Pope Francis, left, with Pope Benedict

Former pope Benedict XVI has publicly urged his successor Pope Francis not to open the Catholic priesthood up to married men, in a plea that stunned Vatican experts.

The ex-pontiff, who retired in 2013, issued the defence of clerical celibacy in a book written with arch-conservative Cardinal Robert Sarah, extracts of which were published exclusively by France’s Le Figaro.

“I cannot keep silent!” Benedict wrote in the book, which follows an extraordinary meeting of bishops from the Amazonian at the Vatican last year that recommended the ordination of married men in certain circumstances.

The pope emeritus, 92, and Sarah from Guinea weighed in on the controversial question of whether or not to allow “viri probati” — married “men of proven virtue” — to join the priesthood.

READ ALSO  Borno massacre: Pope Francis prays Boko Haram members repent

Francis is currently considering allowing it in remote locations, such as the Amazon, where communities seldom have Mass due to a lack of priests, and is expected to publish his decision in the coming weeks.

The pair asked the whole Church not to be “swayed” by “bad pleas, theatrics, diabolical lies, fashionable errors that want to devalue priestly celibacy”.

“It is urgent, necessary, that everyone, bishops, priests and laity, let themselves be guided once more by faith as they look upon the Church and on priestly celibacy that protects her mystery,” they wrote.

They warned of priests “confused by the incessant questioning of their consecrated celibacy”.

READ ALSO  Pope Francis creates new diocese for Okpaleke, rejected bishop of Ahiara

“The conjugal state concerns man in his totality, and since the service of the Lord also requires the total gift of man, it does not seem possible to realise the two vocations simultaneously,” Benedict wrote.

Sarah insisted that while celibacy can be “a trial” it is also “a liberation”.

Benedict, who was the first pontiff to resign in almost 600 years, at first withdrew to a life of quiet contemplation in the Vatican, but has increasingly begun to speak out on key Catholic issues.