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Pope Francis' No. 2: Clerical celibacy is open to discussion

1:05

The Vatican’s new secretary of state has said that priestly celibacy is not church dogma and therefore open to discussion, marking a significant change in approach towards one of the thorniest issues facing the Roman Catholic Church.

"Celibacy is not an institution but look, it is also true that you can discuss (it) because as you say this is not a dogma, a dogma of the church," Archbishop Pietro Parolin said in response to a question during an interview with Venezuelan newspaper El Universal.

Archbishop Pietro Parolin Hoang Dinh Nam / AFP - Getty Images

He added that while it was not dogma, clerical celibacy was a deeply entrenched Catholic tradition.

"The efforts that the church made to keep ecclesiastical celibacy, to impose ecclesiastical celibacy, have to be taken into consideration," Parolin said. "One cannot say simply that this belongs in the past."

As secretary of state, Parolin is the head of government and seen as the most powerful official at the Vatican after the pontiff. 

Many of Pope Francis' predecessors had declared the subject off-limits. 

“There has been a lot of resistance to discussing the issue of celibacy,” said Abigal Frymann, online editor and former foreign editor with U.K.-based Catholic weekly The Tablet. "[Parolin’s comments] open up a fascinating argument."

Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See’s press office, said Parolin’s comments were "in line with the teachings of the church."

NBC News' Claudio Lavanga contributed to this report.

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