While Pope Francis in the near future must make his apostolic exhortation public, concluding the work of the Synod on the Amazon (October 6-27, 2019), Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, on January 15, 2020, “with the contribution of Benedict XVI,” published a book in French entitled Des Profondeurs de nos Cœurs (From the Depths of Our Hearts).
Announced on January 13 by Le Figaro as a book co-written by the Pope Emeritus and the Guinean cardinal, the work has been the subject of intense criticism and various pressures. (See the links below for FSSPX.News's two articles on this subject.)
The two authors strongly oppose the priestly ordination of married men, presented in No.111 of the Final Document of the Synod on the Amazon in these terms: “we propose,” wrote the synod fathers, “that criteria and dispositions be established by the competent authority, within the framework of Lumen Gentium 26, to ordain as priests suitable and respected men of the community with a legitimately constituted and stable family, who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and received an adequate formation for the priesthood, in order to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region.”
And at the end of this No. 111, is stated: “In this regard (the ordination of married men), some (synod fathers) were in favor of a more universal approach to the subject,”—universal, that is, not strictly Amazonian. However, as the Vaticanist Sandro Magister reminds us, “this synod was precisely imagined and organized with one main objective: to open to ordination the viri probati in the Amazon, and then to extend this novelty to the whole Church.”
In Response to the Synod on the Amazon
Without waiting for the response that Pope Francis will give to the demands of the Synod in his next apostolic exhortation, the two authors declare, following St. Augustine, that they cannot be silent. From the Depths of Our Hearts consists of an introduction (Of What Are You Afraid?) and a conclusion (In the shadow of the Cross), inside of which is the part written by the Pope-emeritus (The Catholic Priesthood) and another by the Guinean prelate (Love Until the End).
Benedict XVI, by evoking his reception of tonsure and his priestly ordination, at the beginning and at the end of his seminary years, reminds us that the priest’s gift to God is total: “I keep alive in my memory the memory of the day when, the eve of the reception of the tonsure, I meditated on this verse of Psalm 16. I suddenly understood what the Lord expected of me at this time: He wanted to have my life entirely at His disposal, and, at the same time, He trusted entirely in me. Thus, I could consider that the words of this Psalm applied to all my destiny: “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup: it is thou that wilt restore my inheritance to me.
The lines are fallen unto me in goodly places: for my inheritance is goodly to me” (Ps. 16:5-6).
“Thus, on that eve of my ordination, a deep impression was left on my soul of what it means to be ordained a priest, beyond all the ceremonial aspects: it means that we must continually be purified and overcome by Christ so that He is the one who speaks and acts in us, and less and less we ourselves. It became clear to me that this is the lifelong calling of a priest to continually unite himself to Christ and renounce ‘what belongs only to us.’”
Echoing Benedict XVI, the high Guinean prelate rejects the idea of married priests who would not be entirely given to Christ: “Priestly celibacy rightly understood is a liberation, although at times it is a trial. It allows the priest to establish himself in all coherence in his identity as spouse of the Church. The plan to deprive communities and priests of this joy is not a work of mercy. I cannot in conscience, as a son of Africa, support the idea that the peoples being evangelized should be deprived of this encounter with a fully-lived priesthood. The peoples of the Amazon have the right to a full experience of Christ the Bridegroom. We cannot offer them ‘second class’ priests. On the contrary, the younger a church is, the more it needs to meet with the radicalism of the Gospel.”
And to denounce further the alleged Amazonian exception, put forward by No. 111 of the Final Document, he says: “The ordination of married men who were permanent deacons before is not an exception, but a breach, a wound in the consistency of the priesthood. To speak of an exception would be an abuse of language or a lie…Further, the ordination of married men in young Christian communities would prevent the promotion of vocations of celibate priests. The exception would become a permanent state prejudicial to the correct understanding of the priesthood.”
Elsewhere, Cardinal Sarah “begs Pope Francis to protect us definitively from such an eventuality by vetoing any weakening of the law of priestly celibacy, even if limited to one or the other region.” The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship sees “a pastoral catastrophe, an ecclesiological confusion and an obscuring of the understanding of the priesthood” in the possibility of ordaining married men.
At the end of the book, an appeal is made to the bishops, priests, and laity: “We live in sadness and suffering in these difficult and troubled times. It was our sacred duty to recall the truth of the Catholic priesthood. Because through it, all the beauty of the Church is called into question. The Church is not just a human organization. She is a mystery. She is the mystical Bride of Christ. It is of that that our priestly celibacy constantly reminds the world.”
“It is urgent, necessary, that all, bishops, priests, and laity, no longer allow themselves to be impressed by the bad arguments, staged theater, diabolical lies, and fashionable errors that want to devalue priestly celibacy. It is urgent, necessary, that all, bishops, priests, and laity, rediscover looking with faith on the Church and on priestly celibacy which protects her mystery. This will be the best bulwark against the spirit of division and politics but also against the spirit of indifference and relativism.”
Without being quoted, this appeal is addressed - in the first place - to Pope Francis who, before making public his Apostolic Exhortation, now has before him and the Final Document of the Synod demanding the ordination of married men. Cardinal Sarah's book is asking for the integral maintenance of priestly celibacy.
Cardinal Sarah and the Pride of the Priesthood
In an interview with Le Figaro on January 13, Cardinal Sarah answered questions from Jean-Marie Guénois. Here are his most striking words, which may explain the pressures he was subjected to, even before the release of his book.
J.-M. G.: What are you specifically denouncing, with Pope Benedict XVI, when you speak of “staged theater,” “diabolical lies,” and “ideological manipulations”?
