The Archbishop of Westminster has dismissed his gay press secretary after telling him his sexuality was “incompatible” with his position in the Church, prompting further rows over Christianity and homosexuality.

Stephen Noon, in charge of promoting the public image and ethics of the Church, was sacked by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor in 2004 after just a year in the post.

The Cardinal was accused of being “unchristian” in forcing Mr Noon, 35, a devout Catholic, to leave his £35,000 a year position in 2004.

A friend of Mr Noon’s told the Mail on Sunday, “What was terrible was the unchristian way Stephen was treated. That was the saddest part of the outcome of events.

“The process he had to go through was extraordinarily painful.”

Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, a leading member of the National Secular Society, told the Mail on Sunday, “This shows the continuing intolerant attitude of Church leaders to the way other people lead their private lives. Yet these same Church leaders lecture us about public morality.”

Insiders told the paper, relations between the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales were initially fine but deteriorated when Mr Noon’s partner began to visit him at work.

A source told The Mail on Sunday: “His partner came into the office to meet him at the end of the day and was introduced to the Cardinal.

“Shortly after the Church made clear his sexuality was incompatible with the job he had to do. Since he was the spokesperson for the Cardinal, Murphy-O’Connor clearly felt he had to act because homosexual acts are regarded by the Church as a sin.”

Mr Noon reportedly did not want to take the case to an employment tribunal as he wanted to change the Church’s attitude to homosexuality, he asked the National Union of Journalists to arrange a settlement for him.

The Mail on Sunday reports there were meetings to arrange a settlement attended by the Cardinal, and a pay off of around £20,000 arranged plus an agreement not to speak publicly about reasons for the departure.

A source said: “The Cardinal said he was sorry matters had ended up like they had. But he had not changed his mind about having an openly gay man as his spokesman.”

Conservative MP and practising Roman Catholic Ann Widdecombe backed the decision, she said: “I don’t think the Cardinal had any choice. The Church’s teaching is very clear. It would be difficult if you had a Press secretary explaining that teaching, while at the same time violating it. I am sure the Cardinal did it with much regret.”

A spokesman for Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said: “We do not divulge confidential details about employees, including why they join or leave us.”

Mr Noon has since become a senior advisor in the Scottish National Party.

New Minister for Women and Equality, Ruth Kelly, drew vast media criticism last week over how she would balance her Catholic beliefs and represent the gay community.

The Cardinal said her faith should be respected.

The Catholic Church is known for its opposition to homosexuality particularly in areas of marriage and adoption.