Pope Benedict XVI breaks silence with new book supporting priest celibacy

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption Watch the moment Pope Francis gave short shrift to a pilgrim who yanked his arm

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption Watch the moment Pope Francis gave short shrift to a pilgrim who yanked his arm

Former pope Benedict XVI has publicly urged his successor Pope Francis not to open the Catholic priesthood up to married men, in a plea that stunned Vatican experts.

After he vowed to remain "hidden from the world" and pledge obedience to the new pope when he retired in 2013, Benedict's book, entitled "From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church", made the case that celibacy was a necessary foundation of the priesthood.

The intervention by Benedict puts pressure on Francis as he prepares to release his response to the recent synod gathering on the Amazon region.

"I can not be silent" write the two prelates in their introduction to the work, which rose out of discussions during last fall's synod of bishops on the Amazon region, in which certain participants pushed for the ordination of married men in remote regions to alleviate the Catholic priest shortage.

For traditionalists, this is about the direction in which Pope Francis is taking the Church. Even outside the Ordinariate, it has been possible for married Anglican and Lutheran clergy to convert and become working Catholic priests, with special dispensation.

Bruni's statement also argued that on the topic of how priestly celibacy fits into the general work of the Amazon synod, Pope Francis is less interested in "this or that other intra-ecclesiastical point" as he is on the synod's "diagnoses" of problems in the pastoral, cultural, social, and ecological dimensions.

The authors clearly anticipated the potential interpretation of their book as criticism of the current pope, and stressed in their joint introduction that they were penning it "in a spirit of filial obedience, to Pope Francis".

"It interferes with a synodal process that is still unfolding after the Amazon synod ... and threatens to limit the freedom of the one pope", Faggioli said.

"We met, we exchanged our ideas and our concerns" they write.

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"We can say: 'Silere non possum! I can not be silent!"

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.

Nevertheless, he has intermittently given interviews, written articles and contributed to books. He has largely held to that pledge, though he penned an odd essay a year ago that blamed the sexual abuse crisis on the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Benedict was the first pontiff to resign in 600 years and still lives within the walls of the Vatican.

According to Le Figaro, the retired Pope had drafted some notes on a document looking at "the crisis of priesthood" but had put them to one side "out of weariness".

Cardinal Sarah insisted that while celibacy can be "a trial" it is also "a liberation". Nicolas Diat, a close collaborator of Sarah, is the book's editor. It imagines a days-long conversation between the two men before Benedict announces his historic resignation February 11, 2013 - conversations in which their different views of the state of the church become apparent.

The surprise move is seen as a rebuke to Pope Francis, who is weighing the possibility of a revolutionary move to relax the strict celibacy requirement for ordination in some South American countries where the shortage of priests is particularly acute.

They warned of priests "confused by the incessant questioning of their consecrated celibacy".

In his statement, Bruni quoted Pope Francis' comments aboard the papal plane to Rome from Panama on January 28, 2019, in which he said "personally, I think that celibacy is a gift to the Church".

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