Former Pope Benedict XVI has denied that he has written a book aimed at Pope Francis because he was considering the relaxation of the rules of priest celibacy.
In the final spin on a row that the Vatican has seized, sources close to Benedict say that he has shared notes with the author, but has not seen the finished book or approved its publication.
The book, From The Depths Of Our Hearts, claims to have been co-written by Benedict and ultra-conservative Cardinal Robert Sarah.
Benedict is quoted in the book and says that he cannot ‘keep silent’ about whether married men can become priests, which Francis is considering.
Vatican experts expressed surprise that the retired Pope would speak on such a sensitive issue and his links to the book are now in doubt – although Sarah insists they are real.
Pope Francis (left) and his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI (right), pictured together with Christmas, stand in the middle of a row that has taken the Vatican
The queue broke loose when a French newspaper published extracts from the book quoting Benedict and vigorously opposing the possible movement of Francis.
Francis is considering relaxing celibacy rules in remote locations, such as the Amazon, where there is a shortage of clergy.
He is expected to publish his decision in the coming weeks.
Francis supporters suggested that Benedict had been manipulated by members of his conservative environment to make a very unusual intervention.
The book, From The Depths Of Our Hearts, claims to have been co-written by Benedict and ultra-conservative Cardinal Robert Sarah
There were also claims of elder abuse, given the 92 years of Benedict and increasing vulnerability.
Last night a Vatican source “very close” to the former pope told the Argentinian newspaper La Nacion that Benedict had not cooperated with the book.
“Benedict XVI … never saw the cover, nor authorized, nor authorized the publication of a co-written book,” said the source.
“It is clearly an editorial and media op, from which Benedict distances himself,” said the source, who asked not to be mentioned.
Benedict had only shared his notes about celibacy with the cardinal, the source added.
Two other Vatican correspondents also cited sources close to Benedict and denied that he was the co-author.
In response to the claims, Cardinal Sarah went to Twitter to “solemnly confirm that Benedict XVI knew that our project would take the form of a book.”
“We exchanged various evidence to make the corrections,” he said, before we published three letters written by the former Pope.
In one of them, Benedict apparently writes that “the text can be published in the way you suggested” – without, however, indicating whether it was a book.
“Attacks seem to be lying on my part. These defamations are extremely serious, “said Sarah.
Francis, pictured at a meeting with an admirer in the Vatican last week, is considering relaxing the rules for priestly celibacy in remote locations where there is a shortage of clergy
Sarah later issued a statement confirming his “affection” for Benedict and “obedience” to Pope Francis.
The book, which will be published in France on Wednesday, contains an essay by Benedict and another by Sarah, with a co-author introduction and conclusion. It has both the former pope and the cardinal on the cover.
“No one doubts that Benedict agrees with the principle of the book – to preserve celibacy for the Latin ritual priesthood,” said Vatican expert Christopher Lamb.
“The question is to use the authority of a retired pope to make the point.”
Joshua McElwee of the US-based National Catholic Reporter said it was “unclear from these texts whether Benedict intended to share an essay or an entire book.”
Nicolas Seneze of the French Catholic daily La Croix reported a flurry of exchanges between Benedictus and Francis’ hometown on Monday.
The two camps discussed the “danger” of a book that the Pope Emeritus established as a parallel Catholic authority, it is believed.
The Italian daily Repubblica also weighed in on the controversy.
In the former monastery in the Vatican Gardens, the home of Benedict since he was the first pope to resign in nearly 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 people … who use Benedict to promote their own battles.”