It appears we have reached a stalemate. Cardinal Sarah has given his version of events of how the book, From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church, came to be written. Archbishop Georg Ganswein has also given his version of events on behalf of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. There are inconsistencies in their respective accounts.  Who is telling the truth? Perhaps both. Both statements may accurately reflect reality as each party understood it. That hasn’t stopped some, like Ignatius Press, from “taking a side,” however.

Ganswein is in the crosshairs of the many who are convinced that Cardinal Sarah’s version of the story is the whole truth. They feel that Ganswein has been too controlling of the Pope Emeritus or has represented him in a deceitful or manipulative way. Some resolve the disagreement by concluding that Benedict was not fully aware of all aspects of Cardinal Sarah’s book project, because Ganswein likely insulated him from it or made decisions improperly on his behalf.

Others have found fault with Cardinal Sarah. Many blame him for being overzealous in promoting and advancing his book on priestly celibacy. They imply, in other words, that Cardinal Sarah overlooked some signs that Benedict was not on board with all aspects of his book, despite Sarah’s insistence to the contrary. This argument is compelling, simply because what we now know about the book sounds uncharacteristic of Benedict, his style, his theological rigor, and his approach to his role as Pope Emeritus.

But perhaps more importantly, does it matter?

Benedict made a statement through Archbishop Ganswein, which Ignatius Press appears to be openly defying. Citing the Chicago Manual of Style’s definition of co-authorship, Mark Brumley, President of Ignatius Press, said that Ignatius Press will keep Benedict’s name on the cover and continue to insist that he is “co-author.” Ignatius Press released a statement and Brumley elaborated on Facebook:

In light of recent developments with respect to the Ignatius Press title, “FROM THE DEPTHS OF OUR HEARTS”, Mark Brumley, President of Ignatius Press issues the following statement:

“Ignatius Press published the text as we received it from the French publisher Fayard. Fayard is the publisher with whom we have collaborated on three other Cardinal Sarah titles. The text we received indicates the two authors are Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah. That text also indicates that Benedict XVI co-authored an introduction and a conclusion with Cardinal Sarah, as well as his own chapter on the priesthood, wherein he describes how his exchanges with Cardinal Sarah gave him the strength to complete what would have gone unfinished.

Given that, according to Benedict XVI’s correspondence and Cardinal Sarah’s statement, the two men collaborated on this book for several months, that none of the essays have appeared elsewhere, and that a joint work as defined by the Chicago Manual of Style is ‘a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contribution be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole’, Ignatius Press considers this a coauthored publication.

Cardinal Sarah indicates the content of the book remains unchanged. That content, as noted, includes a coauthored introduction, a chapter by Benedict XVI, and a conclusion coauthored by Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah.”

This whole episode isn’t as much about Vatican intrigue or theology as much as it’s about a Catholic media world that either does not understand its responsibilities towards the Church or has its own peculiar ideas about what those responsibilities are.

At the root of this entire kerfuffle is the conclusion reached in the final document of the Amazon Synod that certain married men of “proven virtue,” or viri probati, ought to be able to be ordained in cases of extreme pastoral need in some remote regions. Pope Francis will confirm this conclusion–or reject it–in an apostolic exhortation that is yet to be promulgated. But some, including Cardinal Sarah, are arguing vociferously against any abrogation of the discipline of priestly celibacy, however limited its scope may be.

With this book and the media outcry following the announcement of Benedict’s alleged co-authorship, some–including Cardinal Sarah–have attempted to frame Francis’ impending decision as one either in keeping with the Church’s Tradition or one contrary to it. This is a false dichotomy. There is an important and valid ongoing conversation about whether extreme pastoral need in isolated Amazonian communities warrants a relaxation of a very valuable and important Church discipline, the Church’s “brilliant jewel” as Pope Paul VI wrote in 1967.

Brumley himself has taken a hardline view that Sarah is entirely right in his account of the book’s authorship and that his account of the events is the whole truth. This makes it hard to escape the notion that Ignatius Press wants Benedict as “co-author” for reasons other than a desire for strict compliance with the mandates of the Chicago Manual of Style, even as it relies on a secondhand account of the provenance of those passages. It seems much more likely that Ignatius Press has decided that putting as much weight as possible behind a book that advances what they believe to be the correct opinion on married priests is more important than the fact that Benedict no longer wants his name to be attached to the sections of the book he did not write.

Does it matter whether he technically qualifies as a “co-author” according to a certain definition? It happens often enough, at least in the professional world, that a person contributes much to the content of a project but ultimately requests that his or her name be removed from the final product. This may be due to a conclusion, agreed to by a majority of contributors, with which the author disagrees, or any number of other reasons. A name on a book is more than a factual statement about who wrote it. (It might not even be that, hence the term ghostwriter.) It is, perhaps even more importantly, an endorsement of its content. Insisting that a party endorses a book when they no longer do is a violation of ethical norms–and perhaps also legal ones.

It’s plausible, for example, that Benedict was happy to be involved in the project as a work of theology, but was no longer willing to fully endorse it when it became clear it was being used to sway Francis and the Church on a pending decision. Once this book–an argument for priestly celibacy–became a polemic used to influence Francis and to frame the debate, it would be understandable for Benedict to request his name be removed as co-author from the passages he did not materially contribute to.

That said, it’s also plausible that once Benedict actually became aware of the content of the sections he did not write–whose theology appears suspect and in places contrary to the Church’s teaching on the matter–he asked that his name be removed. Understanding that Benedict has basically lived and breathed the theology expressed at Vatican II his entire adult life, it would be a complete about-face for him to suddenly challenge that theology in the melodramatic and arguably ineffective way that Sarah does.

If the production of this book been handled more responsibly, this blow-up might never have happened. For one thing, it appears that this book was planned as another “surprise” to the Vatican, along the lines of the dubia or the Viganò testimony. According to reports, Benedict’s co-authorship came as a surprise to the Vatican when the Le Figaro feature was released. Likewise, according to his official statement, Benedict seems to have been unaware of the book’s explicit demands for Pope Francis to make a certain decision on a matter of discipline. That alone should have raised a red flag, because it goes against the promise Benedict made to his successor not to interfere.

However one slices it, the decision made by Ignatius Press to keep Benedict on the cover as “co-author” now, in light of what has developed, is disgraceful. While Cardinal Sarah seems to have genuinely, and in good faith, misunderstood how comfortable a friend and spiritual mentor was with being associated with his work, Ignatius Press has actively decided to disregard the Pope Emeritus’s clear request. And we can only speculate about their true motives.

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