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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 03:25 GMT 04:25 UK
Brazil cardinal questions celibacy
Pope John Paul II meeting US cardinals
The Pope has been addressing Church sex scandals
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Tom Gibb
BBC correspondent in Sao Paulo
A leading member of Brazil's Roman Catholic Church has criticised the obligatory celibacy of priests.

In an interview published by the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns said that celibacy should be an option rather than a requirement.

Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns
Arns said he was happy being single himself
He also said that he believed Church policy would not change during the papacy of Pope John Paul II, who last week reiterated that priests should remain celibate.

Cardinal Arns said that celibacy was a rule imposed by the Church, which did not come from the Bible.

He pointed out that the first pope, St Peter, was married.

Why shouldn't those who want to choose marriage do that, he asked?

He said that he himself preferred to be single because it allowed him to dedicate himself completely to the Church, but others, he said, need the companionship of a woman.

Personal opinion

While one of Brazil's senior churchmen, Cardinal Arns is also seen as far more liberal than most of the rest of the Church hierarchy.

Pope John Paul II
There will be no change under the present Pope, says Arns
Others have hastened to point out that he was expressing a personal opinion, not that of the Brazilian Church.

When asked whether the Church was considering changing its rules, Cardinal Arns said that with Pope John Paul II that would be impossible.

He said the Pope had made his views well known and had even prohibited discussion of the issue.

"We're talking about it now," he said, "because we're free."

In the wake of the scandals in the United States, the Catholic Church in Brazil has also been hit by a number of scandals of priests accused of abusing children.

A debate has started not only about how to deal with paedophile priests but the whole issue of celibacy as well.

See also:

25 Apr 02 | Americas
US press: Vatican must go further
25 Apr 02 | Europe
Paedophile priests face expulsion
24 Apr 02 | Americas
Analysis: US cardinals get message
16 Apr 02 | Americas
US cardinal welcomes Pope talks
28 Apr 02 | Americas
Scores of US priests forced out
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