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Retired Pope Benedict no longer listed as co-author of controversial new book

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Image: Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, left, is welcomed by Pope Francis as he
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, left, is welcomed by Pope Francis as he returns to the Vatican from the pontifical summer residence of Castel Gandolfo in May 2013.   -  
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L'Osservatore Romano
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Retired Pope Benedict XVI will no longer be billed as co-author of an upcoming book that touches on the issue of priestly celibacy, his co-author Cardinal Robert Sarah said on Tuesday.

A French newspaper published excerpts from the book over the weekend, angering some Roman Catholic scholars who said Benedictrisked destabilizing the reigning Pope Francis.

"It is decided that the author of the book for future publications will be: Cardinal Sarah, with the contribution of Benedict XVI," tweeted the Guinean cardinal, who heads the Vatican's liturgy office, on Tuesday.

He added that the full text of "From the Depths of Our Hearts," "remains absolutely unchanged."

Benedict's personal secretary told Reuters on Tuesday that he had asked Sarah to contact the publishers and make the necessary changes.

Benedict's reaffirmation of the "necessity" of priestly celibacy in the book is a fraught policy issue that Francis is expected to weigh in on and the book ran the risk that it could be considered a public attempt by the former pope, who resigned in 2013, to sway the thinking of the current one.

Sarah also outlined on social media on Tuesday how the book came to be published after news reports quoting "sources close to Benedict" claimed the retired pope never saw or approved the finished product.

Sarah revealed in the statement that he had been in touch with the former pope in September and asked him to write something "about the Catholic priesthood, with careful attention on celibacy."

Benedict responded that he had already started writing on the topic. After seeing Benedict's text, Sarah informed the former pope that their joint writings would make a better book than article, and the former pope agreed to its publication.

Providing further proof of their interactions, he published the letters written between him and Benedict on his Facebook page.

Sarah ended Tuesday's statement pledging his loyalty to the current pope, as he and Benedict did in their joint introduction to the book, where they said they were writing "in a spirit of filial obedience, to Pope Francis."

The storm surrounding the book forced the Vatican press office to put out a statement on Monday affirming Francis's commitment to celibacy and pointing out his recent statements on the topic.

"The position of the Holy Father on the issue of celibacy is well known," said read the statement.

It quoted the pope as saying on a recent flight from Panama that "personally I think that celibacy is a gift for the Church. I do not agree with allowing celibacy as an option, no. This could be a possibility only in the most remote of areas — I think of the islands in the Pacific Ocean — where there are priesthood needs. Priests need to think of the faithful."

Benedict announced his decision to resign in February 2013, citing the physical and psychological strains of the papacy. His successor, Francis, was elected the following month. At the time of his resignation, he pledged stay "hidden from the world" in prayer and isolation.

Rachel Elbaum reported from London, Deborah Lubov reported from Rome.

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