began making a lot of public noise, Cardinal Sarah, who is a friend of Pope Benedict, spent time with him and encouraged Benedict to finish this work that he was doing, so that it could be published. Because it’s on the Catholic priesthood and the idea of celibacy, and not just as it relates to priests, but as it affects the Church itself.”
“So Pope Benedict, with that motivation, finished this document he was preparing and sent it to Cardinal Sarah, who then realized this is quite long. And it’s quite profound. It’s more than an article, we should do a book. And so he proposed to Benedict that they together do a book – that Pope Benedict would have a section, that Cardinal Sarah would have a section, and they would both write the introduction and the conclusion.”
So what started the controversy? Fr. Fessio said, “There was this accusation that [the pope emeritus] was not the coauthor, and there was ecclesiastical pressure on him to remove his name as the author, and instead let Cardinal Sarah be the author. And as far as we know, and this is speculation, but because he was the coauthor, Benedict was not going to do something like that which would impugn the veracity of his friend, Cardinal Sarah. And so he agreed to what I would say is a very messy compromise … that future editions will indicate that the author is Cardinal Sarah, with contributions by Benedict.”
Sharing why Ignatius Press has affirmed their decision to list the pope emeritus as a coauthor rather than a contributor, Fr. Fessio said, “One third of the major part of the book was clearly written by Pope Benedict. The introduction and the conclusion was read and approved by him. And so this is what everybody considers a coauthored book. It’s no question about it. That’s what it is.”
Despite the controversy that has surrounded the book, Fr. Fessio clarified that the purpose of the book was in no way an attempt to oppose Pope Francis, but rather to assist him in his discernment of this matter that concerns the whole Church.
“It’s more than about celibacy, and more than about priesthood,” Fr. Fessio said. “It’s about the Catholic Church, it’s about Christ the Bridegroom, it’s about what we all should be doing to be faithful members of the Church.”
Though the dust-up surrounding the book was not expected, Fr. Fessio remains hopeful that good will come out of the controversy.
“God draws good out of evil things,” he said. “I think these rumors and these accusations are evil. But you know, this book is going to have a much wider influence now that people know about it. This book is going to last longer than this week. This is a book that every priest should read, every seminarian should read, not just now but in the future. So I’m glad that the word is out and I’m glad that we’re part of it at Ignatius Press.”