Britain’s most senior Catholic, who is staunchly opposed on allowing gay couples to marry, has adopted a new position concerning male priests marrying female partners in the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, an outspoken critic of plans by the Scottish and Westminster governments to introduce marriage equality, believes priests should be able to marry if they so wish.

In an interview with BBC Scotland, Cardinal O’Brien stated that some issues – for example abortion and euthanasia – were “basic dogmatic beliefs” of “divine origin” which the Catholic Church could never accept.

However, he also said it would be within the scope of the new Pope to consider whether the Catholic Church should change its stance on other issues, which were not of divine origin.

The cardinal explained: “For example the celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry – Jesus didn’t say that.

“There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the Church – in some branches of the Catholic Church – priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine of origin and it could get discussed again.”

Cardinal O’Brien said he had never personally thought about whether he wanted to get married as he had been “too busy” with his duties.

But he added: “In my time there was no choice and you didn’t really consider it too much, it was part of being a priest. When I was a young boy, the priest didn’t get married and that was it.

“I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married.

“It is a free world and I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own.”

The cardinal’s progressive stance on heterosexual matrimony for priests unfortunately does not extend towards those both within and outside of the Catholic Church who are looking to enter into same-sex marriages.

Last November, Cardinal O’Brien was named ‘Bigot of the Year’ by a gay rights charity due to his staunch opposition to marriage equality.

In 2012, he stated that same-sex relationships were “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing” and compared equal marriage to slavery and child abuse.

Cardinal O’Brien is the only man in Britain with a say in who succeeds Pope Benedict XVI after he stands down on 28 February.

Meanwhile, the Vatican has been rocked by allegations of gay prelates operating at its heart, some of whom allegedly have been blackmailed.

Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica published an article on Thursday claiming that Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign was in part finalised by a Vatican report showing that the Holy See was affected by outside influences, including a “gay lobby”.