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Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., says he supports having women priests in the Roman Catholic Church, something Pope John Paul II firmly opposes.

"I count myself among the growing number of Catholics who support the ordination of women as priests," Kennedy said in a statement to The Boston Globe, which asked him for his position on the issue.Feminists in the Catholic Church praised Kennedy's position. Conservatives said it was consistent with what they said was the senator's lack of faith in the religion.

A spokesman for Cardinal Bernard Law, Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, declined to comment.

Kennedy, who is seeking re-election, was divorced from his first wife and has since remarried.

The Globe said Wednesday it also asked the two Republicans seeking the chance to run against Kennedy for their views on the status of women in their churches.

John Lakian said he advocates ordaining women as priests in the Armenian Apostolic Church to which he belongs and which does not allow women priests.

Mitt Romney, who was an LDS stake president in the Boston area from 1986 to last March, would not comment on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' policy of barring women from the priesthood. He said it was not his place to tell church leaders how to run the church.

Last year, Romney ordered a woman removed as Sunday school president after church officials in Salt Lake City said only a man should hold the post.

"I am heartened by the increasingly prominent official role that Catholic women are being given in the church," Kennedy said in his statement.

"I am also proud of their growing leadership in other important activities of the church, such as health, education and social welfare," he said.

"I respect the fact that, as a matter of faith, others may not share my view on this issue," Kennedy said.

A 1992 national survey commissioned by eight Catholic organizations favoring change found that 67 percent of Catholics supported women priests, compared with 47 percent seven years ago.

Kennedy's statement was called very important by Ruth Fitzpatrick, national coordinator for the Women's Ordination Council. She said Catholics' adherence to papal orders is breaking down, and Kennedy's position indicated the change.

"Ten years ago, no one would have defied the pope like that," she said.

In responding to the Globe, Romney said, "Has Sen. Kennedy stood up to the pope and said, `It's just not right. We need women priests'? If he has, I will listen.

"I do not consider it my place as a member of my church to fly out to Salt Lake City and say, `You who are people I believe in and trust are wrong out here. Let me tell you how you should run your church. You should have women in the priesthood,' " Romney said.