DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - Critics are slamming Pope Benedict XVI and Cdl. Robert Sarah for defending clerical celibacy in their forthcoming book, From the Depths of Our Hearts.
Scheduled for release in February, the collaboration is a timely work that tackles the crisis in the Church, especially in relation to the priesthood, with a key focus on the question of priestly celibacy.
Father Joseph Fessio, founder and editor of Ignatius Press, described the book as about "the lasting crisis that the priesthood has been going through for many years." But, he added, "it is about more than that; it is about the nature of the Church and of Christian discipleship."
Though faithful Catholics are applauding this new work, left-leaning Church leaders are criticizing Benedict and Sarah as voices from "the past" interfering with Pope Francis' agenda.
"This is hard to fathom," pro-gay Jesuit Fr. James Martin tweeted on Sunday. "I have the greatest respect for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Nonetheless, when he resigned the papacy, he said he would remain 'hidden from the world.'"
"Of course it is his right to say whatever he wants," Martin continued. "But here, he is speaking out on an issue that was ... one of the main topics for the recent Synod on the Amazon and is now under consideration by the Pope."
"Some may see this as a great theologian contributing to the conversation; but given his unique role, some may see this as a 'parallel Magisterium,' which can lead to disunity," Martin added.
Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh also tweeted his displeasure at the new defense of priestly celibacy.
"Francis is reluctant to approve ordination of deacons as proposed by Amazon Synod," Ivereigh wrote on Monday. "Now, if he doesn't, the Resistance will say: 'Benedict stopped him.' In this way, the authority of Francis is undermined, and Benedict made to look interfering. It is intolerable."
Likewise, Kurt Martens, professor of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America and editor of The Juris, tweeted that "a former pope should not speak in public about anything at all. He had his chance when he was in office. Now it belongs to his successor to govern. He (and his entourage) no longer governs."
Martens received pushback, with Catholics arguing that Benedict is not "governing" merely by writing a book.
"Any Catholic has the right to speak and even preach the Faith, specially if it concerns for the good of the Church," tweeted someone with the handle Athanasius. "So are you part of the new Pontifical Censorship Curia?"
"He can speak and write whatever he wants," said Matthew P. "He's still a Catholic Bishop which means he has way more authority than you do. Bear that in mind."
Joshua McElwee, co-editor and Vatican respondent for the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, tweeted, "As I digest this, I'm realizing how incredible it is. A former pope speaking in public about something his successor is currently in the process of considering."
Historian and contributor to Commonweal Magazine Massimo Faggioli complained, "Benedict XVI is really not breaking his silence because he (and his entourage) never felt bound to that promise. But this is a serious breach."
It appears, according to these and other critics, that Pope Francis' general directive that Catholics shake things up and "make a mess" in their attempts of evangelization and reform does not extend to former popes with decades of wisdom, study and experience.
One Twitter user, responding to Martens, reminded him of a 2014 Pope Francis interview in which the pontiff said, "The pope emeritus is not a statue in a museum. ... We have spoken about it and have decided together that it would be better that he see people, get out and participate in the life of the Church."
Presbyterorum Ordinis, Vatican II's 1965 decree on the ministry and life of priests, extends on the notion that priesthood is a participation in the role of the heavenly Groom in the great marriage between Christ and His Church.
Echoing Vatican II, it asserts: "In this way they (priests) profess themselves before men as willing to be dedicated to the office committed to them ... and thus to evoke the mysterious marriage established by Christ, and fully to be manifested in the future, in which the Church has Christ as her only Spouse." Therefore, celibate priests give "a living sign of the world to come … in which the children of the resurrection neither marry nor take wives."