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Retired Pope distances himself from book seen as undercutting Pope Francis on celibacy

Updated 12:11 PM ET, Tue January 14, 2020

(CNN) - Retired Pope Benedict XVI said he did not co-author a book seen as undercutting his successor Pope Francis, according to his private secretary, Georg Gaenswein.

The book, titled "From the Depths of Our Hearts," argues in favor of the centuries-old tradition of priestly celibacy within the church, defending the ability to "put oneself completely at the disposition of the Lord" as a criterion for those wishing to be ordained.

The release of the book, which will be published Wednesday in French, comes as Pope Francis considers whether to ease the church's ban on married men serving as priests in certain cases.

Gaenswein said the former pope asked him to call Cardinal Robert Sarah, the book's author, on Tuesday morning to request the removal of his name and photograph from the book cover, reports Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress.

Benedict also asked to have his signature removed from the book, Gaenswein said.

However, a section of the book bearing the former pope's name is "100 percent Benedict," the secretary added, explaining that Benedict wrote it last summer and gave it to Cardinal Sarah.

Benedict knew the writing would appear in a book, but did not know its format or makeup, Gaenswein said.

The Vatican Press Office is not planning to make a further statement about the book, it said.

Cardinal Sarah also said Benedict would no longer be credited as co-author.

"Considering the controversies caused by the publication of the book ... it is decided that the author of the book will be: (Cardinal) Sarah, with the contribution of Benedict XVI. However, the full text remains absolutely unchanged," Sarah tweeted Tuesday.

Sarah, a leading conservative within the church, also published a detailed letter outlining Benedict's involvement in the book. The introduction to the book states that the authors "cannot remain silent" as the Vatican considers whether to allow married men to become priests in some circumstances.

"We can say: 'Silere non possum! I cannot remain silent!'" Benedict and Sarah wrote in the joint introduction to the book, according to excerpts released by French daily newspaper Le Figaro on Sunday.

Benedict also wrote that he believes celibacy carries "great significance" and is "truly essential" as a priest's path to God becomes the foundation of his life.

"The call to follow Jesus is not possible without this sign of freedom and of renunciation of all commitments," he wrote. "Celibacy must penetrate, with its requirements, all of the attitudes of existence."

In October, Pope Francis opened a contentious three-week summit to discuss environmental and religious issues in the Amazon.

It raised the question of whether some respected married elder men -- known as "viri probati" -- could be ordained to help overcome a shortage of priests in the region.

The proposal is pending approval by Francis, but critics fear that it could lead to a wider dissolution of the discipline of celibacy around the world.

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