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New York church maintains Gay Pride presence, but with blank banner

By Susan Candiotti and Vivienne Foley, CNN
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No church banner in Pride march
  • Parishioners of St. Francis Xavier have marched in Gay Pride parade for years
  • Church's ministries for LGBT communities invite gay Catholics back to church
  • New York archbishop asked church's pastor to keep church's name out of parade
  • Parishioners marched wearing T-shirts with church's name, but with blank banner

New York (CNN) -- This year, as for the past 12 years or more, parishioners from St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church have marched under their church banner in New York's colorful Gay Pride parade.

But this year, there was a difference.

Their banner was blank, missing the name of the church.

New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan asked the church's pastor to keep St. Francis' name out of the picture.

The parish was told that the archdiocese's spiritual leader was concerned the church might be seen as endorsing some elements of the gay pride march that may advocate a promiscuous lifestyle.

"Our people are not endorsing that at all," said the church's pastor, the Rev. Joe Costantino.

Members of the gay ministries of St. Francis Xavier say they view the parade as an opportunity to welcome gay Catholics back into the fold.

They hand out welcome brochures to reach out to anyone watching the march.

"Perhaps some people come to St. Francis because they don't feel judged," said Stephanie Samoy, a self-proclaimed lesbian who has been active in the parish for several years.

"I don't know if it's the Holy Spirit, but there's love...the presence of the savior," said Samoy.

For years, Samoy and other parishioners have taken their spirit to the streets, proud to advertise their church.

"It's empowering, it's refreshing, it's a mission, and people need to know there's a place they can come home to," said Samoy.

She said when parishioners heard about keeping their church's name under wraps in the march, many in the church's gay ministries weren't happy.

"I was like, hell no," said Samoy.

Then, she said the LGBT-- lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender -- ministries together decided to march with a blank banner and continue to distribute their brochures.

"We are honoring his request," she said of the archbishop.

But they also wore T-shirts on which they printed the St. Francis Xavier name.

A compromise, Samoy said, that they and their pastor accept.

"For me, the blank banner stands for, 'We've been silenced.' For me, that's also very powerful and we can -- I can -- live with that this year."

A spokesman for Archbishop Dolan told CNN he had no comment.