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Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien has raised the possibility of a change in the priestly celibacy rule, saying many priests struggle because they are unable to marry and unable to have children.

In an interview with the BBC, O’Brien said that while he had never considered marriage, “I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married.” He noted that some branches of the Catholic Church already allowed married clergy.

“It is a free world and I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own,” he said.

The cardinal’s statement could make the cardinals’ “general congregation” discussions very interesting come March 1.

  • John Thavis

One of the generally accepted assumptions about the next conclave is that cardinals will be looking for a relatively young and energetic candidate. So it’s worth examining what passes for “young” in the College of Cardinals.

The average age of the world’s 209 cardinals is 78. Among the 117 cardinals who are under age 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave, the average age is nearly 72; almost two-thirds of the electors are over age 70.

I decided to make an unscientific tally of the 15 most-mentioned papabili in recent days, and found their average age to be 67. Only one is under age 60 — Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle.

Clearly, if the cardinals are looking for someone in the youthful age bracket as, say, Pope John Paul II, who was 58 when elected pope, the field is going to be pretty thin.

In fact, among cardinal electors, only four others are under age 60: Cardinals Baselios Thottunkal of Trivandrum (India), 53; Ranier Maria Woelki of Berlin, 56; Willem Eijk of the Netherlands, 59; and Reinhard Marx of Munich, 59.

Looking again at the most-mentioned papabili list, there are five cardinals between age 60-65: Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, 60; New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, 63; Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer, 63; Ghanan Cardinal Peter Turkson, 64; and Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, 65.

  • John Thavis

As pope-watchers prepare for the approaching conclave, here’s a great resource written by one of Rome’s true experts on the subject.

“Conclave: Step by Step Through the Papal Interregnum” was recently revised by Monsignor Charles Burns, a Scottish historian who once worked in the Vatican Archives. It can be downloaded for free here from the Catholic Truth Society.

Monsignor Burns reviews the rules and seasons the text with his own insights. I love the part where he talks about the possibility of electing someone outside the College of Cardinals and adds:

“Beware! The last time a non-Cardinal was elected, in 1378, it caused the Great Western Schism, which divided Christendom into rival factions for almost forty years.”

When I bumped into the good monsignor in front of his residence near the Vatican the other day, he was as excited as all of us about Pope Benedict’s surprise announcement that he would resign.

Like many here, Burns called the pope’s decision a courageous act that will go down in history.

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