OCEANSIDE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Supporters of a gay Long Island parishioner who was removed from volunteer duties at a Catholic church formally demanded his reinstatement Thursday.

Nicholas Coppola and his supporters delivered petitions signed by more than 18,000 people to the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

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Coppola was ousted from his duties at St. Anthony’s parish in Oceanside after the diocese received an anonymous letter complaining that he is gay.

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Coppola, who’s been openly gay for years, volunteered as a Eucharistic minister, religion teacher and visitor for home-bound sick. He said the anonymous letter referred to his recent marriage to his partner last October.

The letter stated in part: “With all that the Catholic church has been dealing with, why is this permitted?”

Coppola had been a volunteer at the church for the past five years.

“There was never, never an issue at any time,” Coppola told CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang.

The petitions delivered Thursday asked the bishop of the diocese of Rockville Centre, William Francis Murphy, to allow Coppola to “resume volunteering at his parish and make it clear that faithful gay and lesbian Catholics are welcome to participate fully in parish life in your diocese.”

A copy of the letter that was delivered to the Bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre William Francis Murphy on Thursday, April 11, 2013. (crdit: Mona Rivera/1010 WINS)

A copy of the letter that was delivered to the Bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre William Francis Murphy on Thursday, April 11, 2013. (credit: Mona Rivera/1010 WINS)

The petition drive was led by Faithful America, a Washington, D.C. group.

“We wanted to deliver these signatures to let him [Murphy] know the voices from the pews, what is being said,” Coppola told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera. “It’s important that he takes the time and just looks at them.”

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The diocese said anyone in public ministerial positions must take public positions consistent with Catholic teachings.

“At that moment, all my dignity and purpose in life was stripped of me,” Coppola said.

“There are so many Catholics who disagree with this position,” Coppola added. “It just emphasizes the tremendous disconnect between the hierarchy and the people in the pews.”

Members of the community are torn over the church’s decision.

“I just don’t understand why the bishop feels that he needs to penalize a good person,” Rockville Centre resident Rahul Handa said.

“I don’t think he should be teaching anymore there because it gives the kids different ideas,” resident Dira Sunder told CBS 2’s Jiang.

The diocese of Rockville Centre issued a statement Thursday, and said “The Catholic Church recognizes that all persons share equally in the dignity of being human and are entitled to have that human dignity protected. This does not, however, justify the creation of a new definition for marriage, a term whose traditional meaning is of critical importance to the furtherance of fundamental societal interests.

Others may disagree but they have no justification to prevent the Church from living according to her teaching and protecting that teaching and the lives of faithful Catholics from those who would disregard it.  Regardless of contrary opinion or even civil legislation, the Church must be faithful to her teaching and consistent and coherent living out that teaching.

The Diocese’s respects those who may have signed a petition but in turn expects others to respect the Church which will remain clear in her teaching and faithful in living that teaching for the good of one and all.”

Do you think Coppola should have been ousted by the church? Let us know below.

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