During a recent Sunday Mass at Corpus Christi Church in Woodside, the pastor focused his sermon on scripture stories of hospitality and generosity.
Many attendees may have found the message ironic, given that a few weeks earlier the ward music director was fired because of who he loves.
On October 13, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens, forced Matthew LaBanca to step down as music director at the church and music teacher at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy, the school of Astoria where he taught since 2015, because he married his longtime partner Rowan Meyer.
LaBanca, 46, was on the first bench for mass, emphatically singing hymns alongside family members and others who wore rainbow masks symbolizing the pride and support of LBGTQ + designed as a “peaceful declaration” against his dismissal.
“People surprise you in a wonderful way. And it happened to me on Sunday, ”LaBanca said. “There is no mistake if you wear this mask the way you feel. And a large majority of people wore rainbow masks. “
Outside the 61st Street Church, a uniformed policeman approached him before the service and, LaBanca said, told him he was there to protect him. LaBanca and his supporters said they did not call the police and did not know who did.
Parents of the children LaBanca had taught and members of the choir were among those who expressed their support for his return.
“All he does is encourage us to love and forgive and he wants to have some kind of mutual respect between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church,” said Susan Grimes, choir member of the church that actively supports the community. .
Regina Stavropoulos, who has two kids in school, made custom face masks featuring a rainbow heart and LaBanca’s Change.org petition website.
LaBanca’s parents traveled from their upstate home to attend church. “I think it’s an atrocity to do someone these days to someone who has given their whole life to church,” said his mother, Felicia. “We are all children of God and Jesus said to love your neighbor. And that’s not showing love.
Why he talks
LaBanca and Meyer, an actor, tied the knot on August 1. He was fired six weeks later.
“His contract was terminated based on the expectation that all staff in Catholic schools and academies, and ministers of the Church, will abide by the teachings of the Church, as they share the responsibility of serving the faith to students ” , said the diocese.
LaBanca disputes being labeled a minister of the church because he had no formal religious training.
He said he refused severance pay, which included $ 20,000 and allegedly required him not to speak about the situation. Instead, he made a Youtube video explaining his position, which has been viewed over 25,000 times and has spoken to The New York Times. A documentary maker wants to produce a film on LaBanca.
Two weeks ago, LaBanca started a new job at a public elementary school in Queens, teaching music. He also writes a play called “Communion” about his dismissal.
He hopes the story of his dismissal can help create a change in the church.
Appeal to a new bishop
LaBanca said he collected more than 20,000 signatures between two petitions to present to Bishop Robert Brennan, who was installed on November 30 to replace Nicholas DiMarzio, who presided over his dismissal. He hopes Brennan will reverse the decision.
LaBanca is also focusing on the current Catholic Synod, two years of Pope-sponsored meetings around the world that open discussions within dioceses. If enough parishioners speak out, the church should become more tolerant of the LGBTQ + community, he said.
“If each person took a different community within the diocese, or beyond, and shared our message, shared my video, I think that would be fresh on people’s minds,” LaBanca said. “We could move the needle on this issue. “