Women call for Pope Francis to end priests' celibacy vow
A group of 26 Italian women who claim to be having affairs with Roman Catholic priests have written a joint letter to the Pope begging him to end the church's ban on priests having sex and getting married.
The women, who met through a Facebook campaign, wrote to Pope Francis requesting a meeting, claiming they were just "a small sample" of the many partners of priests "living in silence".
The unnamed women wrote: "We love these men, they love us, and in most cases, despite all efforts to renounce it, one cannot manage to give up such a solid and beautiful bond.
"We humbly place our suffering at your feet in the hope that something may change, not just for us, but for the good of the entire church."
Debate is growing on the merits of ordering priests to abstain from sex and marriage.
About 6,000 Italian men have left the priesthood to marry, compared with a total of 33,000 parish priests now in service.
The Pope has previously supported celibacy, but has suggested his position may change.
"For now, I am in favour of maintaining celibacy, with all the pros and cons that come with it, because in 10 centuries there have been more positive experiences than errors," he was quoted as saying in 2010 in the book 'On Heaven and Earth', before he became Pope.
The Pontiff has disclosed he had a girlfriend as a young man before choosing to become a priest.
He has argued that celibacy is more church tradition than hard-and-fast doctrine, pointing out that, up until the year 1100, some priests chose it while others did not.
He suggested exceptions might be made, writing: "If, for the sake of argument, western Catholicism reviewed the celibacy question, I think it would do so for cultural reasons, not so much as a universal option. It is a question of discipline, not faith. It can be changed."
In their letter, first reported by the website Vatican Insider, the women said they wanted to come out in the open and support their partners "in their calling, which is strengthened by the vital force of love they discovered with us". (© Daily Telegraph, London)