VATICAN CITY  — Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI distanced himself Tuesday from a book on priestly celibacy and asked to be removed as its co-author after the project gave the impression the retired pope was trying to interfere with the reigning one.

Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, said in a statement there had been a “misunderstanding” with the other co-author and that Benedict never intended to have his name on the book, “From the Depths of Our Hearts.”

Gaenswein said Benedict did write an essay for the book. But he said the retired pope had now asked the publishers to remove his name as the co-author, as well as his signature from the introduction and conclusion.

Advance excerpts of the book, which is set to be published in France on Wednesday and in the United States next month, had set Catholic social media abuzz, fueling conservative-progressive battle lines that deepened after Benedict’s 2013 retirement paved the way for Pope Francis’ papacy.

The book includes an introduction and a conclusion, originally said to be written jointly by Benedict and Cardinal Robert Sarah, as well as a chapter apiece. In the essay he wrote and the introduction and conclusion, Benedict reaffirmed the “necessity” of celibacy for the Catholic priesthood.

While that position is not new, “From the Depths of Our Hearts” has Benedict chiming in on a fraught issue while Francis weighs whether to allow married men to be ordained priests in the Amazon to cope with a priest shortage.

Benedict knew Sarah was planning a book about the priesthood and celibacy and contributed an essay, but “he never approved a co-authored book and never saw or authorized the cover” giving him lead author status, Gaenswein said.

“It was a misunderstanding, without putting into doubt the good faith of Cardinal Sarah,” Gaenswein said in the statement published by Vatican News.

Benedict’s association with the book was surprising since he had vowed to live “hidden from the world” when he stepped down as pope, specifically to avoid any suggestion that he still wielded papal authority.

The controversy made clear once again that the unprecedented reality of a retired and reigning pope living side by side in the Vatican gardens still has some wrinkles that need to be worked out.

The Associated Press obtained galleys of the English text after the French daily Le Figaro published excerpts Sunday.

Earlier Tuesday, as the scandal grew, Sarah reproduced letters from Benedict making clear the 92-year-old ex-pope had written the text and approved of publishing it as a book. He spoke out after news reports quoted “sources close to Benedict” as alleging that Sarah had manipulated the pope into publishing the book.

“These defamations are of exceptional gravity,” Sarah, who heads the Vatican’s liturgy office, tweeted at one point.

While insisting on the transparency of his interactions with Benedict, Sarah agreed to make the editorial changes.

“Considering the polemics provoked by the publication of the book ‘From the Depths of Our Hearts,’ it has been decided that the author of the book in future publications will be: Cardinal Sarah, with the contribution of Benedict XVI,” he tweeted. “However, the complete text will remain absolutely unchanged.”

After the first reports, Francis’ supporters quickly alleged Benedict had been manipulated by members of his right-wing entourage into writing something that amounted to a frontal attack on Francis. Some claimed it was evidence of elder abuse, given Benedict’s age and increasing frailty.

Conservatives, many of whom long for Benedict’s orthodoxy, argued it was no such thing and noted that Francis too has reaffirmed the “gift” of priestly celibacy.

The Vatican tried to tamp down the furor by insisting the book was a mere “contribution” to the discussion about priestly celibacy written by two bishops in “filial obedience” to Francis.

Sarah – a hero to liturgical purists and conservatives and a quiet critic of Francis – denied there was any manipulation on his part and said Benedict was very much a part of the process.

He tweeted three 2018 letters from Benedict making clear the retired pope had provided him the text and participated in discussions about publishing it. In a statement, Sarah chronicled all his interactions with Benedict and said the retired pope had approved the final text, including the joint introduction, conclusion and cover.

“From my side, the text can be published in the form you have foreseen,” read a Nov. 25 letter from Benedict to Sarah.

Sarah acknowledged he had warned Benedict that his participation in the project might create a media storm, but persuaded him it was worthwhile.

Quoting his own correspondence to Benedict, Sarah wrote: “I imagine that you might think your reflections might not be opportune because of the polemics they might provoke in newspapers, but I am convinced that the whole church needs this gift, which could be published around Christmas or the start of 2020.”

Sarah said he forgave all those who had defamed him by accusing him of manipulating Benedict, and affirmed his obedience to Francis.

The U.S. publisher of the book, Ignatius Press, which has been Benedict’s English-language publisher since before he became pope, has defended the book and Benedict’s participation in it.

The Rev. Joseph Fessio, Ignatius’ founder and editor, said he had read the text in French and English, and said only Benedict could have written it.

“Is it really believable that Sarah would perpetrate a fraud?” Fessio asked in an email. “Or alter something from Benedict? Or claim that Benedict didn’t collaborate and agree to the intro and epilogue?”


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