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Poll says Catholics support female priest

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Two-thirds of the nation's Roman Catholics believe the church should allow women to be priests and three-fourths support a married priesthood, a Gallup poll shows.

The survey was released Thursday by a coalition of Catholic reform groups meeting at the University of Notre Dame simultaneously with the spring meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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According to Sister Maureen Fiedler, co-director of Catholics Speak Out, the survey suggests the gap between church hierarchy and laity is growing.

More than 800 Catholics, a cross-section of ages and races, were polled by the Gallup organization in May. The margin of error was plus- or-minus 4 percentage points.

The survey revealed changes in the outlook of the nation's Catholics toward women's roles in the church. The poll stated that 67 percent of Catholics believe women should be allowed as priests, up 20 percentage points from seven years ago. Fifty-eight percent support female bishops, and 80 percent favor female deacons.

Other findings include:

--72 percent said bishops should be elected by the priests and the people of the diocese.

--83 percent want bishops in the United States to approve condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS.

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--87 percent said couples should make their own decisions about birth control.

Some bishops, when told of the results, reportedly called the data- gathering unscientific.

'They don't like the results,' Fiedler surmised. 'We are not saying what they want to hear.'

The survey 'confirms that (any anti-feminist) backlash is a very small minority,' said Ruth Fitzpatrick, coordinator of the Women's Ordination Conference.

Those calling for reform 'are not the freaks and flakes and marginal ones,' she said.

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