What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Why it’s problematic to have 2 popes weighing in on key issues for Catholic Church

Rome is being roiled by a series of unusual developments in which a former pope appeared to be weighing in on a sensitive issue facing his successor, Pope Francis. The debate is over the law of clerical celibacy, which divides many Catholics. But now, the retired pope, Benedict, is distancing himself from the controversy. Father Thomas Reese of Religion News Service joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The stories coming out of Rome this week are essentially unprecedented.

    Former Pope Benedict was said to be weighing in on a sensitive issue facing his successor, Pope Francis. That alone was highly unusual.

    But then it turned out he reportedly disagreed with a potential change in church law that Pope Francis was considering. The issue is the law of celibacy among priests, which divides many Catholics.

    Amna Nawaz picks up the story from there.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, the controversy was tied to a book, said to be co-authored by retired Pope Benedict, being published next month.

    In it, the pope emeritus defends priestly celibacy as integral to the Catholic Church, and writes he could — quote — "not remain silent about it."

    Now, that flies in the face of a vote at a special summit convened by Pope Francis last fall, where bishops agreed some married men could be ordained. If Pope Francis approves the change, it would apply just to certain regions where there are priest shortages.

    The latest twist? Benedict's team just today issued a statement saying he didn't actually co-author the book, and he wants his name removed.

    Father Thomas Reese is a senior analyst at Religion News Service and has been following this issue closely.

    He joins me now here.

    Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • Rev. Thomas Reese:

    Good to be with you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A lot to unpack here. Let's take it step by step.

    Setting aside this issue of Pope Benedict's involvement in the book or not, just on the issue of clerical celibacy, how big a deal is it that Pope Francis is considered to be — or is saying that he could consider changing this rule,

  • Rev. Thomas Reese:

    This is a very big deal.

    There are places in the world where you might have a priest visit a village once a year. And we're a Eucharistic community, and you can't have mass, you can't have a Eucharist without a priest.

    And so there is a great need in many places in the world for more priests. And, quite frankly, most men don't want the give up marriage and family as a price of being a priest.

    And so if these communities are going to be served, I think we have to be, as a church, open to the possibility of ordaining married men.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    This is very clearly a point of division within the church, though, correct?

  • Rev. Thomas Reese:

    There's a lot of argument.

    I think most people in the pews, as soon as you ask them, do you want mass on Sunday, and they will say yes, and they will say yes to married clergy because they want mass on Sunday.

    It's a small conservative minority that is really fighting this.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A small conservative minority, but there is now this book that argues for it. Pope Benedict's name was attached to the book.

    He's now saying and his team is saying, he's not well, he didn't actually agree to co-author this book, he wants his name removed. His co-author has said: That's not true. I have correspondence proving he was a part of this book, he supports this.

    What do you make of all that confusion?

  • Rev. Thomas Reese:

    Well, I looked at the correspondence.

    And it looks — it's quite clear that Pope Benedict did write one essay in the book. That doesn't make him the co-author of the book.

    And Cardinal Sarah was trying to say that he also worked on the introduction and conclusion in the book. And Pope Benedict's representatives are saying, no, he didn't.

    So, you know, Pope Benedict, when he was a theologian, he contributed to collections of essays all the time. But that doesn't make you a co-author. And I think Cardinal Sarah was just very confused.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But on this issue of clerical celibacy, are Pope Benedict and Pope Francis on different sides of the issue?

  • Rev. Thomas Reese:

    Well, that's not clear yet, because I think — maybe you could put it this way. Pope Benedict has already made up his mind. The answer is no.

    Pope Francis is giving this recommendation from the Amazon Synod serious consideration, and he might say yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, this is why this matters, right?

    When you're talking about more than a billion Catholics out there who are looking to church leadership for guidance, there seems to be a divide. How does this complicate issues when you have a former retired pope weighing in on issues that the current pope is trying to make big decisions about?

  • Rev. Thomas Reese:

    This is a problem we have in the Catholic Church, and it's one we need to fix, because we can't have two popes.

    I think we new rules for how we deal with retired popes. I think that, when he retires, he should revert to his original name. He should be called Joseph Ratzinger. He should be called a retired cardinal. He shouldn't wear the white. He should return to the black cassock or red cassock of a cardinal to make it very clear that these two people are not equal.

    There is only one pope in the Catholic Church, and, today, that's Pope Francis.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Does all of this, this controversy, this confusion, Pope Benedict, the pope emeritus, allegedly weighing in on this issue now, does all of this complicate Pope Francis' ability to continue his agenda, to be able to make these changes if he sees fit for the church?

  • Rev. Thomas Reese:

    Well, it is a problem, because if Pope Francis does decide, OK, I am going to allow for the ordination of married men in the Amazon region, well, then people can say, oh, but Pope Benedict said no, and you're going against this.

    And that doesn't look good. But this is the way the Catholic Church operates. There's only one pope. And he has the right the make this decision.

    And, you know, Pope Benedict recognizes that. He would accept whatever decision Pope Francis makes. And the people who are always quoting Pope Benedict should realize that and be ready to accept whatever decision Pope Francis makes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A complicated topic. We are going to continue to follow it here.

    Father Thomas Reese, thank you, as always, for being here.

  • Rev. Thomas Reese:

    Good to be with you.

Listen to this Segment