Card. S.: In recent months, we have witnessed an instrumentalization of the situation in the Amazon. The media, commentators, and the self-proclaimed moral authorities wanted to put pressure on the bishops. They wanted us to believe that ecclesiastical celibacy was only a recent discipline. They have accumulated historical lies, ideological approximations. They wanted us to believe that the ordination of married men or the creation of female ministries would be the solution to all our ills. With Benedict XVI, we did not want to look away. The problems are immeasurable. We have a conviction: the only possible reform for the Church is a return to the radicalism of the Gospel.
How could you summarize the nature of this “crisis of the priesthood,” which is at the heart of the book?
At the heart of the crisis of the priesthood is forgetting God. When the life of a priest is no longer anchored in the faith and in Jesus Christ, any excess is possible. If we look at priests other than as men fully given and consecrated to God, then they are condemned to be nothing more than social workers, small service providers. The Catholic priest offers his whole life to be the instrument of God. Not to indulge in the socio-spiritual animation of the globalized consumer society. Being a priest is not a profession that allows time for a “private life” and pleasant leisure time. To be a priest is to follow Christ on the cross out of love, 24 hours a day. It’s a state of life. The world, a small minority active even in the Church, even bishops, have forgotten it. Benedict XVI and I are not afraid to denounce this problem and face it, eye to eye.
But why would this possible local reform represent a danger for the whole Church?
Certainly, we know that the ordination of married men or the creation of women’s ministries is not a demand of the Amazon peoples. It is a fantasy of Western theologians yearning to break convention. I am shocked that the plight of the poor is being exploited to this extent.
The lack of priests is no exception. This is the normal state of any emerging Church, as in the Amazon, or a dying Church, as in the West. An exception, by definition, must be transient and treated in such a way as to return to the normal state of affairs. A weakening of the principle of celibacy, even limited to a region, cannot be an exception, but a breach, a wound in the internal coherence of the priesthood.
But what about the shortage of priests?
Do you believe that the ordination of married men would solve the vocations crisis? The experience of the lack of pastors in Protestant communities, who allow the marriage of ministers of worship, proves exactly the opposite. The vocations crisis is a crisis of faith! Where the Gospel is announced and lived in all its demands, vocations are not lacking.
Many think, however, that the “radicalness” of the engagement you recommend is no longer tenable today.
Many? I’m not sure. In worldly and superficial circles, perhaps. With Pope Benedict XVI, we did not write this book to please this little caste. On the contrary, we believe that lukewarmness and mediocrity are no longer tenable. The West is out of breath. It is old from all its foreswearing and resignations. It waits, without perhaps being aware of it, for youth, the greenness of the demands of the Gospel which is sanctity. Thus it waits for priests who are radically saints.
Vatican II and the Demands of Evangelical Truth
In From the Depths of Our Hearts, Cardinal Sarah affirms that “any weakening of this link (between the priesthood and celibacy) would constitute a challenge of the Magisterium of the Council and of Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.”
This obligatory reference to the conciliar magisterium weakens the argument of the book. Indeed, to rely on an equivocal magisterium, even in the light of a “hermeneutic of reform in continuity,” is to risk being opposed to the same magisterium interpreted according to “the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture.”
In the work, Benedict XVI rightly denounces a thirst for absolute freedom: “The temptation of humanity is always that of wanting to be totally autonomous, to follow only its own will and to consider that it is only in this way man would be free; that it is only through such limitless freedom that man would be completely man.”—There is no doubt that this demand for unlimited freedom has an influence on the current rejection of the doctrine and discipline of the Church, in particular on consecrated celibacy. But there is also no doubt that Vatican II, by promoting religious freedom, applied outside the Church but also within it, has opened a breach in the perennial teaching of the Church.
In chapter 11 of his Open Letter to Confused Catholics (Angelus Press 1987), devoted to religious freedom, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre showed that the novelty introduced by the Council consisted in basing “the freedom of every man, to practice inwardly and outwardly the religion of his choice, on the basis of ‘the dignity of the human person.’ In this view, liberty is based on dignity, which gives it its raison d’être. Man could hold any error whatever in the name of his dignity. This is putting the cart before the horse. For whoever clings to error loses his dignity, and cannot build upon it. Rather, the foundation of liberty is truth, not dignity. ‘The truth will make you free,’ (Jn. 8:32), said Our Lord.”
“Adherence to truth and the love of God are the principles of authentic religious liberty, which we can define as the liberty to render to God the worship due to Him and to live according to His commandments.”
“Liberty, considered as an absolute good, is a chimera. Applied to religion, it leads to doctrinal relativism and practical indifference. Confused Catholics must hold to the words of Christ which I quoted, ‘The truth will make you free.’”—Such is the traditional teaching upon which can be based a real criticism of modern freedom to return to “the demands of the Gospel that is sanctity,” according to the wishes of Cardinal Sarah.
On an issue as important as the ties between the priesthood and celibacy, a hermeneutic or favorable interpretation is not enough, there needs to be an affirmation of the truth and a correction of the error. As Bishop Athanasius Schneider recognizes in his recent work, Christus Vincit (Angelico Press 2019), “An honest examination shows that in some expressions of the Council texts there is a rupture with the previous constant tradition of the Magisterium,” lucidly he points to the expressions themselves (objective) and not the interpretation (subjective) that can be given to them.
A forthcoming issue of DICI will present a detailed analysis of the book From the Depths of Our Hearts with a commentary on Pope Francis’s post-synodal exhortation, whose publication has been announced . It will be useful to see if this exhortation takes into account the reminders in the book on ecclesiastical celibacy or if it bypasses them “pastorally,” as Amoris lætitia did regarding the divorced and “remarried.” And in the name of what hermeneutic?
Editor’s Note: The English translation of From the Depths of Our Hearts is forthcoming from Ignatius Press in February 2020.