(WOMENSENEWS)–A Catholic religious education coordinator was denied an award from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis this week because she is a lesbian, prompting a protest at the dinner honoring the other 17 recipients, reports the Star Tribune, based in Minneapolis.

About 200 members of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church demonstrated Wednesday night in support of Kathy Itzin, a member of St. Joan’s, who was to be one of 18 archdiocesan workers honored for their work in teaching young people about the faith. She and her partner have four children, ages 10 to 16.

Archbishop Harry Flynn withdrew the award for Itzin after Catholic Parents Online, a Twin Cities group that supports orthodox teachings of the church, sent him a letter pointing out Itzin’s sexual orientation.

Earlier, the Rev. George Wertin, pastor of St. Joan’s, said he "disagreed totally" with Flynn’s decision. "Kathy is a wonderful, respected member of our parish community and our staff," he said. "The award recognized these outstanding qualities in her. To withdraw it simply because of her sexual orientation is offensive to all gays and lesbians and to all of us in her community."

St. Joan’s, a liberal south Minneapolis parish of about 4,000 families, recently had another clash with Flynn. On April 6 he ordered the parish not to allow the Rev. Mel White, national co-founder of Soulforce, to give the homily, again after Catholic Parents Online objected. Soulforce seeks to promote acceptance of gays and lesbians in Christian churches.

Wertin said both incidents show that "St. Joan’s is certainly being hit." He added, "It seems" that Catholic Parents Online is "focusing on any parishes that are inclusive and supportive in any way of gay and lesbian communities."

In an e-mail response to an interview request by the Star Tribune, Colleen Perfect of Catholic Parents Online, said, "We cannot publicly reward someone who is openly rejecting the teaching of the church and the vicar of Christ on earth while so many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring great trials and persecutions to defend that same church and our Holy Father Pope John Paul II."

An official statement from the archdiocese said that after receiving the notice of Itzin’s teaching award, "the archdiocese subsequently learned of her public expression of a lifestyle inconsistent with Catholic doctrine." While the archbishop said her service of 20 years to the church in various teaching and social justice efforts was "commendable, even so she will not be receiving the catechetical award since catechesis involves the public teaching and support of the beliefs of the Catholic Church." The Catholic catechism is the summary of the church’s teachings, widely used as a textbook.

Itzin said, "I’ve tried to live a life of integrity. It’s nice to be recognized, but the award is not the issue. The issue is how the church is treating gay and lesbian people and how we respond to that."