ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Though Cdl. Robert Sarah maintains that "To oppose the pope is to be outside the Church," he remains a thorn in the side of modernist Church ideologues. The Guinean prelate is also one of today's most listened-to voices, both in Rome and across the world.
Cardinal Sarah's most recent book From the Depths of Our Hearts — co-written with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and soon to be available in English — makes a historical case for a Catholic priesthood predicated on celibacy.
"There has been a lot of talk about completely ridiculous secondary aspects. Absurd controversies, vulgar lies and horrible humiliations have followed against Benedict XVI and myself," said the prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in a recent interview published in the Italian daily Il Foglio.
The central theme of the book is the Catholic priesthood, according to the cardinal, and responds to this question: Do we really believe that the ordination of married men would solve the crisis of vocations?
According to Sarah, "We cannot create a priesthood for married men without damaging the priesthood of Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church." He explains:
Priestly celibacy is not a simple canonical discipline. If the law of celibacy is weakened, even for a single region, it will open a breach, a wound in the mystery of the Church. There is an ontological-sacramental link between the priesthood and celibacy. This link reminds us that the Church is a mystery, a gift from God that does not belong to us.
Contrary to the views of the uninformed, the prelate says: "It is not a question of rejecting sexuality, but of affirming that the priest is the exclusive spouse of the Church, body and soul. He is entirely handed over to her, like Christ."
"We are victims of profound historical ignorance on this subject," he points out. "The Church was familiar with married priests in the early centuries. But after ordination they had to abstain from sexual relations with their wives," adding, "This is a fact confirmed by the most recent historical research."
The cardinal points to the Council of Elvira, convened in the early 300s in Spain, which recalled the law, "received from the apostles" about the continence of priests.
"The Church at that time was coming out of the era of the martyrs, [and] one of its first concerns was to affirm that priests should abstain from sex with their wives," Sarah says.
"In fact, the Council states that 'we have decreed a general prohibition for bishops, priests and deacons, i.e. all clerics constituted in the mystery. They must not be together with their wives and must not beget children. Whoever is responsible for this will be expelled from the ecclesiastical ranks'," explained the cardinal.
He explained that Christians were already aware that a priest celebrating Mass — the renewal of Christ's sacrifice for the world — must offer himself with all his body and soul. "He no longer belongs to himself. It was only much later, because of the corruption of the texts, that the East would evolve in its discipline, without ever giving up the link between priesthood and abstinence," Sarah explained.
Sarah also argues that evangelization needs celibacy to bear fruit, calling on his experience as a priest in Africa to demonstrate this tenet:
People in the process of becoming Christians must meet priests who have given their whole lives to Christ. I myself have had this experience. Would I be a priest today if a married man from my village in Guinea had been ordained? I don't believe so. We need lay people who are, as Pope Francis says, "missionary disciples." We need Christians who take baptism seriously.
"The Church needs the radicality of the gospel, not to align itself with the lukewarmness of the world," he continues.
Sarah was appointed archbishop of Conakry in 1979 by Pope John Paul II, who called on him to work in the Roman Curia in 2001 and was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI. He was appointed prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Pope Francis in 2014.
The cardinal has authored a number of best-selling books that have been translated into English including God or Nothing (2015), The Power of Silence (2016) and The Day is Now Far Spent (2019).
In From the Depths of Our Hearts (2020), the authors proclaim the urgency of bishops, priests and laity to "let themselves be guided once more by faith as they look upon the Church and on priestly celibacy that protects her mystery."
The cardinal says summarily that the "destruction of the priesthood" is being pursued, particularly by those who are calling for an end to the obligation for celibacy.
He has placed the blame at the feet of secularist forces, lamenting the influence of modernists in Europe and America: "They want us to say that the Church is open, welcoming, attentive and modern. But the Church is not made to listen, it is made to teach."
"Let us read this book. Let us discuss it in peace and charity," recommends the cardinal.