The controversy over the new book on priestly celibacy by Cardinal Robert Sarah and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has only continued to escalate over the past 48 hours. News of the book broke on Sunday, and by Monday afternoon, rumors had begun percolating on social media that Benedict had not, in fact, co-authored the book. Among those pushing the counter-story was America Magazine’s Vatican correspondent, Gerard O’Connell, who 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
Two Spanish-language outlets — Argentina’s La Nación and ABC Spain — both reported their own stories, the former claiming that Pope Benedict “denied” having written the book, the latter saying he had ordered that his name be withdrawn from all editions. A third Spanish-language journalist, Eva Fernández, who is the Vatican correspondent for Madrid-based COPE Radio, which is owned by the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, tweeted, “A source very close to #BenedictoXVI he assures that he has not written the book” with Cardinal Sarah and that he had “not given his authorization” for the book to be published. Fernández claimed that Benedict only provided some writing about the priesthood on which he was already working.
Cardinal Sarah fired back, first on Twitter, posting images of his correspondence with Benedict, with the former pope’s signature clearly visible, and stating: “Attacks seem to imply a lie on my part. These defamations are of exceptional gravity. I give this evening the first proofs of my close collaboration with Benedict XVI to write this text in favor of celibacy. I will speak tomorrow if necessary. RS +”
The images posted by Cardinal Sarah are below. (Click to enlarge)
In comments to CNA yesterday, Fr. Fessio, editor-in-chief of Ignatius Press, which is publishing the English-language version of the text, also addressed the controversy:
“Are these people really implying that Cardinal Sarah is involved in a conspiracy to distort the truth?” Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, editor-in-chief of Ignatius Press, asked Jan. 13.
“If Cardinal Sarah is telling [Ignatius Press] that the chapters from Pope Benedict are from Pope Benedict, we take his word for it,” Fessio said, adding that the publisher stands by its attribution of the book to both Sarah and Benedict.
Fr. Fessio also appeared on EWTN News Nightly last night, where he attempted to correct the impression that the book was written to counteract the efforts attributed to Pope Francis in the interest of relaxing priestly celibacy: “This is not a book which is written in opposition to pope Francis, but rather in support of Pope Francis. In fact they quote him very, very positively in the book.”
His statement lends credence to our analysis yesterday that the authors of the book appear to believe that it is the media, not Pope Francis, who have distorted the Amazon Synod’s purpose as pertains to priestly celibacy, and that they believe and seek to defend the pope through the application of their work. In a similar vein, the authors appear also to be attempting a conciliatory posture toward the Vatican as regards the degree of credit the pope emeritus is being given for his participation in the text.
This morning, Edward Pentin tweeted a translation of a French tweet from Cardinal Sarah, showing that the pressure against the co-authorship had had its desired effect:
“Considering the polemics caused by the publication of the book From the Depths of Our Hearts, it was decided that the book's author for future publications will be: 'Cardinal Sarah, with the contribution of Benedict XVI.' However, the full text remains absolutely unchanged. +RS” https://t.co/CTmoTEb94E
— Edward Pentin (@EdwardPentin) January 14, 2020
On their Facebook page today, just an hour prior to this writing and after Cardinal Sarah’s tweet about future editions of the text, Ignatius Press addressed the issue again:
In light of recent developments with respect to the Ignatius Press title, “FROM THE DEPTHS OF OUR HEARTS”, Mark Brumley, President of Ignatius Press issues the following statement:
“Ignatius Press published the text as we received it from the French publisher Fayard. Fayard is the publisher with whom we have collaborated on three other Cardinal Sarah titles. The text we received indicates the two authors are Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah. That text also indicates that Benedict XVI co-authored an introduction and a conclusion with Cardinal Sarah, as well as his own chapter on the priesthood, wherein he describes how his exchanges with Cardinal Sarah gave him the strength to complete what would have gone unfinished.
Given that, according to Benedict XVI’s correspondence and Cardinal Sarah’s statement, the two men collaborated on this book for several months, that none of the essays have appeared elsewhere, and that a joint work as defined by the Chicago Manual of Style is ‘a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contribution be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole’, Ignatius Press considers this a coauthored publication.
