Vatican Underscores Continuity Between Popes Francis and Benedict

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (R) stands by Pope Francis in St Peter's basilica before the opening of the "Holy Door" to mark the start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, on December 8, 2015 in Vatican. Pope Francis marks the start of an extraordinary Jubilee year for the world's 1.2 …
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

ROME — The Vatican rushed to point out the continuity in teaching on priestly celibacy between emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, amidst a flurry of media reports suggesting the contrary.

Vatican News published an editorial describing the publication of a new book on priestly celibacy coauthored by the emeritus pope and Vatican Cardinal Robert Sarah as “a contribution on priestly celibacy in filial obedience to the Pope.”

The book, titled From the Depths of Our Hearts, will be released on Wednesday, but the French daily Le Figaro published some advance passages from the work on Sunday, inciting the wrath of progressive Catholics and Pope Francis message spinners who decried the publication as an act of treason.

Yet in its editorial, Vatican News notes that the book “addresses a theme on which Pope Francis has expressed himself several times” and that the pontiff’s views are not out of line with his predecessor’s.

Moreover, Vatican News recalls that Benedict XVI himself allowed for certain exceptions to the rule, notably in admitting married Anglican priests who seek communion with the Catholic Church to be ordained as Catholic priests “on a case by case basis.”

“It is also worth remembering that Pope Francis has also expressed himself several times on the subject,” the text continues.

Even before his election to the papacy, Cardinal Bergoglio made clear his position in favor of maintaining celibacy, noting that “with all the pros and cons entailed, in ten centuries there have been more positive experiences than there have been errors. Tradition has a weight and validity.”

As pope, Francis has continued in the same line, making clear his opposition to “optional celibacy,” the editorial observes.

“I am reminded of that phrase of Saint Paul VI: ‘I would rather give my life than change the law on celibacy,’” the pope told journalists on the flight back from Panama last January. “Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift for the Church.”

The editorial by Vatican News was not the only response given by the Holy See. The director of the Vatican’s press office, Matteo Bruni, also issued a separate statement along the same lines.

“The Holy Father’s position on celibacy is well known,” Mr. Bruni said, repeating the pope’s appreciative quoting of Pope Paul VI cited above.

Bruni also points out that during the final session of the recent Synod on the Amazon region, the pope said he was “very pleased that we did not fall prisoners of these selective groups who were only interested in what has been decided on this or that intra-ecclesiastical point.”

It has been noted that Francis never even brought up the issue of married priests in his final discourse to the synod fathers.

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