Books

Pope Benedict had book published after his death because his writings provoked ‘a murderous outcry’ from critics

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — While the Second Vatican Council gave the Catholic Church a “beautiful” document on the priesthood, it “did not face the fundamental question” of the difference between Catholic and Protestant understandings of ordained ministry, Pope Benedict XVI wrote in an essay published after his death.

An explanation of the aspects of “sacrifice and atonement” in the celebration of the Eucharist and therefore in the role of the Catholic priest was the focus of two of the new essays included in “What is Christianity?” – a book published only in Italian at the end of January by Mondadori.

Pope Benedict dated the preface to the book May 1, 2022, and included an order that it not be published until after his death, which occurred on December 31.

Only four of the 16 essays in the book are being published for the first time. All were written between 2014 and March 2022.

“The heat in the circles opposed to me in Germany is so strong that the appearance of a word from me immediately calls forth a murderous cry on their part. I will spare myself and Christendom this.”

The essay on “The Catholic Priesthood” is a complete revision and expansion of a contribution that retired Pope Benedict made to Cardinal Robert Sarah for inclusion in the book “From the Depths of Our Hearts” published in 2020. The main effort in the book was a defense of priestly celibacy, but Pope Benedict said that Cardinal Sarah did not have permission to list him as a co-author of the book, insisting that he had only contributed extensive notes that amounted to one chapter.

Elio Guerriero, who helped Pope Benedict compile the essays in “What is Christianity?” said the controversy over the book with Cardinal Sarah is what prompted Pope Benedict to insist on waiting to publish the collection of essays until after his death.

“I don’t want to publish anything else in my life,” Guerriero said Pope Benedict told him. “The heat in the circles opposed to me in Germany is so strong that the appearance of a word from me immediately calls forth a murderous cry on their part. I will spare myself and Christendom this.”

An explanation of the aspects of “sacrifice and atonement” in the celebration of the Eucharist and therefore in the role of the Catholic priest was the focus of two of the new essays included in “What is Christianity?”

The new version of the essay defends priestly celibacy as the most appropriate expression of a priest’s total surrender to God and as a condition of ritual purity along the lines of the Israelite priesthood. But the new version focuses more on the connection to the old priesthood and the sacrifice than it does on celibacy.

Neither version of the essay mentioned the continued practice of ordaining married men in the Eastern Catholic Churches, nor the exceptions granted by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict themselves gave in marriage former ministers of the Anglican Communion and other Christian denominations who become Catholic.

The new version and a new essay on “The Meaning of Communion” both insist on the differences between the Catholic understanding of the priesthood and the Lutheran understanding of ministry, and between the Catholic understanding of the Mass and the Lutheran understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

The differences, he wrote, “are not superficial and accidental, but indicate a fundamental difference in the understanding of Christ’s mandate” at the Last Supper when he said to his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

This difference, Pope Benedict wrote, must be taken into account as Catholic leaders consider extending Eucharistic hospitality to Lutherans beyond the special occasions when church law allows it.

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