THREE out of four Catholics in the United States would favour the introduction of married priests, according to a Gallup poll released this week.
The poll, commissioned by seven groups including Corpus, a US organisation for married priests who have resigned from the ministry, questioned nearly 1,000 Catholics across the country.
Respondents were asked whether they felt it would help, hurt or make no appreciable difference to the Church if priests who had left their parishes to marry were permitted to become active again.
As many as 51 per cent of those questioned said the return of the priests would help the work of the Church against just 18 per cent who said such a move would be harmful. 28 per cent said it would make no difference.
"These results show that Catholics in the United States want a different leadership to the one we currently have," said Anthony Padovano, president of Corpus, who is a married priest himself.
"With about 20,000 married priests in the United States alone we could put one at each parish and eliminate priestless parishes once and for all," Mr Padovano said. Statistics for 1992 show that 2,047 US parishes are without priests.
The poll showed that women are the most fervent supporters of a married clergy. with 82 per cent in favour. Skip Sekora, Corpus national co-ordinator, said women saw the issue of married priests as tied to their own rights in the Church.
"Women, marriage and sexuality should not be marginalised by the hierarchy. They need to be honoured in the Church and raised to the level that men and celibacy hold," Ms Sekora said.