VATICAN CITY—In a radical break from centuries of strict church doctrine, the Pope approved a measure yesterday that would allow gay men and boys to be provisionally accepted into the Catholic Church.

According to the pontiff’s new plan, gays will be allowed to serve as altar boys at all public and private church functions.

“It is high time the Catholic Church moved forward on the issue of homosexuality,” said Cardinal John Valento, speaking on behalf of the Pope. “And what better way to introduce young gay men into the Church than through the gracious and caring hands of an experienced priest?”

Valento added he looks forward to showing the new altar boys the glory of the Lord’s and his own brand of “everlasting love.”

The new altar boys’ duties will be similar to those of the current ones, with responsibilities including lighting and snuffing candles, assisting clergy with the sacrament of Holy Communion, burning incense and assisting clergy with bathing and dressing.

Reactions from within the clergy were largely positive.

“I am pleased that our Church’s anti-gay stance is finally going by the wayside,” said Father Tom Coughlin of St. Peter’s Church in Chicago. “And to help welcome these new altar boys, I have decided to hold a small pool party at my house on July 25. All are welcome.”

Added Coughlin, “Bring your trunks.”

Still, not everyone within the church was as welcoming. “Though I am God’s servant and will do as the Pope directs, I am strongly opposed to this unholy contamination of the Church,” remarked Father Anthony Worrell of Denver, CO. “I will therefore be inspecting every single inch of these new altar boys in order to ensure the absolute and utter perfection and cleanliness of their bodies.”

Father Daniel McComb added he will follow the Pope’s orders reluctantly.

“Unearthly beauty or no unearthly beauty, these men are filthy sinners,” McComb said. “Be assured whatever gays I take on will be thoroughly spanked each and every day. The pretty ones twice, the vile tempters.”

McComb added he would also “use his fists” if he were “called upon to do so by the Lord Christ.”

When asked if the new plan could someday lead to gays in the priesthood, New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor replied: “Why, no.”

“We wish only to give them meaningful work here on Earth,” O’Connor said, “since they will spend the afterlife suffering eternal hellfire.”