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N.Y. Catholic diocese removes married gay man from parish duties

Nicholas Coppola attends Long Island church

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Nicholas Coppola, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade
Nicholas Coppola, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Oceanside, N.Y., resident (left) Nicholas Coppola claims the local Catholic diocese removed him from parish activities after he married his husband last October. (Photo courtesy of GLAAD.)

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.”

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Over 100 LGBTQ-themed books in a Florida school district labeled with advisory warning

They warn: “this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students.”

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Advisory Notice (via Twitter)

A southwest Florida district put parental “advisory notice” on over 100 books, many of which are race or LGBTQ-themed. 

A great number of books in Collier County Public Schools, either digital or physical, now have warning labels writing “Advisory notice to parents,” according to an NBC report,

The label, tweeted by nonprofit free-speech-promoting group PEN American, states, “This Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students. This book will also be identified in the Destiny system with the same notation. The decision as to whether this book is suitable or unsuitable shall be the decision of the parent(s) who has the right to oversee his/her child’s education consistent with state law.” 

Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which means to fight book banning, told NBC that she had a call from Elizabeth Alves, the associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Collier County Public Schools. In the call, Alves told her that the district added the labels starting in February. 

These measures, which Alves described as a “compromise,” happened after the district’s legal representative talked with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group which initiated a “Porn in Schools Report” project last year. The report included a list of books that “promote gender self-identification and same-sex marriage” as well as titles that include “indecent and offensive material,” as the group explained. 

Chad Oliver, the Collier County Public Schools spokesperson, on the other hand offered a different story. 

Oliver sent an email to NBC News and said, “Based upon advice from the General Counsel, we placed advisory notices on books about which parents and community members had expressed concern and in accordance with the recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights Law (HB 241).” 

The law referred by Oliver is also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

According to PEN America, there are 110 labeled books in total, and the list greatly overlaps with the one Florida Citizens Alliance inquired about with Collier County Public Schools. 

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National

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney introduces bill to make monkeypox testing free

Health insurers would be required to cover costs

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has introduced legislation to make monkeypox testing free to the public. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), amid the ongoing monkeypox affecting gay and bisexual men, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House seeking to make testing for disease free to the public.

Maloney, one of seven openly gay members of Congress and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement the measure, called the No Cost for Monkeypox Testing Act, would testing amid the monkeypox outbreak would be accessible to all.

“It is critical that we eliminate cost as a barrier to testing for monkeypox to ensure we can identify cases and prevent further spread,” Maloney said. “This legislation takes the lessons we learned from past public health emergencies and protects those at risk of contracting monkeypox by making tests accessible to everyone.”

The legislation would require private health insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid to cover the costs of monkeypox testing at no expense to the patients, either through deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance.

The bill introduction comes the week after the Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency and the same it has issued new guidance to enhance to the accessing of existing vaccines doses amid criticism federal officials were too slow in distributing shots.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Centers for Disease Control seeking comment on the legislation. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said Tuesday the federal government has the capacity to conduct an estimated 80,000 tests each week.

Maloney has been representing New York’s 18th congressional district, but after redistricting is now seeking re-election in the 17th district. Amid controversy over a potential showdown between Maloney and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who’s Black, another openly gay member of Congress and the current representative of that district, Jones has since opted to run for re-election in the New York’s 10th congressional district. Maloney is now running unopposed in the 17th.

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Biden administration shifts monkeypox vaccine approach amid shortage

Health experts sees new guidance as mixed bag

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The Biden administration has changed its guidance on monkeypox vaccines to enhance availability amid the shortage.

The Biden administration, amid criticism it was slow to act on the monkeypox outbreak and still not meeting the demand for vaccines as the number of cases continues to grow, has announced a shift in guidance for implementation of the shot in an effort to enhance availability.

As the estimated number of monkeypox cases in the United States reaches 8,900, top health officials announced the new move on Tuesday as part of a decision by Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra to issue a determination under Section 564 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to justify emergency use authorization of vaccines. The announcement follows up on the Biden administration’s announcement last week declaring the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency.

