The breakaway church of Bishop George Augustus Stallings Jr. said yesterday it would offer archbishop status to Eugene A. Marino, the nation's first black Roman Catholic archbishop who resigned last month because of his relationship with a woman.

Stallings, who founded the African-American Catholic Congregation after making a dramatic break with the Catholic Church last year, said the Atlanta archbishop's resignation proves the "folly" of mandatory celibacy and asked Marino to join his congregation.

"Roman Catholics intuitively know that Archbishop Marino's dark night of the soul is not a personal failure but a failure . . . on the part of the Roman Catholic Church to deal realistically with the issue that a call to ordained ministry is not synonymous with celibacy," Stallings said in a statement.

Stallings spokesman William Marshall Jr. said the African-American congregation would like to install Marino as an archbishop of either its western diocese in Los Angeles or southern diocese in New Orleans.

Catholic Church officials confirmed this week that Marino resigned because of a two-year relationship with a lay minister, Vicki R. Long, 27.

Marino, last known to be recuperating in New York, has not commented publicly. Long, who has filed a monetary claim against the archdiocese for an undisclosed amount, has refused to comment about the relationship.