Parishioners at St. Anthony's Church in Oceanside Sunday strongly backed an openly gay lay minister stripped of leadership duties after marrying his partner, with some saying congregants should have been able to vote on the matter.
"What goes on in the person's bedroom is not our business," said parish member Carol Bustine, 68. "I completely disagree with the decision. Why are we judging? He's teaching the religion. He's doing God's work."
Nicholas Coppola, 47, of Oceanside, was removed from his public ministries in January. He had assisted at Mass, taught a fifth-grade religion class and visited the sick.
"To remove me from expressing my love for the community in deeds really stops me from living my faith," Coppola said in an interview after Sunday's Mass, which he continues to attend.
Parishioner Frances Mulqueen said she doesn't know Coppola well, but "felt terrible" about his firing.
"It's wrong," said Mulqueen, 57, of Oceanside. "It's our parish. Why can't we rule on it? And I'm sure the majority of people would reinstate this man."
Coppola said he was greeted by nearly a dozen parishioners at the morning service, two of whom cried about his removal. He was called to the office of the parish priest, the Rev. Nicholas Lombardi, after a Mass on Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Coppola said.
The priest told him the diocese had forwarded an anonymous letter stating that Coppola was gay and married, and demanding his removal from the ministries, Coppola said.
Lombardi did not return phone calls Sunday.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre has said Lombardi acted appropriately by removing from public ministry a person who was openly violating church teachings.
Coppola's husband, David Crespo, 47, of Oceanside, said the issue has taken a toll.
"It's been difficult, but we will continue to come to the church and support each other," he said. "We will be OK because in the end, we still have the church and God."
Coppola said the removal won't get him down.
"The bishop has the authority to remove me from public ministry, but he can't remove me from our community," he said. "We're leaving here with smiles on our faces."