Becerra said in a conference call with reporters the 564 determination and change in approach to vaccines would “boost and strengthen” the Biden administration’s response to monkeypox, which has overwhelmingly affected gay and bisexual men, and “safely accelerates and multiplies our supply of effective vaccines by up to fivefold.”

“Today’s action also reaffirms HHS and this administration’s commitment to using all available resources and capabilities to end the monkeypox outbreak and provide the best possible care to those suffering from the virus,” Becerra added.

The new vaccine approach, which may may be considered minor to non-medical observers, would change injections of the JYNNEOS vaccine from the subcutaneous route (delivery of the vaccine under the fat layer underneath the skin) to the intradermal route (delivery of the vaccine into the layer of skin just underneath the top layer). In theory, that would allow for greater accessibility of monkeypox vaccines as it increases the number of doses from each vial of vaccine.

The change was made amid criticism the Biden administration failed to meet the demand for vaccines during the outbreak and geographic inequity as certain metropolitan areas of the country have more access to vaccines than other places.

As The New York Times reported last week, the Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough in acquiring and distributing vaccines, including bulk stocks already owned by the U.S. government manufactured in Denmark by Bavaria Nordic now being given to other clients.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Biden officials, nonetheless, touted the numbers of vaccines and tests in response to monkeypox as a positive, acknowledging the 1.1 million vaccines being made available as well as delivery of more than 620,000 of those doses, deployment more than 15,000 courses of the monkeypox treatment and increasing the country’s capacity to administer tests on a weekly basis to around 80,000. Meanwhile, officials also promoted the change in approach in vaccines as means to allow greater accessibility to the shots.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, promoted during the conference call the use of intradermal injections and said they’re “often used for TB skin tests and have been used for other types of vaccines.”

Although Walensky conceded some health care providers “may not be as familiar with intradermal administration” as they are with subcutaneous injection, she said CDC would make additional guidance materials available, including a clinician alert message to the Association of State & Territorial Health Officials, outreach to key clinician partners and an education resource video. The change in guidance, Walensky said, is for vaccine implementation in adults, but children — where single digit monkeypox cases have been reported — would continue to receive vaccination in the traditional subcutaneous approach.

But health experts aren’t responding with overwhelming praise to the decision to change the guidance on vaccine implementation from subcutaneous injections to intradermal injections, expressing concerns the new approach may be insufficient.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those saying the change in guidance on vaccine approach was a mixed bag and told the Blade more data is needed to evaluate the effectiveness.

“As we saw with COVID, using these authorities in the context of public health emergencies is an important strategy,” Kates said. “In this case, this step will significantly expand access to vaccines for those most at risk. However, there remain questions about the effectiveness of this approach — real world studies are needed — and challenges to translating vaccines into vaccinations.”

Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research (CBER) at the Food & Drug Administration, was asked during the conference call with reporters to respond to concerns the change in guidance was insufficient and downplayed the novelty of implementing the vaccines through the intradermal route as “not at all new.”

“In fact, the reason why the Bavaria part of this equation comes from the fact that in Germany, this vaccine was given intradermally originally, in an effort to replicate the original version of the smallpox vaccine,” Marks said. “It’s been given to thousands of people intradermally, so this isn’t the first time it’s been done.”

Walkensky said the intradermal vaccine approach has been implemented amid policies among localities to implement a one-dose approach to the JYNNEOS vaccine through the subcutaneous route. (The D.C. government is one of the jurisdictions that had enacted a one-dose approach amid a vaccine shortage.) There is not data, Walkensky said, to support that approach and “in fact, if anything, there are data saying that that is not protective enough.”

“So by using this alternative strategy of intradermal dosing, not only do we have more doses, but we actually allow people to get two doses in a way that shows immunologic response that’s superimposable from the subcutaneous dosing,” Walkensky said. “So we have more doses, and in fact, we have the ability to doubly vaccinate people so that they get the protection that they need.”

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