It was a very poignant conversation a long time back with a Catholic colleague. As it unfolded, it became clear that he had followed his vocational journey trusting that the issue of clerical celibacy would change while there was still time for him …. Now he was in mid life and there was no sign of any change. Indeed it couldn’t even be discussed.

So the sudden foray into this area by my friend and colleague Cardinal Keith O’Brien is very welcome. It’s welcome because, looking across the fence from a very different kind of church, internal dialogue about difficult issues releases energy. And that will be good for the Catholic Church. All of us have friends and colleagues among the Catholic clergy. The ‘married to the church’ ideal is a noble vision. But ministry today is tough and there is great loneliness.

But of course, there is much more to this issue. In our College of Bishops meeting this week, we shared concern that there are many places where our presence in mission is inhibited by the absence of rectories. Too much property was too easily sold off during the difficult years. And we noted the ongoing consultation about the SEC Pension Fund.

Married – or partnered – clergy means infrastructure. It means stipends, houses and pensions. But of course it also makes possible a vocational response from those who do not feel that they have a particular vocation to celibacy.

Meanwhile the world awaits Alison’s handbook on the clergy marriage …