Bishop Malcolm McMahon will be joined by media spokesman Jack Valero and Fr Stephen Wang, dean of studies at Allen Hall

Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham will defend the Church’s teaching on celibacy at a major debate in London two days before the Pope’s visit.

The bishop will be joined by Jack Valero, spokesman for the Cause of Cardinal Newman and the co-ordinator of Catholic Voices, and Fr Stephen Wang, dean of studies at Allen Hall seminary.

The event will take place at the Odeon West End Cinema in Leicester Square, London, and will follow a screening of Irish feature film Conspiracy of Silence, about a priest who wishes to marry.

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The motion of the debate will be: “Celibacy should no longer be a compulsory requirement for the Roman Catholic priesthood.”

The speakers for the motion are the theologian Professor Tina Beattie, human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy and Fr John McGowan OCD.

The debate will be chaired by Ernie Rea, broadcaster and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Beyond Belief.

Set in Ireland and inspired by true events, Conspiracy of Silence tells the story of a young trainee priest torn between the love for his girlfriend and his vocation to the Catholic priesthood. Made in 2003, the film did not have a British or Irish release because distributors perceived it as too narrow a subject to warrant a cinema outing.

The film’s director, John Deery, was an altar boy and at one point considered the priesthood. He is a practising Catholic.

Jack Valero, who is also a spokesman for Opus Dei, said: “I thought I would stand with Bishop McMahon: it would be sad not to answer the challenge.

“I think they want to stir up the thing, but we will just put our point forward. I was listening to a debate on priestly celibacy on the Sunday programme last week and I found their arguments really shallow.

“The film is emotional blackmail, and the three of us will be trying to explain the issues and show that the Church does not stop you marrying. If you want to marry, you can marry, no one is forced into the priesthood.”

Mr Valero said: “This debate has been going on for decades, so we’re unlikely to convince anybody on the night, but it would be a shame if the Church didn’t explain its view.

“We’ve decided with Catholic Voices that we’re going to tackle head on all criticisms of the Church, and explain our position in a reasonable manner. People might not agree with the Church, but they’ll hopefully understand that it has a reasonable position, and is not living in the Dark Ages, as is claimed.”

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