VATICAN CITY (AP) — Ever since Benedict XVI announced he would become the first pope in 600 years to resign, Catholic theologians and canon lawyers warned of the confusion in having two popes living side by side in the Vatican, one reigning, the other retired but calling himself "emeritus pope" and still wearing the white cassock of the papacy.
Their worst fears came true this week.
In a saga befitting the Oscar-nominated movie "The Two Popes," Benedict co-wrote a book reaffirming the "necessity" of a celibate priesthood. There was nothing novel with his position, but the book is coming out at the same time Pope Francis is weighing whether to ordain married men in the Amazon because of a priest shortage there.
The implications of Benedict's intervention were grave, since the issue of priestly celibacy is perhaps the most consequential and controversial decision on the current pope’s agenda. It raised the specter of a parallel magisterium, or official church teaching, at a time when the church is already polarized between conservatives longing for the orthodoxy of Benedict’s reign and progressives cheering Francis’ liberalizing reforms.
"It's one thing to publish as a private citizen a book about Jesus, as Benedict did before he resigned," the Rev. Jean-Francois Chiron, a theologian at the University of Lyon, wrote in the French Catholic daily La Croix. "It's another thing to take sides in important, current questions facing the universal church."
On Tuesday, Benedict distanced himself from the publication and asked to be removed as co-author of the book, "From the Depths of Our Hearts," which is coming out in French on Wednesday and in English next month.
Benedict's longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, said there had been a "misunderstanding" with his coauthor, Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, and that while Benedict contributed an essay to the book, he never intended to be listed as the coauthor.
That should have closed the matter, albeit imperfectly. However, the book's English-language publisher, Ignatius Press, refused to back down, saying the book would carry Benedict's name as coauthor.
In a statement, San Francisco-based Ignatius said it had worked from the text provided by French publisher Fayard, which listed two authors contributing a chapter apiece and a jointly written introduction and conclusion.
"Ignatius Press considers this a coauthored publication," it said.
Ignatius, Fayard and all other publishers clearly have more to gain selling a book written by a former pope than one written by a Vatican cardinal.
Benedict's association with the book was surprising, given that he had vowed to live "hidden from the world" when he stepped down in 2013, to avoid any suggestion that he still wielded papal authority.
But the controversy made clear that the unprecedented reality of a retired and reigning pope still has some wrinkles to be ironed out.
Some commentators have called for new rules for retired popes, including not allowing them to be called "emeritus pope" or wear the papal white cassock, to remove all real and symbolic associations with the papacy. Instead, they said, they should be called "emeritus bishops of Rome," wear the traditional black of the priesthood and revert back to their pre-papal names.
Others noted that the lines in Benedict's case were particularly blurred — and should be corrected in any future papal abdications — because of Gaenswein's dual role: He is both Benedict's private secretary and the prefect of Francis’ papal household.