MADRID, Spain - Vatican number two Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has said that priestly celibacy is not "untouchable" but is a "positive tradition" during an interview with a Spanish television station.
"It is not that it (priestly celibacy) is untouchable," Pope Benedict XVI's secretary of state told Catalan public television TV3 late on Monday, before adding "there are married priests in the Catholic as well as oriental church".
But the celibacy imposed on most Catholic priests is a "positive and fruitful tradition", added Bertone who took part Sunday in the beatification ceremony in Barcelona of a Catalan priest.
"It is the non-respect of celibacy that brings with it serious risks and that then has very painful consequences," he said.
Bertone insisted Sunday that there was no cause-and-effect link between priestly celibacy and the child sexual abuse revelations rocking the Roman Catholic Church.
"There is no direct link between celibacy and the deviant behaviour of certain priests," he said in an interview published in Catalan newspaper Vanguardia.
"On the contrary, it is precisely the failure to remain celibate that gradually degrades the life of a priest, until he ceases to be an example, a gift, a spiritual guide for others," he said.
The church sex abuse scandal first erupted in the United States in 2002, when the then-archbishop of Boston admitted he had protected a priest whom he knew to be abusing young children.
In recent months, the scandal has spread across the globe and struck the church at its very core, with some critics calling on the pope to resign, alleging that Pope Benedict XVI helped protect predator priests while he was archbishop of Munich and later as the Vatican's chief morals enforcer.
Bertone sparked controversy earlier this month by declaring that "many" psychologists and psychiatrists had demonstrated a link between paedophilia and homosexuality, but not the vow of celibacy.
The Vatican subsequently sought to "clarify" his remarks, saying he was referring to cases of paedophilia in the Church.