Pope Francis Alien
Pope Francis was urged by 26 women in love with priests to make celibacy optional Reuters

More than 20 Italian women who admit to being in love with priests have urged Pope Francis to allow clerics to wed.

In a direct appeal to the pontiff, the 26 women have described their "devastating suffering" as priests are banned from having relationships and getting married.

"Each of us is in, was or would like to start a relationship with a priest we are in love with," the women wrote in a letter published on the Vatican Insider.

"A lot has been said by those who are in favour of optional celibacy, but very little is known about the devastating suffering of a woman who is deeply in love with a priest.

"We humbly place our suffering at your feet in the hope that something may change, not just for us, but for the good of the entire Church," the women said.

"We love these men, they love us...and in most cases, despite all efforts to renounce it, one cannot manage to give up such a solid and beautiful bond.

"With humility, we place at your feet our suffering so that something can change, not just for us but for the good of the whole Church."

The women added that the priests would be able to serve the Church "with greater passion", if they were supported by a woman who loves them.

"We would also like the men we love to live their priestly vocation fully, serving the community and continuing the mission they have been passionately and devotedly engaged in for a great many years.

"We wish to stand by their side and support them in their calling which is strengthened by the vital force of love they discovered with us."

The women asked to meet the pope to further explain their reasons for the appeal.

In recent decades the Vatican has come under pressure to make celibacy optional and allow priests to marry.

Critics have argued that the impossibility for priests to get married and have a sexual life is the cause of the widespread sexual abuse of children by clerics.

Priests are allowed to marry in the Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox Churches.