Two popes 'differ on priestly celibacy'

Pope Francis and former pope Benedict. Photo: Vatican news

VATICAN CITY – In what Holy See commentators are describing as a surprising move, retired pope Benedict XVI has made a statement in defence of priestly celibacy in response to a proposal to allow married men to be ordained as priests in the Amazon area.

 “I cannot stay silent,” said Joseph Ratzinger, who in February 2013 became the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years, citing ill health. Ratzinger made the remarks in a book co-authored with Cardinal Robert Sarah, “From the Depths of Our Hearts,”  previewed in Le Figaro. The book argues celibacy is essential for Roman Catholic priests and states it has “a great significance” and that priesthood and marriage do not seem compatible.

 The issue has been a popular topic of recent debate, as an end to the requirement for clerical celibacy was suggested as a solution to the lack of priests in the Amazon region at 2019’s Synod on the Amazon.  Pope Francis was willing to listen to those making the case, Il Messaggero said.  The synod’s conclusions included allowing married men to become priests in the Amazon region, but these conclusions are only advisory, with Francis expected to make his own position clear soon. Many conservative Catholics are against the idea.

 Although Benedict said he would stay “hidden from the world” when he resigned, he has given interviews, written articles and contributed to books since then. His 2019 article on clerical sexual abuse disagreed with Francis’ analysis of the scandals.

 His stance on clerical celibacy may make it difficult for Francis to approve married priests for the Amazon region without appearing to contradict his predecessor, Vatican watchers say.

 However in a statement Monday the Vatican press office noted that Francis always has defended the importance of priestly celibacy.