Pope Benedict XVI breaks silence with new book supporting priest celibacy

Benedict's intervention has been considered as extraordinary, given that he promised to remain "hidden from the world" when he retired in 2013 after becoming the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years.

So although Benedict's remarks now make it hard for Francis to open the door to exceptions in the Amazon for married priests without looking as though he is breaking with the teaching of his predecessor, something any pope is loathe to do, supporters of Francis can legitimately argue that he would merely be acting in the tradition of his predecessor, to meet local pastoral need.

Francis is now considering allowing it in remote locations, such as the Amazon, where communities seldom have Mass due to a lack of priests, and is expected to publish his decision in the coming weeks. Benedict wrote in the book, which follows an extraordinary meeting of bishops from the Amazon at the Vatican past year that recommended the ordination of married men in certain circumstances.

The cardinal adds that the Amazon has a right to be served by celibate clergy saying they should not be given "second class" priests, while urging the Church not to be drawn into the "diabolical lies" and "fashionable errors that want to devalue priestly celibacy".

The National Catholic Register described the publication as a "shocking move that comes as Pope Francis is considering the possibility of allowing older, married men to be ordained as priests in the Amazon region".

Allowing married men, in limited circumstances, to become priests was "not scandalous", said Domenico Mogavero, the bishop of Mazara del Vallo in Sicily.

The book, in which Benedict (92) defends the principle of celibacy, has been interpreted as an attack on Pope Francis and the latest salvo in a war between traditionalists and reformers. It could well be considered a public attempt by the former pope to sway the thinking of the current one.

Benedict addresses the issue head-on in his chapter in the brief book, explaining in scholarly and biblical terms what he says is the "necessary" foundation for the celibate priesthood that dates from the times of the apostles.

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The new book is not the only time the former pope has spoken publicly over an issue.

'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, ' he writes.

For his part, Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Vatican's liturgical office, reflects that "celibacy is sometimes a trial, but it is also a liberation" as well as "a joy", so depriving communities and priests of this "is not a work of mercy".

Just as their television series "The New Pope" presents the crisis rising between the fictional Pope John Paul III and his predecessor Benedict XIII, news arises of a possible "conflict" between Pope Francis and the pope emeritus, Benedict XVI.

"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.

The film, starring Anthony Hopkins as Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Francis, imagines a days-long conversation between the two men before Benedict announced his historic resignation February 11, 2013 - conversations in which their different views of the state of the church become apparent.

At the end of the Vatican synod on the Amazon, Francis said he would publish his decision on the ordination of married men later this year. But while the film takes artistic liberties for the sake of narrative, it gets the point across that Francis and Benedict indeed have very different ideas - which the new book bears out.

"Not only there is no canon law concerning the situation created by an incapacitated pope", tweeted Villanova theologian Massimo Faggioli. In their book, however, Benedict and Cardinal Sarah argue that while the early Church allowed married men to be ordained, those married priests were required to abstain from sex.

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