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Catholic Church should introduce optional celibacy, says clergy support group

The Roman Catholic Church should give clergy the option to marry, says a former priest. The comments from Alex Walker from the Advent group came after the former head of Scottish Catholics, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, admitted sexual misconduct.

Cardinal O'Brien admitted his behaviour had at times "fallen below the standards expected" of him "as a priest, archbishop and cardinal". He stood down from his post as Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh last week, a day after three priests and a former priest made allegations of "inappropriate" behaviour against him.

In a statement Cardinal O'Brien said:

"In recent days certain allegations which have been made against me have become public. 

"Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them.

"However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.

"To those I have offended, I apologise and ask forgiveness.

"To the Catholic Church and people of Scotland, I also apologise.

"I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland."

There are now calls for him to face a Vatican inquiry. A week before he announced his resignation Cardinal O'Brien called for priests to be able to choose to marry saying he knew of many who had struggled with the vow of celibacy. Mr Walker resigned active ministry in 1988 in order to get married after realising celibacy was something he couldn't live up to.  He said he had to make a decision between the ministry 'that he loved', and the woman 'that he had fallen in love with'.

Mr Walker tells Premier he thinks married priests would enrich the Catholic Church:

The three priests and the former priest who have made the allegations against Cardinal O'Brien said they now feel "vindicated" following his admission. Gay rights group Stonewall named Cardinal O'Brien "Bigot of the Year" in 2012 for his comments opposing same-sex marriage.

Colin MacFarlane is from Stonewall Scotland and said:

"We would like an explicit sorry, an apology.

"I think it's what people in Scotland want to see, I think it's what gay people and their friends and families want to see.

"He reserved some of his most nasty vicious language for gay people and I think it would be right and fitting now for him to apologise for that."

Father Stephen Wang also believes the Catholic Church needs to change:

"I have a real sense of sadness and sorrow for those involved above all that they've been in such difficult situations and I think it's part of a bigger question of the Church needing to be more transparent and accountable."

However, Peter Williams from Catholic Voices told Premier's News Hour celibacy is a discipline that does a lot of good for the Church. 

Meanwhile, 142 of the 207 Cardinals have met in Rome this morning in preparation for the Conclave to elect the next Pope.  Twelve other Cardinals are expected to arrive this afternoon and tomorrow.

Premier's Maria Rodriquez-Toth is in Rome, and told the News Hour it's believed the Conclave will begin next Monday. 

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said today's first meeting took place in a "warm, serene atmosphere of great spiritual communion".

After a welcome by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, the Cardinals recited the first part of the solemn oath for the election of the Pope.

Then each one of them made their way to the Book of the Gospels, placed beneath a Crucifix and sealed the oath.

Fr. Lombardi added:

"The congregation was positive, serene and promising of an intense discussion of needs of church in days to come."

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