September 13th, 2011
09:44 AM ET
By Peter Taggart, CNN
Belfast, Northern Ireland (CNN) - A respected former Catholic bishop in Ireland is calling for an end to clerical celibacy in the wake of the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the church worldwide, and says he finds it "heartbreaking" that some prospective priests turn away from the calling because of the celibacy rule.
In his recently published book, "A Troubled See, Memoirs of a Derry Bishop," Dr. Edward Daly said that allowing clergymen to marry would ease many of the church's problems.
There needs to be a place in the modern Catholic church for a married priesthood, said Daly, a prominent figure in the Catholic church in Ireland and the most senior Irish cleric to question the Vatican's celibacy rule.
Daly, 77, reiterated his views in local radio interviews in Northern Ireland Tuesday.
"There will always be a place in the church for a celibate priesthood, but there should also be a place for a married priesthood in the church. I think priests should have the freedom to marry if they wish," the former bishop said.
"It may create a whole new set of problems but I think it's something that should be considered.
The retired bishop said he was worried about the decreasing number of priests and the number of older priests. The issue "needs to be addressed and addressed urgently," Daly said, adding that he finds it "heartbreaking" that priests were forced to resign or prospective priests were unable to join the priesthood because of the celibacy rule.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told CNN Tuesday: "The position on celibacy is clear."
Daly said he accepted he might be out of step with current Vatican thinking, but he was "not engaged in a popularity contest."
His comments are expected to ignite fresh debate within the church as the number of priests continues to fall amid the international controversy over child sex abuse and a number of damning reports on pedophile priests in Ireland.
The retired bishop also addresses the issue of abuse in his book, saying he is "heartbroken and appalled that fellow clergy could engage in such horrible criminal acts against the most vulnerable." He said he was deeply ashamed and profoundly shocked there were so many instances of child sex abuse by clergy in Ireland and throughout the world.
Daly was Bishop of Derry from 1974 until 1993, during the height of the Northern Ireland conflict. As a priest, he was photographed waving a white handkerchief as he led a group carrying a dying victim of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972.
The picture became an iconic image of "the Troubles" - a term used to describe the 30 years of violence between pro-British and pro-Irish forces in Northern Ireland. Much of his memoir is devoted to that violence, but he called the issue of celibacy "the other conflict."
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