Bondings 2.0 has been covering the story of Nicholas Coppola, a gay Catholic volunteer lay minister at a parish on Long Island, N.Y., who was dismissed from his parish ministries because an anonymous letter-writer alerted the pastor that Coppola married his long-time partner. We reported on the announcement of his dismissal, we reported on his collection of over 18,000 signatures on a petition for his re-instatement, and we reported on the bizarre response he received from his bishop to that petition.
Today we feature a Bondings 2.0 exclusive interview with Mr. Coppola on what the experience of his dismissal has been like, as well as how he has responded to the amazing outpouring of support he has received from Catholics all over the country. The interview gives a personal insight into this faith-filled man.
The Interview: Nicholas Coppola
How did you come to your decision to publicly announce that the pastor had dismissed you from parish ministries?
It was a very difficult decision. At first, I thought I could meet with Bishop Murphy and have a dialogue about my removal. I was hopeful that if Bishop Murphy took the time to get to know me and David, it might soften his heart and realize that gay married couples are the same as any other loving couple. After two meetings with Auxiliary Bishop Brennan, his response was that “his hands are tied.” Then, after hearing Cardinal Dolan’s comments on Easter Sunday about the Catholic Church needing to do a better job with expressing their welcome to gay and lesbian people, I knew my story needed to be told.
Have you had any interaction with the pastor since your story made news?
I see Fr. Nicholas Lombardi on a regular basis as I have in the past. This is due to the fact that my attendance at Mass has not changed and St. Anthony’s parishioners continue to welcome and support us.
Are you still a parishioner at the parish? How are other parishioners reacting to your dismissal?
I will remain a parishioner as long as I have the support of other parishioners, and they have been incredibly supportive. Even as things in the public arena have quieted down, the parishioners are still asking for answers to their questions. They have written letters and have made phone calls to both the Pastor and Bishop William Murphy. I believe this has actually brought the St. Anthony’s Community closer together.
Did you ever think of leaving Catholicism because of being dismissed?
No. The Catholic Church is my foundation, how I was raised by my parents.
What has sustained you spiritually as you have been going through this ordeal?
I described it to a group of people the other day as becoming “spiritually independent.” I don’t rely on the brick and mortar of the church to maintain my relationship with God. I am so thankful to the Jesuits for the blessing of learning Ignatian spirituality: “Find God in all things.” I did the Jesuit spiritual exercises several years ago, and it was an incredible experience.
If you had an opportunity to meet with Bishop Murphy and/or Cardinal Dolan, what would you tell them?
I would start by telling them our story. They need to know who we are and who our families are. I will not be telling them anything that they don’t already know: that there are many gay and lesbian people and their families who are a vibrant part of the Catholic Church. I would want them to know how much we love our Church.
You collected 18,000 signatures on a petition to be re-instated. I imagine the overwhelming support that you have received has strengthened you. Can you tell us a little bit about what that experience has felt like?
The experience of support is not realized until after it happened. Reading some of the comments people wrote about what my story meant to them, hearing people’s stories of struggle and joy was all amazing. They asked me to continue on in my search for justice.
We have seen a number of stories recently of gay and lesbian church workers and volunteers being dismissed from their jobs and ministries. What advice do you have for LGBT people working in the church?
It is our Church. Nobody can remove you from your faith. Share your story.
What have you learned from this experience?
God’s Love for all is real and unconditional.
What are your hopes for the future?
My hopes are that gay and lesbian people, married or not, are loved, accepted, and respected in the church. We are past needing the support from people in the pews. We have it. We now need it from the hierarchy. My short term hope is to have a meeting with Cardinal Dolan to help him welcome lesbian gay people in the church.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry