A teacher who came out as a transgender man at a Catholic high school in San Francisco has been allowed to keep his job by the order of the nuns that runs the school.

An order of the Sisters of Mercy announced its support for Gabriel Bodenheimer, the San Francisco Chronicle reported (http://bit.ly/1T9VnfX ).

"This is significant for us; we did not take this lightly," said Sister Laura Reicks, president of the 16-state region of the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community. "We feel because of our values, the choice was this, but that didn't mean it was easy."

Supporting the dignity of each person — regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identification — aligned with the order's values, Reicks said Wednesday.

The decision reflects policy within the West Midwest Community, which sponsors or co-sponsors six high schools. It comes amid a growing national debate on transgender rights, including access to gender-specific facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms.

On Friday, the Obama administration issued a directive telling public schools that they must allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

While there is no official Catholic policy or doctrine regarding transgender people, church leaders, including Pope Benedict, have addressed the issue, noting God created males and females and that anatomy defines identity.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone neither condemned nor fully endorsed the sisters' decision.

"Often in such situations a balance must be struck in a way that distinct values are upheld, such as mercy and truth, or institutional integrity and respect for personal decisions affecting one's life," he said in a statement. He emphasized that such decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, "allowing for prudential judgment."

Bodenheimer had been teaching English at Mercy High School, a college preparatory school for girls, for four years before he came out as transgender.

"It was very important to speak, and name myself, and not be silent," he said. "The response I got was tremendously positive."

The school's board chairwoman says there have been no complaints from the school community so far.