After Nicholas Coppola was removed from parish ministry for marrying his husband, many rushed to support the Long Island gay Catholic man through a petition to the Diocese of Rockville Centre. Over 18,000 people signed the petition which Coppola delivered to Bishop William Murphy’s office personally.
“‘Bishop Murphy, please let Nicholas Coppola resume volunteering at his parish – and make it clear that faithful gay and lesbian Catholics are welcome to participate fully in parish life in your diocese.’ “
“According to gay activist network GLAAD, which has been assisting Coppola, a security guard at the diocese agreed to deliver the petition but said that neither Murphy nor diocesan officials would meet with Coppola and representatives of the activist groups who accompanied him.”
Reflecting on how events around Mr. Coppola have played out, several Catholic commentators have expressed concern about the direction parishes head when priests exclude LGBT ministers for marrying. Bryan Cones writes at US Catholic about the failures of Catholic leaders to stand by LGBT ministers who give so much:
“Setting aside what I think is a blatant disregard for the rights of baptized people in the church…it is impossible not to be moved by Coppola’s devotion to his parish. After decades of service, he is being literally benched, but he is still showing up Sunday after Sunday, and even speaking kindly for the pastor…Entering a civil contract, even when it’s called ‘marriage,’ simply does not violate church teaching about the immorality of same-gender sex acts–it only violates the public policy position of the U.S. bishops and the Vatican, and there is a big difference between the two. It’s enough of a difference to justify letting Coppola continue his ministry in the parish.
“That lack of loyalty when the rubber hits the road is particularly tragic in the don’t-ask-don’t-tell situations LGBT Catholics find themselves in…’My hands are tied’ is a common cop out; wouldn’t it be better if Coppola’s pastor said it instead to the bishop: ‘My hands are tied. The gospel won’t let me treat a child of God like that.’ Coppola deserves better than that; everyone deserves better than that.”
Writing at the National Catholic Reporter, Pat Perriello observes more sinister intentions in parishes than just failing to support LGBT individuals:
“I believe God’s power is great enough to value goodness in anyone: Catholic, Christian, non-Christian or nonbeliever. God’s power is greater than church structures that sometimes seem designed to constrain that power.
“My other concern about this story is that the sanctions grew out of an elite spy system that appears determined to catch people doing things wrong and force bishops and priests into a position where they feel compelled to act on these events. We have unfortunately been seeing this kind of behavior in our parishes at least since the time of Pope John Paul II. It is divisive, uncharitable, unchristian and inappropriate as a means of resolving disagreements within the Christian community.”
Michael O’Loughlin writes that the Coppola incident illustrates a non-welcoming model of church, but that an alternative way of being church, one which welcomes all, is already being enacted in other areas:
“…there is another side to the Catholic Church that welcomes gay Catholics. I know a Catholic monk who has supported numerous collegee [sic] students through their coming out processes. A thriving parish in New York owes much of its vibrancy to a gay lay minister. There are countless priests and nuns who share the joys and sorrows of gay families in parishes throughout the country. Most of the time, these stories aren’t reported; it’s not exactly news when Christians act Christian. But sometimes they are.
“With support for same-sex marriage growing, especially among the Catholic faithful, the Catholic Church will face many decisions about how to respond to this pastoral challenge. Whether it hunkers down and marginalizes itself or responds with a more Christian approach remains to be seen, but it’s clear that both options are already at work in today’s church.”
Nicholas Coppola is moving forward from this experience with the hope he and his husband can create a more welcoming, sustained place for Catholic LGBT parishioners within the Church. He started a petition anyone can sign at Change.org asking Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to share a meal with Mr. Coppola’s family.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry