Cardinal Keith O’Brien has called for priests to be able to choose to marry.
The UK’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric made the comments in an interview after standing down from frontline duties with the church last year.
Cardinal O’Brien said he knew of many priests who had struggled with the vow of celibacy.
He said: "I would like us to have a choice because in my time there was no choice.
"We didn’t really consider it too much. It was part of being a priest when I was a young boy – the priests didn’t get married and that was it. It was part of the package.
"You didn’t get married and you didn’t really consider it all that much. You made your vows of celibacy as naturally as somebody else makes their vows of marriage."
He added: "I would be happy if others (priests) had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should be married. I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to keep with celibacy as they lived in the priesthood.
"Some felt the need for a companion of a woman, to get married, and raise a family of their own."
The rule of celibacy is not a doctrine and could by changed by the Pope. There are already some married priests in the Catholic Church such as those who have converted from Anglicism.
Cardinal O’Brien also spoke about how he had not made up his mind on who should be elected as the new pope following the surprise resignation of Benedict XVI earlier this month.
Benedict’s decision to step down, which will take effect on February 28, makes him the first pontiff to relinquish the papacy in 600 years, and the first to do so voluntarily in 800 years.
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