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Next pope should consider marriage for priests, cardinal says

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FILE - A Thursday Sept. 16, 2010 photo from files showing Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien speaking to the media in Edinburgh, Scotland. Catholic officials say Sunday, Feb. 24, they are looking into allegations of "inappropriate behavior" by Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Britain's most senior Catholic cleric. Peter Kearney, a spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Church, said Sunday that O'Brien is contesting the claims made by British newspaper The Observer. (AP Photo/Scott Campbell, File)

Britain’s most senior Catholic official is breaking with Church orthodoxy, suggesting it’s time to consider allowing priests to marry and have children, the Guardian reports.

The comments come as the Vatican is looking into allegations of “inappropriate behavior” by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the only Catholic from the UK to be part of the conclave choosing Pope Benedict’s successor next month.

O'Brien, 74, who heads the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, was taking advice from lawyers after British newspaper The Observer reported that three priests and a former priest have filed complaints to the Vatican alleging that the cardinal approached them in an inappropriate manner.

The paper did not cite the names of the priests, but it said their allegations date back to the 1980s.

O’Brien denies the allegations and is taking legal advice, according to a spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Church.

O’Brien recently said the next pope should rethink the Church’s celibacy rules for its clergy.

Cardinal O’Brien reportedly said  that celibacy was not of “divine origin,” and that many priests found it “very difficult to cope” with the celibate life.

"For example, the celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry --Jesus didn't say that," he said in an interview with the BBC.  "There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the church -- in some branches of the Catholic Church -- priests can get married."

He added that "many priests have ... felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own."

O'Brien, who has sparked controversy by opposing gay marriage and gay adoption in the UK, says he never considered marriage – he was “too busy” with his duties.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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