Former Pope Benedict XVI has denied co-writing a book taking aim at Pope Francis for considering the relaxation of priestly celibacy rules.
In the latest twist to a row which has gripped the Vatican, sources close to Benedict say he shared notes with the author but did not see the finished book or approve its publication.
The book, From The Depths Of Our Hearts, purports to be co-written by Benedict and ultra-conservative cardinal Robert Sarah.
Benedict is quoted in the book saying he cannot ‘keep silent’ about the issue of whether to allow married men to become priests, which Francis is contemplating.
Vatican experts voiced astonishment that the retired pope would speak out on such a sensitive issue and his links to the book now appear in doubt – although Sarah insists they are genuine.
Pope Francis (left) and his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI (right), pictured together over Christmas, are at the centre of a row which has gripped the Vatican
The row erupted when a French newspaper published extracts from the book in which Benedict was quoted coming down firmly against Francis’s possible move.
Francis is considering relaxing the celibacy rules in remote locations, such as the Amazon, where there is a shortage of clergymen.
He is expected to publish his decision in the coming weeks.
Supporters of Francis suggested that Benedict had been manipulated by members of his conservative entourage into making a highly unusual intervention.
The book, From The Depths Of Our Hearts, purports to be co-written by Benedict and ultra-conservative cardinal Robert Sarah
There were also claims of elder abuse, given Benedict’s 92 years and increasing frailty.
Last night a Vatican source ‘very close’ to the former Pope told Argentine newspaper La Nacion that Benedict had not collaborated on the book.
‘Benedict XVI… never saw, nor authorised the cover, nor did he authorise the publication of a co-authored book,’ the source said.
‘It’s clearly an editorial and media op, from which Benedict distances himself,’ said the source, who asked not to be named.
Benedict had merely shared his notes on celibacy with the cardinal, the source added.
Two other Vatican correspondents also cited sources close to Benedict denying he co-authored it.
Responding to the claims, Cardinal Sarah took to Twitter to ‘solemnly affirm that Benedict XVI knew that our project would take the form of a book’.
‘We exchanged several proofs to make the corrections,’ he said, before publishing three letters written by the former pope.
In one, Benedict apparently writes that ‘the text can be published in the manner you suggested’ – without, however, specifying if that was a book.
‘Attacks seem to imply a lie on my part. These slanders are exceptionally serious,’ Sarah said.
Francis, pictured meeting a worshipper at the Vatican last week, is considering relaxing the rules on priestly celibacy in remote locations where there is a shortage of clergymen
Sarah later issued a statement affirming his ‘affection’ for Benedict and ‘obedience’ to Pope Francis.
The book, set to be published Wednesday in France, features an essay by Benedict and another by Sarah, with a co-authored introduction and conclusion. It has both the former pope and cardinal on the cover.
‘No-one is doubting that Benedict agrees with the premise of the book – to retain clerical celibacy for the Latin rite priesthood,’ said Vatican expert Christopher Lamb.
‘The question is the use of a retired pope’s authority to make the point.’
Joshua McElwee of the US-based National Catholic Reporter said it was ‘unclear from these texts if Benedict meant to share an essay or an entire book’.
Nicolas Seneze of the French Catholic daily La Croix reported a flurry of exchanges Monday between Benedict’s abode and Francis’s.
The two camps discussed the ‘danger’ of a book that established the pope emeritus as a parallel Catholic authority, it is believed.
Italian daily Repubblica also weighed in on the controversy.
At the former monastery in the Vatican gardens, Benedict’s home since becoming the first pontiff to resign in almost 600 years, the fear was ‘that the emeritus pope has been used without his knowledge’, it reported.
It warned of ‘the real risk that there are those… who use Benedict to advance their own battles’.