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A leading US cardinal defended Catholic opposition to gay marriage during an Easter Sunday interview, saying that sometimes the church by its nature must be "out of touch."
The interview came days after the US Supreme Court held oral arguments on the question of same-sex marriage, which is legal in nine states but not recognized nationally because of a 1996 federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
"Sometimes by nature, the Church has gotta be out of touch with concerns, because we're always supposed to be thinking of the beyond, the eternal, the changeless," Cardinal Timothy Dolan told ABC News's "This Week."
"Our major challenge is to continue in a credible way to present the eternal concerns to people in a timeless attractive way."
"And sometimes there is a disconnect -- between what they're going through and what Jesus and his Church is teaching. And that's a challenge for us."
When asked what he would tell a gay couple who said they loved Jesus, loved the church and loved each other, he replied: "Well, the first thing I'd say to them is, 'I love you, too. And God loves you. And you are made in God's image and likeness. And we want your happiness. And you're entitled to friendship.' "But we also know that God has told us that the way to happiness, especially when it comes to sexual love -- that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally."
He went on to say that the church must do more to ensure "that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people. And I admit, we haven't been too good at that."
US public opinion has shifted dramatically in recent years towards greater support for gay marriage.
A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month found that US Catholics support gay marriage by a larger margin than ordinary Americans despite Church teachings that forbid it.
The poll found 54 percent of Catholics support same-sex marriage while just 38 percent are opposed, compared to a 47-43 percent margin among all American voters.
Both margins represent a reversal from the 36-55 percent opposition among all voters the polling group found as recently as July 2008.