Last Sunday, Cardinal Dolan spoke to the need for improved Catholic outreach to the LGBT community. Many Catholics questioned his sincerity, and they asked for dialogue on the hierarchy’s part to reinforce the statements. The experiences of Nicholas Coppola, a gay Catholic man in New York, are a disheartening reminder of how some church leaders continue to treat LGBT Catholics poorly — and an opportunity for Cardinal Dolan and others to change a broken dynamic.
GLAAD’s blog reports that Mr. Coppola was an active leader at St. Antony’s parish on Long Island until January. He participated in liturgical ministries, was a religious education instructor, and aided ministries for homebound parishioners, the grieving, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The blog notes:
“He has been completely out to his parish for years, and has had the support of his priest and fellow parishioners. Mr. Coppola and his husband, David were married on October 27, 2012. A number of parishioners attended their wedding.
“Upon returning from his honeymoon in January, Mr. Coppola was called into the office of Fr. Nicholas Lombardi S.J., the pastor of St. Anthony…
“Fr. Lombardi stated that Mr. Coppola must be removed from all parish involvement. The reason stated was that Mr. Coppola made a public statement by getting married, which is against church teaching.”
Fr. Lombardi acted against Mr. Coppola upon receiving a fax from the Diocese of Rockville Centre that included an anonymous letter written to Bishop William Murphy identifying Nicholas Coppola as a married gay man involved in parish activities. The Diocese’s fax acknowledged that the anonymous nature of the letter undermines it, but that if there were a ” ‘married’ ” gay catechist it “would be of concern” to Fr. Lombardi. In GLAAD’s blog post, Mr. Coppola recalls the meeting that ensued:
“‘I was in shock. I had just come home from my honeymoon. I went to mass on Martin Luther King Day, where we heard a great sermon about justice and equality,’ said Mr. Coppola, recalling the meeting. ‘After mass, I was summoned into the pastor’s office and told that I could no longer be active in my own parish.’
“Mr. Coppola has had two meetings with the Diocese of Rockville Centre, and was informed that the bishop’s ‘hands were tied.’ While the Roman Catholic hierarchy states that it wishes to welcome gay and lesbian people into the church, being in a loving, committed relationship, and seeking protections for that relationship and for one another through civil marriage will exclude one from parish life.”
Mr. Coppola is the latest victim of exclusionary policies from the Catholic hierarchy that deny the gifts LGBT Catholic individuals and their families offer to our parishes and communities. Cardinal Dolan’s and other bishops’ Easter messages about improving LGBT outreach will mean nothing if cases like Mr. Coppola’s continue to occur.
However, Mr. Coppola continues to pray that a new vision of church will emerge:
“I want a church that is open to all and loves each one of us the same.”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry