LEICESTER — Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who also serves as an adjunct secretary of the Holy See’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, says the Catholic Church has lost “good priests just because they chose marriage.”

Speaking to the Times of Malta, the archbishop said, “Why should we lose a young man who would have made a fine priest, just because he wanted to get married?”

Scicluna said priestly celibacy was optional for the first millennium of the Church’s existence, “and it should become optional again.”

Although priestly celibacy is mandated in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, it is allowed in the vast majority of the Eastern Rites, where celibacy is still mandated for bishops. Even in the Western churches, there are some married priests, such as when married protestant clergy convert to Catholicism and are allowed to be ordained priests. Previously married men can also be ordained, if the marriage is annulled or the wife has died.

The Malta archbishop was answering a question from the newspaper about Catholic priests who secretly live in a romantic relationship while they publicly continue to serve their duties as priests.

“A man may mature, engage in relationships, love a woman. As it stands, he must choose between her and priesthood, and some priests cope with that by secretly engaging in sentimental relationships,” he said.

“This is a global reality; it doesn’t just happen in Malta. We know there are priests around the world who also have children, and I think there are ones in Malta who may have too,” Scicluna added.

In December, Bishop Joseph Bonnemain of Chur, Switzerland, said celibacy could be made optional as one response to the clerical abuse scandal. More scrutiny on celibate priests would also be required.

“Otherwise, we’ll get into trouble again,” he said.

However, Scicluna said Pope Francis is right in insisting such a change in the requirement for priestly celibacy should not be about mitigating the vocation crisis.

The archbishop told the Times of Malta that vocations have everything to do with faith and a person’s relationship with God, and the rules should not be changed to merely attract more men to priesthood or to fill in the gaps.

He also spoke to the newspaper about the new Vatican document – released by his Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith – which allows blessing members of homosexual unions under certain conditions.

Scicluna told the reporter this does not mean the Church now approves of everything gay people do, and this still does not equate to marriage.

“We’re saying: who are we to say who can and cannot ask for God’s blessing? His blessing is not a value judgment – it is not a confirmation of your perfection. Rather, asking for His blessing is an admission that you need Him, and who doesn’t need Him?” Scicluna said.

“This is for couples who are in situations that are not exactly ideal, but when they ask for blessing, they are acknowledging they need God. It is an act of faith in Him and His help,” he continued.

“Our teaching is very strong, and I don’t think it’s negotiable. Marriage is between a man and a woman and when it’s open to children. After all, it’s the male and female gametes that create a baby,” the archbishop told the newspaper.

“But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other love relationships which also deserve God’s blessing, and I admire and bless these couples for their efforts to truly love each other,” Scicluna said.