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Benedict XVI steps back from book that put him at odds with pope

The former pope asked to be dropped as co-author of a book, due out in February that appears to disagree with Francis on priestly celibacy, according to an aide.

Pope Francis, left, embraces Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI before opening the Holy Door to mark the start of the Catholic Holy Year, or Jubilee, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, on Dec. 8, 2015. (Photo by Osservatore Romano/Handout via AP)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI asked Tuesday (Jan. 14) not to be mentioned as co-author of a book scheduled for release in February, according to a close aide. Excerpts from the book published on Monday appeared to place the ex-pope at odds with Pope Francis on priestly celibacy.

“This morning, on the request of the emeritus Pope, I have asked Cardinal Sarah to contact the editors of the book, begging them to eliminate the name of Benedict XVI as coauthor of the same book and to also eliminate his signature from the introduction and the conclusion,” said Georg Gänswein, prefect of the pontifical household and private secretary to Benedict.

The book in question, “From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy, and the Crisis of the Catholic Church,” was publicized as being co-authored by Benedict with Cardinal Robert Sarah, who heads the Vatican department for Divine Liturgy.

The book’s publishing house in the United States, Ignatus Press, released a statement on Tuesday where they said that they received the text from the French publisher Fayard, which stated that Benedict XVI wrote the introduction, conlusion and an entire chapter on celibacy.

“Given that, according to Benedict XVI’s correspondence and Cardinal Sarah’s statement, the two men collaborated on this book for several months, that none of the essays have appeared elsewhere, and that a joint work as defined by the Chicago Manual of Style is  ‘a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contribution be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole’, Ignatius Press considers this a coauthored publication,” the statement read.

The book is scheduled to be published in the United States mid February.

RELATED: New Benedict book promotes priestly celibacy, suggesting rift with Francis

In the introduction, signed by Benedict and published by the French daily Le Figaro, the authors spoke in favor of celibacy for priests, stating that marriage and the priesthood require such an absolute dedication that “it doesn’t seem possible to realize both vocations simultaneously.”

These remarks came at a time when Pope Francis is considering allowing tested married men, called viri probati, to become priests in remote areas where clergy are scarce. This is the case for the Amazon region, which was addressed by a synod of bishops in October. Francis is expected to release his document on the synod in March.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told reporters in a statement on Monday that “the position of the Holy Father on celibacy is known,” citing three separate occasions where Francis presented his opposition to the idea of married priests, allowing only a slight possibility in “very remote places.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah in 2015. Photo by François-Régis Salefran/Creative Commons

Gänswein told the Italian news agency Ansa that it was all a “misunderstanding,” while adding that he doesn’t put the good intentions of Sarah into question.

In the hours leading up to these revelations, Catholic Twitter exploded with comments and reactions to what seemed like evidence of a rift between the two pontiffs on church matters. Traditional news outlets in Italy and around the world rushed to report the implications of the book.

RELATED: Two popes are one too many

Sources claiming to be close to the emeritus pope told local papers on Tuesday that Benedict never gave permission for his signature and image to be used for the publication of any book. In his defense, Sarah released a timeline of his communications with Benedict and pictures showing his correspondence with Benedict on Twitter.

In one of the letters, dated Nov. 25, Benedict writes that “the book may be published in the form you provide.” Gänswein later explained the former pope wasn’t aware he would be listed as a co-author with Sarah, nor did he approve the cover.

While confusion over the authorship of the book remains and is likely to escalate next month when the book is scheduled for release in the United States, the misunderstanding that is already being dubbed as “bookgate” in some Catholic circles has put a spotlight on the real or perceived rift between the two popes.