A top Jesuit official has been contacting leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to protest a soon-to-be-released Vatican document that is expected to reinforce the teaching that gays are not welcome in the priesthood.

The Rev. Gerald Chojnacki (search), head of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus, said in a letter to his priests that he was asking bishops to tell Vatican officials who are drafting the policy "of the great harm this will cause many good priests and the Catholic faithful."

Chojnacki wrote in the letter, dated Monday, that he had participated in the funerals of several gay Jesuit clergy over the last few years.

"I find it insulting to demean their memory and their years of service by even hinting that they were unfit for priesthood because of their sexual orientation," he wrote.

Chojnacki said he would be working with the Conference of Major Superiors (search), which represents leaders of religious orders in the United States including the Jesuits, Franciscans and others, and with bishops to fight "for the opportunity of a gay person to say yes to God's call in celibate service of priesthood and chaste religious life."

A priest who supports the protest provided the letter to The Associated Press. A spokesman for the New York province did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

A Vatican (search) official said last week that the upcoming "instruction" from the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education will reaffirm the church's belief that homosexuals should not be ordained.

In recent decades, Vatican officials have stated several times that gays should not become priests because their sexual orientation is "intrinsically disordered" and makes them unsuitable for ministry. A Vatican-directed evaluation of all 229 U.S. seminaries is underway, and is looking for "evidence of homosexuality" in the schools among other issues, such as whether their instruction keeps with church teaching.

The evaluation was organized in response to the clergy sex abuse crisis.

Priests in religious orders throughout the country said in interviews that anger is building among their members about the prospect of a ban on gay seminarians.

Some have said clergy are considering staging a strike on a Sunday, to show how critical gay priests are to serving the church. Priests who had not disclosed their sexual orientation to parishioners are now thinking about coming out and denouncing the idea of a ban. Others have talked about signing their names to a protest letter to the Vatican.

Estimates of the numbers of gays in the priesthood vary from 25 percent to 50 percent. About one-third of the 42,500 U.S. priests are members of religious orders.