Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the personal secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, has taken down ultraconservative Cardinal Robert Sarah, again, insisting that Benedict never approved the anti-optional priestly celibacy book the cardinal claims the two co-wrote.

– “Benedict never saw the cover and there was never talk of co-authorship”

“Should I explain what really happened?”, Gänswein asked Der Spiegel February 11, one day before Pope Francis was to make public his decision not to allow the ordination of married men, for the time being, with the post-Amazon Synod apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia.

The appearance of the pro-priestly celibacy book Sarah claimed he co-wrote with Benedict – just as speculation was rife that Francis would permit the ordination of married men in remote Amazon regions – was widely seen, after the fact, as a contributing factor in the Pope’s decision to take a step back from reform.

“The truth is that Benedict had already begun writing the text about the priesthood that was printed in the book in July” of 2019, Gänswein told Der Spiegel February 11, pointing out that Sarah’s priesthood book project only came into being in September, just as the preparations for the Amazon Synod in October were heating up.

Benedict’s chapter was given to Sarah while participants in the Amazon Synod were debating possible exceptions to the mandatory celibacy discipline for priests, Gänswein added, but even by October there was no talk of Sarah and Benedict collaborating on a joint project.

“The cover on which Benedict and Sarah are presented and shown together as authors was never seen by the Pope Emeritus, and there was never talk of a co-authorship”, Gänswein reiterated.

Benedict’s secretary again argued against Sarah’s claim that the Pope Emeritus and the cardinal wrote together the book’s introduction and conclusion, and insisted portraying those two sections as a joint effort was misleading.

Although Benedict did end up reading those “joint” sections of the book ahead of publication, he approved of them only as texts written by Sarah, Gänswein claimed.

In addition, Benedict’s personal secretary reiterated that the Pope Emeritus “was never sent galleys” of the book to be published, and was never offered an author’s contract by the book’s original French publishers, Fayard.

– In total contradiction to Sarah’s version of events

Gänswein’s latest declarations to Der Spiegel are important because they totally contradict Sarah’s version of events around the pro-celibacy book widely blamed now for Pope Francis’ decision to step back from allowing the ordination of married men, a ruling that has disappointed Catholics around the world.

Sarah had claimed that negotiations about a possible joint project on celibacy between him and the Pope Emeritus between September and November led to him sending Benedict on November 19 the completed book manuscript, including the joint introduction, conclusion and cover with the two men’s names and images.

Sarah claimed that just six days later, on November 25 – an extraordinarily short amount of a time for an almost 93-year-old ex-Pope, perhaps in poor health, to revise an entire book manuscript – he received a letter from Benedict stating that “from my side, the text can be published in the form you have foreseen”.

Sarah said later, on December 3, he visited Benedict and told him “our book” would be printed over Christmas and released in January.

– Cardinal Müller: “It’s not out of the question that… Benedict was allowed to walk into a trap”

Gänswein’s latest claims that he “didn’t sense any danger” with Benedict’s name being attached to the Sarah book until it was too late are also important in the sense that they dilute the impression many had that the Pope Emeritus sought to influence his successor’s decision on married priests for the Amazon region.

“Previously, when Benedict wanted to publish something, he always got the Pope’s approval, which is to say, Francis. In this case, that did not happen”, Gänswein explained.

That Benedict never sought to meddle in Francis’ decision was the impression, too, that ex-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Amazon Synod sceptic Cardinal Gerhard Müller had too.

Also talking to Der Spiegel, Müller said “It’s not out of the question that… Benedict was allowed to walk into a trap with the celibacy book”.

That trap was set not only by Sarah but by the man who aims to make him the first black Pope in history: his publisher, Nicolas Diat, a man who courts ultraconservatives and has been called “the most secretive editor in Paris”.

Gänswein admitted to Der Spiegel that he underestimated Diat: “I was only warned about him and his shady behavior after the fact”.

Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, also told Der Spiegel that “those claiming that Benedict wants to do anything to hurt Francis don’t know him or are intentionally misunderstanding him”.

Next on Novena:

In Amazon Synod exhortation, Pope puts need for greater Church “inculturation” above married priests, female deacons

Papal Prefect Gänswein relieved of Francis duties to care for deteriorating Benedict: report

Benedict’s personal secretary denies Francis pressure to scratch Emeritus’ name from celibacy book cover

German laypeople accuse Benedict, Sarah of creating “division” in Church with “irresponsible” anti-optional celibacy stance

In midst of Sarah scandal, Pope laments “much harm” done by “incoherent and schizophrenic” pastors

Bombshell: Benedict asks for name, image to be removed from celibacy book Sarah said they co-wrote

Sicilian archbishop reminds Benedict, Sarah that Francis is pope: he makes the decisions on celibacy

Vatican: Sarah-Benedict book “a contribution on priestly celibacy in filial obedience to Francis”

“Totally disloyal”: Catholic Twittizens roast Benedict and Cardinal Sarah for new book stifling celibacy debate


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.