VATICAN CITY -- A synod of Roman Catholic bishops has agreed informally to permit girls, as well as boys, to serve at the altar during mass, a U.S. bishop speaking on behalf of the assembly said.

Moreover, most bishops think that women should be admitted to all liturgical offices not requiring ordination, Archbishop John May of St. Louis said Tuesday.

"In general, there was strong consensus that all nonordained ministries be open to all Catholics," said May, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Some controversy has developed over the general nature of lay ministries, May said, but that has not clouded the collective synod opinion that "children of both sexes should be permitted to serve at the altar."

Although traditional church practice has held that only boys could assist priests at the altar, many churches, particularly in the United States, have in recent years allowed girls to serve.

May and three other synod bishops representing Africa, Asia and Latin America appeared at a news conference to report on progress in the synod, which ends Oct. 30.

May said the expanded women's role as envisioned by the synod could extend to the lay ministries of acolyte and lector, but cautioned that the bishops may call for these to be overhauled.

He said many bishops noted a "growing gray area" between the roles of priests and deacons, who are ordained, and those of acolytes and lectors, who are not.

May said the current "lack of canonical and theological precision" as to the precise position of acolytes and lectors in the church "needs correction and then development."

He said the estimated 230 synod members "generally agreed" that the ministries of lector and acolyte should be "refashioned as steps" to the diaconate and priesthood. "If they are retained," May said, "they should be open to both men and women."

Honduran Bishop Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga confirmed synod support for greater liturgical roles for women. "There are no theological reasons why women shouldn't be granted the ministries available to lay people in general," he said.