Catholic politicians in Britain have called on the new Pope to relax the rules on celibacy for new Latin-rite priests and allow married men to join the priesthood.

A group of 21 Catholic members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords wrote to the new pontiff asking that that the rule should be changed to allow married men to be ordained priests where pastoral needs required it.

The national Catholic Reporter says they suggested in their letter that it was unfair to allow married former Anglican ministers to be ordained as Catholic priests in England, Wales and Scotland while the church insisted on the celibacy rule for Catholic candidates in those countries.

The report adds that letter did not suggest that serving priests should be given permission to marry, and the legislators proposed that the celibacy rule be retained for bishops, as in the Eastern Catholic churches, which allow priests to marry.

The letter said retaining celibacy for bishops ‘would signal the continuing high regard we have for those who are able to live a genuinely celibate life’.

The letter to Pope Francis said: “Your two predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, guided we are sure by the Holy Spirit, generously permitted the ordination of married Anglican clergy as Roman Catholic priests.

“These men and their families have proved to be a great blessing to our parishes.

“Based on that very positive experience we would request that, in the same spirit, you permit the ordination of married Catholic men to the priesthood in Great Britain.”

The letter, signed by members of the Catholic Legislators’ Network UK, continued: “In recent years we have been saddened by the loss of far too many good priests.

“If the celibacy rule were relaxed, there would be many others who would seek ordination, bringing great gifts to the priesthood.”

The letter was signed by Lord David Alton of Liverpool, an internationally respected human rights and pro-life activist, and Baroness Patricia Scotland, the attorney general for England and Wales under former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Former Northern Ireland secretary of state Paul Murphy of the Labour Party also signed the letter.

The letter added: “We recognize that the church is serious about the new evangelization and the need to renew the Christian faith in our secular societies.

“As such, one of our priorities must be to ensure that parishes have priests to administer the sacraments; therefore, we believe that allowing married priests is desirable and imperative.

“In the first instance, based on the Anglican precedent and the desirability of subsidiarity, it would be logical and greatly welcomed by the faithful if you were to consider permitting our bishops in England and Wales and in Scotland to ordain married men where they believe it would meet the pastoral needs of the local church.”

Pope Francis - Irish groups join global Catholics to urge Pope to allow female and married priestsPeter Macdiarmid / Getty Images