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Roman Catholic nuns want Pope John Paul II to give them more power, better pay and more senior jobs in the Vatican, a survey of heads of women's religious orders says.

The survey indicated that nuns feel the church is insensitive to their talents, but the demands stopped short of asking for women priests, suggesting such a stance was "unhealthy militant feminism."The results were published in USIG, the magazine of the International Union of Superiors General.

An article summarizing responses by 425 heads of women religious orders said the role and rights of the world's 950,000 nuns should be a main subject of a Vatican synod of bishops in October on the theme of religious life.

The synod would be an "ideal opportunity to explore the evangelical ways and motives for the full inclusion of women in decision-making roles . . . and in ecclesiastical ministries," it said.

Priesthood is classed as an "ordained ministry" in the church and the article made no specific mention of it. The Catholic Church does not allow women to become priests on the grounds that Christ chose only men as his apostles.

However, the article sent a clear signal that nuns want more power and influence.

"The small number of women . . . in the decision-making process is distressing," the article said. "A first step could be the presence of qualified women in important departments of the Curia."

No nuns hold senior positions in the Vatican Curia, the Roman Catholic Church's central decision-making body.

Some nuns who work in the Vatican do hold positions as experts in such areas as diplomacy, theology and canon (church) law, but the majority are in low-ranking positions.

The article said many nuns believe that the church's male hierarchy is "insensitive to female religious life."

It suggested, however, that most heads of women religious orders do not believe women should be ordained priests. It said the respondents spoke of an "unhealthy, militant feminism which does not encourage harmonious relations in consecrated life, in the church and in the world."