The Archbishop of Vienna today said priestly celibacy could be one of the causes of the sex abuse scandals to hit the Catholic church.
In an article for Thema Kirche, his diocesan magazine, Christoph Schonborn became the most senior figure in the Catholic hierarchy to make the connection between the two and called for an "unflinching examination" of the possible reasons for paedophilia.
He wrote: "These include the issue of priest training, as well as the question of what happened in the so-called sexual revolution.
"It also includes the issue of priest celibacy and the issue of personality development. It requires a great deal of honesty, both on the part of the church and of society as a whole."
Schonborn is not the first person to suggest a link between celibacy and paedophilia – the theologian Hans Kung has made the same assertion.
A spokesman clarified the archbishop's words, insisting he was "in no way" seeking to question the celibacy rule or call for its abolition.
Schonborn's remarks followed further revelations of abuse across Europe, with new incidents coming to light in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, and followed claims by an Italian academic that a greater presence of women in the Vatican could have prevented clerical sexual abuse from taking place.
Writing in L'Osservatore Romano, Lucetta Scaraffia said women might have helped remove the "veil of secrecy" surrounding the abuse.
She used the word "omerta" – the Mafia code of silence – to describe the conspiracy involved in hiding the offences.
"We can hypothesise that a greater female presence, not at a subordinate level, would have been able to rip the veil of masculine secrecy that in the past often covered the denunciation of these misdeeds with silence," she said.
"Women, in fact, both religious and lay, by nature would have been more likely to defend young people in cases of sexual abuse, allowing the church to avoid the grave damage brought by these sinful acts."
In an attempt to contain the fallout from abuse cases, Vatican officials expressed concern that the church's insistence on confidentiality in its treatment of priestly sexual abuse cases was seen as a ban on reporting serious accusations to the civil authorities.
Earlier this year, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the head of the Congregation for Clergy group, said instances of sexual abuse by priests were "criminal facts" as well as serious sins, and required co-operation with the civil justice system.