In Strange Move, Bishop Returns Petitions to Ousted Gay Catholic

Nicholas Coppola holding a copy of the petition.

Nicholas Coppola holding a copy of the petition.

This is the story of one of the strangest moves that I’ve ever heard of coming from a bishop.  A little over a week ago, we reported that Nicholas Coppola, a gay man who had been dismissed from his volunteer ministries at a Catholic parish on Long Island because he married his partner, delivered a petition with over 18,000 signatures to Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre diocese, asking to be re-instated.

This week, we’ve learned that Bishop Murphy has returned the petition and signatures, with a cover letter which simply stated:  “From your faithful Roman Catholic bishop.”  A copy of the letter can be viewed here.

GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) reported this development on their blog  this week.  They quote Coppola’s reaction to this latest development:

Bishop William Murphy

Bishop William Murphy

“I really don’t understand what sort of message Bishop Murphy is trying to send. Is he no longer listening to the voices of the faithful? I have more questions than anything now.”

The strangeness of the note baffles the mind.  Is the bishop being vindictive?  Pretentious? Humorous? Sarcastic?  The move is certainly unprofessional, and clearly not pastoral.  The message it sends is an authoritarian one, not one of responding to human needs or concerns.

The Washington Post notes that the diocese confirmed that the letter did indeed come from the bishop:

“Sean Dolan, a spokesperson for Murphy, on Thursday confirmed that the bishop had sent the 300 sheets of paper with the signatures back to Coppola.

“In a statement, Dolan said the petition and the way its delivery was staged for the media ‘was designed to misinform the press and the intended recipient,’ and was ‘only designed to promote the organizations behind this spectacle.’

“ ‘All legitimate correspondence sent to the Office of the Bishop either by email or regular U.S. Mail is responded to,’ Dolan said in a statement. ‘Online petitions of this nature lack legitimacy (and) are not considered correspondence and therefore do not warrant a response.’ “

On-line petitions are a new form of media and expression, but they are now ubiquitous, and certainly a legitimate form of communication.  The diocese disregards such communications at its peril, and will continue to be out of touch with the real world.

GLAAD points out an interesting church law fact about the diocese’ response:

“According to canon law, the bishops must respond to letters that have been delivered. Later the same day that Nicholas delivered the petitions, the diocese issued a media statement reaffirming Nicholas’ ouster. It is unclear if returning the petition is the official response, per canon law.”

U.S. Catholic magazine has opined on the serious pastoral error that Murphy has made:

“Whether or not Coppola should have been removed from ministry, and whether Catholics who enter into a civil union or same-sex marriage with their partner should be allowed to participate in the life of a parish, are questions that will surely get a lot of arguments on both sides. But the fact that many Catholics were upset with the way Coppola was treated isn’t something that should just be ignored–a good bishop should at least engage with his flock and, if not to debate the decisions he’s made, should at the very least be open to explaining his reasoning in a pastoral manner. If nothing else, the bishop should see it as a teachable moment rather than something to turn away from and refuse to acknowledge.”

Coppola has a second petition campaign going in which he asks New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan to have a meal with his family.  On Easter Sunday, Dolan stated on a television talk show that the church needs to do better outreach to gay and lesbian people.  You can sign the petition here.

GLAAD’s Ross Murray, director of news and faith initiatives, stressed the importance of this second petition:

“Nicholas Coppola is a faithful Catholic who loves his church, and he is now being treated like a threat by his own bishop. Now more than ever, it is vital that Cardinal Dolan break bread with Nicholas to hear how he is being treated by the church that he loves so much.”

New Ways Ministry urges you to sign this petition.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

4 replies
  1. tomfluce
    tomfluce says:

    Frank, Brother Murphy and I were in the seminary together a total of 4 years including 3 in Rome during Vat. II. Clearly he has been a priest faithful to his church. He’s caught between a rock and a hard place. Let’s be discerning about what is happening with these folks, brothers sworn to uphold the teachings of the church.

    Clearly he stayed “in” the church whereas I was thrown out by those in charge of ousting people like me. I had those erroneous, sinful, ideas like allowing priests to marry. This, thanks to Brother Ratzinger definitely along with Brother Wojtala, buoyed up by loyal Catholics all over the world rabidly against ideas of including sex with priesthood, birth control, as well as women and gay issues.

    Give Brother Murphy and all the others who are in charge of upholding the faith a little slack. They have a doctrine to uphold–homosexuality is sinful–not a law on church discipline like married clergy or probably even women priests. They aren’t necessarily in agreement with people like Randy Engel on the far right. But they also can’t go against the faith even though they genuinely will “love the sinner, but hate the sin”.

    The problem is with us LGBT folk and allies as much as with the Engels of the church. We LGBT folks have to face what is a problem of changing doctrine and of finding a better way for sisters and brothers to dissent in the meantime. So along with signing petitions, hoping for surprises from the hierarchy etc, we need to be organizing an irresistible moral movement based on conscience to bring about this 21st century of handling dissent. You know I’m calling it the “Galileo Reconciliation Commission – GRC. It’s absolutely unconscionable that the church has not found a way to avoid another “Galileo” tragedy in our day. In our case it is more than putting a man under house arrest and ruining his name. It’s a matter of continued persecution, murder, suicide and mental anguish, in the name of the church, in the name of Jesus.

    But as long as we support a monarchical and punishing way of dealing with dissent, we will see these hateful conditions for LGBT folks continue even as we make greater progress in the civil sector. I appreciate as a part of the battle your unending postings about the great strides we’re making in the treatment of same-sex marriage, and about the growing number of hierarchs backing off the stance that Brother Ratzinger proclaimed as late as this past New Year. ( He lamented David Cameron’s support for gay marriage as ‘an offence against the truth of the human person’ . Daily Mail, Dec. 31, 2012)

    But if the reported majority of Catholics– lay and clerical–who support not only gay marriage, but the goodness of homosexual relations were to stand out and be counted and had a practical plan? To this day I know so many personally who do not want to rock the boat, both for personal reasons–loss of jobs, benefits, ministries–as well as for keeping the peace. They will not “come out” and risk calling for the establishment of the GRC. Why? Well I can understand the personal loss, but I’m sure we could prevail in creating the GRC if we did “come out” in sufficient numbers and credibility. Old fogies like myself in numbers and with similar training and commitment ought to carry some weight. The cost is more violence, personal suffering and condemnations to hell. We can no longer worry about being sent to hell if we break the silence, if we call for a loving solution to dissent over doctrine. We might have to do ecclesial disobedience? Will being forbidden to receive communion be enough to stop us? We have to be all over at the parish, diocesan, national and international scenes, peacefully and lovingly, yet forthright.

    Come on, the Galileo Reconciliation Commission has to be worth it! See me at Could we get this on the agenda of New Ways Ministry?

  2. Will
    Will says:

    Contrast this – and the firing of Carla Hale, among others – with the reports today that Cardinal O’Brien will not be investigated for his abuse of power in groping/having sex with young priests. This really is compounding O”Brien’s personal hypocrisy with a brazen hypocritical stance by the Church hierarchy.

    Do these prelates have no shame at all?


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