Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin says the celibacy of Catholic priests is not part of the Vatican’s dogma and, therefore, is an issue in the church that could be addressed.

The Archbishop acknowledged that “celibacy is a difficult and challenging thing.”

He added that most priests he knew “live their celibacy very faithfully with all the challenges that are there."

Martin was speaking to the Irish Independent following a prayer service attended by more than 1,000 priests, nuns and brothers in Dublin. The service marked the opening of the Catholic Church’s special Year for Consecrated Life.

He was questioned about the new book "Thirty-Three Good Men: Celibacy, Obedience and Identity," which claims to reveal intimate facts about the lives of priests in modern Ireland, including their sexual relations.

Although the Archbishop said he was unaware of the research he said, “I know what is going on with my priests. I know good priests and I know priests who struggle - I support all of them."

He added, "I don't think if people fail that you abolish celibacy."

The book, by Dr John Weafer, claims that most Irish priests do not support compulsory celibacy.

It was not until the 12th century, at that the Second Lateran Council, was mandatory celibacy for priests adopted.

One of the priests interviewed said he felt the rule of celibacy had endured as it allowed the Catholic Church to “crack the whip.”

Another said, “Because of a Church law that is a 'kind of a deformity', [priests] now lack the support that other men receive from their wives and families. It is an unnecessarily lonely life."

The priests interviewed, who were ordained in the 1970s and 80s would not have a problem if their colleagues did not live an entirely celibate life. One added it was “less serious than many other sins.” Another said that it only become serious if a child was conceived.

One priest, ordained in the 1980s, said the rule of celibacy meant the Church had more control. He said, “I have been moved five times in my life and if I had a wife, the bishop would not have had that freedom.” He added that having married priests would also raise issues for the Catholic Church in accommodating spouses after the priest’s death.