A New York Catholic diocese in January removed a gay man from public duties at his Long Island parish after he married his same-sex partner.
Nicholas Coppola has attended Mass at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Oceanside, N.Y., since he moved from New York City four years ago. He has worked as an altar server, lector, religious education teacher and visitation minister for homebound parishioners. Coppola was also a member of a ministry that comforted parishioners as they prepared to hold funerals for their loved ones.
Coppola and his partner of nearly a decade married in October — two days before Superstorm Sandy inundated Oceanside and other communities along Long Island’s South Shore.
Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which encompasses Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island, on Dec. 5 received an anonymous letter that detailed Coppola’s work within the parish, but highlighted his sexual orientation.
“The problem is that he is a homosexual,” the letter reads. “He was recently married to another man. He does not hide this or keep it silent.”
Bishop Bob Brennan on Jan. 9 faxed a copy of the aforementioned letter to Father Nicholas Lombardi of St. Anthony’s. He stressed that “while not on a witch hunt, I know it would be of concern to you if a catechist were, in fact, ‘married’ as described.”
Coppola told the Washington Blade on Wednesday that Lombardi approached him after the first Mass he attended when he returned home from his delayed honeymoon over Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend.
“As I walked out of church, the pastor wanted to see me,” Coppola said. “That’s when he hit me with that. I knew he had a heavy heart doing it.”
Coppola said he wrote to Murphy, but he did not respond. He subsequently met with Brennan twice and said he and the bishop had a “fruitful discussion” during their first meeting. Coppola said Brennan told him during their second meeting that he could not “do anything.”
“He said my hands are tied,” Coppola said. “You made a public statement against church teaching.”
Coppola spoke with the Blade less than a week after New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that gay Catholics are “entitled to friendship,” while maintaining marriage should remain between a man and a woman. Dolan also conceded the church has to “do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people.”
Other gay and lesbian Catholics have been excluded from parish activities or even fired from their jobs at parochial schools over the last year.
Father Marcel Guarnizo last February refused to serve communion to Barbara Johnson during her mother’s funeral at a St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md. The priest stepped down after the Archdiocese of Washington placed him on administrative leave.
Administrators at a Normandy, Mo., parochial school last February fired music teacher Al Fischer after a representative of the Archdiocese of St. Louis learned he planned to marry his partner of nearly 20 years in New York City. Steav Bates-Congdon claims he lost his job as music director of a Charlotte, N.C., parish in Jan. 2012 after he and his husband tied the know in the Big Apple a few months earlier.
Sean Dolan of the Diocese of Rockville Centre confirmed to the Blade that Lombardi removed Coppola from his positions within the parish because he “made a decision to marry civilly” and it was as “a public statement” that is “inconsistent with Catholic teaching.”
Gays and lesbians have been able to legally marry in New York since 2011, but Dolan stressed diocesan priests would also remove a heterosexual person from their public parish duties if they left their marriage and tied the knot with someone else without getting an annulment.
“We’re not singling anybody out,” he said.
Dolan said Coppola is welcome to attend Mass in the parish.
Coppola remains hopeful that he will be able to one day return to the altar.
“I’m welcomed by parishioners,” he said. “I’ welcomed by most clergy, being priests. It’s what’s coming down from the top. I’m hoping that this would open up the dialogue even further.”