VATICAN CITY - Retired pope Benedict XVI never agreed to appear as the co-author of a controversial book on priestly celibacy, his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, said Tuesday.
It was a remarkable disavowal of a work seen by many as both an attack on Pope Francis' authority and a serious breach of Benedict's promise to remain "hidden to the world" following his retirement in 2013.
In the book, Benedict is presented as arguing against a relaxation of the celibacy rule for priests, wading into a topic on which Francis is due to make a decision within a few weeks.
Gaenswein told the ANSA news agency that Benedict knew that Cardinal Robert Sarah was writing a book on the subject and sent him an essay on priesthood "authorizing him to do what he wanted with it."
"But he never authorized any project for a co-authored book nor had he seen or authorized the cover," Gaenswein added, calling the incident a "misunderstanding" in which Sarah acted "in good faith."
Benedict has asked to have his name removed as co-author, Gaenswein said. Sarah tweeted separately that the work would now be presented as written by him "with the contribution of Benedict XVI."
The book is called "From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church" and comes out in France on Wednesday. An English version is due on Feb. 20.
Earlier Tuesday, Sarah maintained he had discussed it with Benedict several times, and characterized press reports that the book was coming out without Benedict's consent as "extremely despicable."
The cardinal, a leading conservative figure, said he urged Benedict to have his say on priesthood and celibacy despite the risk of controversy because "all the Church needs (the) gift" of his words.
The book was supposed to have had an introduction and a conclusion co-signed by Benedict and Sarah, and two separate essays by each of them.
According to Gaenswein, the introduction and conclusion will no longer be credited to the the former pope. Authorship issues aside, the content of the book will not be altered, Sarah said.
French newspaper Le Figaro published advanced excerpts on Monday.
In the introduction as originally co-signed, Benedict and Sarah were quoted as saying "We cannot remain silent" after recent church debates on celibacy.
In October, a summit of bishops - known as a synod - backed the ordination of married men as priests, but only in the Amazon, as an exceptional way to make up for the lack of clergy in remote areas.
Francis - who already faces fierce conservative opposition to his relatively liberal papacy - has to decide whether to endorse the suggestion.
If he does, he is likely to further alienate traditionalists who see the change as opening the door to a broader relaxation of the celibacy rule.
Celibacy for Catholic priests is not a dogma. It was introduced in the Middle Ages, and there are already some exceptions to it, for example for married Protestant clergy who convert to Catholicism.
Several Vatican commentators saw it as a step too far for Benedict to publicly step into the debate, and to apparently side with his successor's critics.
Some wondered whether the former pope, who is 92 and very frail, had been manipulated by others into releasing an apparently anti-Francis document.
Others highlighted the need for a tighter code of conduct for Benedict's "pope emeritus" position, to end the Vatican's confusing "two popes" situation.
Jesuit priest Thomas Reese, for example, argued that Benedict should lose the "pope" title, revert to his original birth name and no longer be allowed to wear white.
"Thus, Benedict would be called retired Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, bishop emeritus of Rome. The same would be true of Francis if he retires," Reese wrote on the Religious News Service website.
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