LONDON — Roman Catholic priests should be allowed to marry and have children, Britain's most senior Catholic cleric said Friday.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who heads the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, said the requirement for priestly celibacy is "not of divine origin" and could be reconsidered.
He told BBC Scotland that "the celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry — Jesus didn't say that."
He said that "many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy," and while he had never considered marriage himself, "I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married."
O'Brien, 74, will form part of the conclave of cardinals that chooses the next pontiff, following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
The cardinal said that the next pope would be free to consider changing church policy on issues, such as celibacy for priests, that were not "basic dogmatic beliefs."
He said that "we know at the present time in some branches of the church — in some branches of the Catholic church — priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine origin and it could get discussed again."
O'Brien also said it was time to think seriously about having a pope from outside Europe.