Cardinal Sarah indicates the content of the book remains unchanged. That content, as noted, includes a coauthored introduction, a chapter by Benedict XVI, and a conclusion coauthored by Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah.”
Clearly, this is a developing story, and it is unclear at this time when the controversy will subside. It is also unclear just how many more changes and public shows of acquiescence will be required before Team Francis is mollified.
But for the rest of the story of how we got to this moment, we turn to Vaticanista Marco Tosatti, who offers some “behind the scenes” insight into what may happened with the one man who has, perhaps, become the most directly involved in all of this: Archbishop Georg Gänswein, personal secretary to the pope emeritus and prefect of the papal household for Pope Francis.
We offer our special thanks to Giuseppe Pellegrino for his rapid translation of Tosatti’s article this morning. The full English version of that article appears below.
The Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Fight over the Book by Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah
By Marco Tosatti
Dear readers, various people have asked me to try and shed light on the argument over the publication of the book “Des Profondeurs des nos coeurs” created by Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah. Here we have brought together from extremely reliable sources a series of elements that we offer to you.
Apparently nobody in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery [where Benedict XVI lives] had seen the cover of the book, and this was one of the principal problems.
The central point however to clarify is the content of the polemic that the “Bergoglio Press Team” launched from the beginning: claiming that Benedict had not been involved in writing the book, that he only put his signature on it and other such miserable insinuations. The reality is that Benedict XVI edited all of the drafts of the book, obviously his own part, but also reading and editing the part written by Cardinal Robert Sarah.
Benedict also said, and wrote, to Sarah, that he approved both the introduction and the conclusion of the book.
Georg Gänswein has not read the book, and this has definitely caused a problem.
The entire operation remained in the hands of Benedict and Sarah, and also the editor Nicolas Diat, who obviously took a great interest in the job, seeing it as an occasion to make this book the “important” book of Benedict XVI and Sarah, all to his glory and merit.
Thus, when the bomb went off Monday morning [which had already begun to explode on Sunday night because in America they were awake], and people like Faggioli, etc. started shooting, with a very clear intention, they focused on the cover, which Diat had published, saying that here he wanted to make an “operation against the Pope,” that is, against Pope Francis.
The objective of Faggioli etc. was to have there be no discussion of the content of the book. On Monday morning at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery they did not realize the extent of the polemic that was taking place, despite having been warned. Gänswein finally got in touch with Andrea Tornielli, who wrote an article for L’Osservatore Romano and Vatican News, referring to the ideas of Pope Bergoglio on the importance of celibacy, and seeking to throw oil on the waters that various channels were agitating, claiming among other things that Benedict XVI and Sarah had not written the book together.
The latest development, which is frankly quite incomprehensible, has come to us from the declarations of Georg Gänswein, who told a German journalist that the title needs to be changed as well as the cover. For what reason, we don’t know. Perhaps in order to protect his own position, which is definitely a complicated one, as he is the person closest to Benedict and at the same time close to Bergoglio as the prefect of the papal household. In passing, we can note that among the yelps and barkings of the pro-regime press in the first hours of this controversy they were speaking of a manipulation by the “entourage” of Pope Benedict. But actually, since Benedict’s “entourage” consists of Gänswein alone, it was in the dark about everything. … But the impression is that Gänswein is trying to avoid being crushed between a rock and hard place is strong — to the point of making people believe that if some sort of push was given to Benedict, well, it only happened now and not previously.
Undoubtedly Gänswein with his declarations today places Cardinal Sarah in a difficult situation that has nothing to do with him. Sarah has conducted himself in an extremely straightforward way. All of this work on the book, however, began before the Synod on the Amazon, in September.
In September, because of the pre-synodal polemics over priestly celibacy and the question of “viri probati,” Benedict had already written fifteen reflections on the theme of celibacy. These were then included in the book.
Note that the path taken seems very similar to what happened on the occasion of the summit on clergy sexual abuse [in February 2019]. Benedict had prepared a reflection, probably with the intention of offering it as a contribution to bishops directing the summit, sending it to the reigning Pontiff and the Secretary of State. But it remained there [and was never presented at the summit], and it was published a few months later in a German journal that focuses on the clergy.
Once again, it seems interesting and important to repeat: these paper polemics have moved all of our attention away from the contents of the book to its cover!
Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.