NEW YORK (RNS) As Catholic leaders try to signal a new tone of welcome for gays in the church, fresh evidence emerged Wednesday (April 3) of the hurdles that remain: a Long Island parishioner was booted from his church posts after an anonymous letter writer told the local bishop about the man’s marriage to another man.
Nicholas Coppola, a parishioner at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Oceanside, said he had been out to his parish and pastor for years and was active as a religious education teacher, lector, altar server and visitation minister for shut-ins.
But after he and his partner were married under New York’s gay marriage law last October – a service attended by several other churchgoers – someone wrote an anonymous letter to Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre complaining that Coppola was unfit to serve as a church teacher.
In January, Murphy’s top assistant sent the letter and a note to Coppola’s pastor, the Rev. Nicholas Lombardi, stating that while he didn’t want a “witch hunt,” he did think “it would be of concern to you if a catechist were, in fact, ‘married’ as described.”
According to Coppola, who recounted his story on Wednesday through the gay activist network GLAAD, Lombardi pulled him aside after Mass in January and told him he could no longer be an active volunteer at St. Anthony’s.
Coppola told GLAAD that he met twice with diocesan officials but was told the bishop’s “hands were tied.” A spokesperson for Murphy did not respond to requests for comment.
The news follows widely cited comments by top church leaders, such as New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, that the church needs to do a better job welcoming gays and showing that “we’re not an anti-anybody.”
The bishops’ spokeswoman, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, amplified Dolan’s comments earlier this week, writing that “Shunning is not the Catholic tradition” and that “No one is carded at a Catholic Church.”
Yet the church also has a track record of incidents that seem to complicate that claim.
The children of gay couples have been barred from church schools, supporters of same-sex marriage have been denied the sacraments, and openly gay Catholics like Coppola have been barred from church posts.
Last year in New York, Joseph Amodeo, a gay man, quit the board of an archdiocesan charity in protest over Dolan’s stance on gays.
Coppola told GLAAD he continues to hold out hope for his church: “I want a church that is open to all and loves each one of us the same.”