Cardinal Vincent Nichols has said that the Catholic Church's 'strong, firm' tradition of priestly celibacy is unlikely to change despite Pope Francis's recent comment that the Church should reflect on married priests.
'I think when Pope Francis makes these comments what he's showing us is he's got a spirit that's open to God,' said the Archbishop of Westminster. 'He's not saying "I want married priests, I want female deacons". He's saying "let's not be afraid".'
Cardinal Nichols, who is himself sometimes tipped as a future pope, added: 'We have a strong, firm tradition, so we can explore things. We're comfortable. For myself, I don't see these things changing.'
The cardinal made the remarks while appearing at CYMFed Flame 2017, a gathering that saw 10,000 young Catholics packed into Wembley's SSE Arena for music with Matt Redman and prayer, the Catholic Herald reported.
Cardinal Nichols was reflecting on Pope Francis's interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, in which he said that the Church should consider whether the Holy Spirit is demanding married priests.
'In the Church, it is always important to recognise the right moment, to recognise when the Holy Spirit demands something,' the Pope said.
Cardinal Nichols added that, although there are already some married ordinariate priests in Britain, that didn't mean it should be adopted as a general rule.
He said: 'What they teach us is that marriage is not a solution to problems, it is a challenge. It is a tough call. We don't solve our problems by saying "here's a solution" [with married priests].'
Cardinal Nichols emphasised the importance of a priest having no ties other than to the people he serves.
'I think the tradition of a priest who comes and gives his whole life to the Church means an awful lot to people on the street,' he said. 'They say, "that's our priest. Nobody else's. That's ours." They know he's there for them.'
Asked why he felt the Pope made the comments, the Cardinal said he believed that Francis was 'showing an openness to finding a solution'.
Praising this approach, the Cardinal said that it showed that Pope Francis is a good leader, and that that he 'brings out the best in people'.
'When people hear a leader speaking about what is best in them, they want to give their best,' he said. 'Too many leaders speak about fear, too many leaders trade on fear. That is, in my view, poor leadership.'
Cardinal Nichols's comments came as Pope Francis has asked the Catholic faithful to 'continue to pray for me' in a social media post yesterday, the fourth anniversary of his election as Pontiff.
The Pope posted a photograph of himself praying on the balcony of St Peter's Basilica on Instagram, on which he has 3.6m followers.