Just as Pope Francis is wrestling with making decisions to possibly relax priestly celibacy following the Amazon Synod, comes a book, co-authored by Pope Benedict XVI, called From the Depths of Our Hearts, in which he has celibacy as essential to priesthood. Benedict and his co-author (Cardinal Robert Sarah) introduce the book with, “Silere non possum! I cannot remain silent!” Most will recognise that when Benedict retired, being silent is exactly what he promised he would be.
This is not a post about priestly celibacy, nor the recommendation of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon to permit married priests on a limited regional basis to better serve isolated rural communities, but in passing, Pope Benedict’s argument is insulting and out of touch. He argues that celibacy puts a person “completely at the disposition of the Lord”, is “truly essential” for priesthood, and that “The call to follow Jesus is not possible without this sign of freedom and of renunciation of all commitments”. The sacrificial commitment to a spouse and family can just as much put a person “completely at the disposition of the Lord”. Priestly celibacy is only required in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church – Eastern Rites loyal to the Vatican do not require it, and even within the Latin Rite there are exceptions. Holy, married priests are to be found in a number of exemplary Christian traditions. And as for renunciation, many a celibate priest is financially far, far more secure than married, working people, struggling to make ends meet and fearing for their future.
I have just watched the movie, The Two Popes. It is a mixture of fact and fiction (there is a discussion underscoring this in the film in a chemistry laboratory with a young Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, in a conversation around his fiancé – an obviously completely made-up part of the plot). The mixture of fact and fiction turns this film into a parable.
The Kiwi author, Anthony McCarten, originally titled his work The Confession. And the two confessing to each other may be seen as the heart of the film. There, with one character dressed in black, and the other character in white, one quotes the other: “truth may be vital, but without love it is also unbearable”. McCarten has said, “Just because it didn’t happen doesn’t mean it’s not true. We can get very tied up in literal fact and so forth. There are other artistic ways to represent truth.” Anyone who reads the Bible intelligently surely has agility with such an approach.
This film is a dialogue between truth and love. It concludes by using the English language as an example – there are rules, but the rules have so many exceptions. In the end truth and love are friends. In the church, we need to take up the challenge of holding together difference, of rejoicing rather than fearing difference. The world is becoming increasingly polarised. This film should be an invitation to dialogue – helping us to be united whilst disagreeing.
When Pope Francis came onto the Vatican balcony after the white smoke in 2013 announced his election, I wrote, “There have been comparisons between Pope Francis and Jeffrey Tambor, even with Woody Allen…etc… They are all wrong. You read it here first. Conspiracy theorists: Pope Francis is actually being played by Jonathan Pryce… And it gets more complicated. Remember he played Juan Peron in the film version of Evita. Who? The pope?”
The Two Popes was a massive undertaking, it included building a replica of the Sistine Chapel. I was particularly impressed by the agility of moving between languages. Others, using a different lens to the one I used above, will list historical errors – only one mistake stood out for me, referring to “Isaiah 41, Chapter 10”. Clearly that should be “verse 10” – a mistake that is not made by a cardinal and a pope, and should have been spotted.
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