A group of gay Italian clergy said Wednesday that their homosexuality has not stopped them from being good priests,a direct response to a recent Vatican policy statement banning priestly candidates with "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies.

The message, an open letter in which the priests said they felt like the church's "unloved and unwanted children," was posted on the Web site of the Italian Catholic news agency Adista. The agency last month leaked the Vatican instruction on gay priests a week before its scheduled release by the Holy See.

Adista said 39 priests, 26 diocesans and 13 more members of various religious orders had signed the letter. However, the text reproduced on the Web site did not include the signatures or list their names.

"We don't have more problems living chastely than heterosexuals do, because homosexuality is not a synonym of incontinence, nor of uncontrollable urges," the letter states. "We are not sick with sex and our homosexual tendency has not damaged our psychic health."

The official "Instruction" from the Congregation for Catholic Education released late last month said men "who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture"' cannot be admitted to seminaries. The only exception would be for those with a "transitory problem" that had been overcome for at least three years.

The open letter noted that "we are Catholic priests ... with homosexual tendencies, and that fact has not stopped us from being good priests."

"We consider our homosexuality to be wealth, because it helps us to share the marginalization and suffering of many people," the letter adds.

The Vatican document had been in the works for years, but its existence became known in 2002 at the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal in the United States. A study commissioned by U.S. bishops found most abuse victims since 1950 were adolescent boys.