New York Catholic parishioner Nicholas Coppola told his story this week, which is one of rejection and abandonment of a married gay man by the Catholic Church’s hierarchy. This is only part of Coppola’s tale however, as he has retained a ‘glass half full’ approach regarding both his spirituality and his local parish.
Shunned by a Catholic Bishop following his marriage, he was ordered to no longer be active at his church, St. Anthony’s in Long Island. He claims the biggest shame is how his parish priest, Fr. Nick Lombardi, was forced to remove Coppola from the ministry.
“Fr. Lombardi is a wonderful, wonderful man. I don’t blame him for this. Overall, this has not shaken my faith but strengthened it,” Coppola told 429Magazine.
After a back injury 7 years ago, Coppola says that participation in his Jesuit parish, including work on their Consolation Ministry, gave him a “sense of purpose.” Over the same period of time he found love with his now partner David.
“I was always out to my parish. It’s such a welcoming parish to both David and I. Their true message is love, which is simple, one of equal treatment,” said Coppola.
The couple formalized their relationship in October 2012. The wedding was attended by several hundred family members and friends. Many parishioners were part of the ceremony. Hurricane Sandy delayed the pair’s honeymoon, from which they returned in January. Coppola went to mass on Martin Luther King Day. This is when he heard the news from his pastor, news that shocked him.
“Fr. Lombardi told me with a heavy heart that I had been removed from public ministry,” he said.
Coppola recalls that an anonymous letter had been sent to Bishop William Murphy. It notified the bishop of his homosexuality and recent marriage. Murphy subsequently forwarded the letter to Fr. Lombardi requesting that Coppola be relieved of his parish duties for making a “public statement” against church teaching.
He remembers showing no reaction in the Church when informed of their decision. But he broke down at home with the sense of having been “shunned.”
“David has been so supportive. The day it happened, I cried and he hugged me. The positive feeling from parishioners gets me through it. In my heart of hearts my conscience tells me this is right.”
Coppola understands that Fr. Lombardi was left with no option and that his “hands were tied.” If anything, he feels that his local pastor was betrayed more than he himself in that the ruling was enforced upon him by Catholic hierarchy.
“He’s very sad. He did not want to do this and is struggling with it,” said Coppola.
Bishop Murphy has not responded to questions on the matter. His junior, Auxiliary Bishop Bob Brennan, spoke with Coppola, who notes he was “pastoral and sincere but said nothing can be done and dialogue was shut down.”
Despite the lack of engagement from the hierarchy, Coppola retains a real air of positivity about his Church. There’s a sense that change is possible. On Pope Francis, he is “very, very hopeful” that this is a man who can lead this change and live up to comments about being a “ray of light of change.”
“I look at the positive parts of his words. How he presented himself, he’s an example of Christ. He doesn’t want fanfare,” he added.
Coppola points to the decision of the McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, New York in allowing a gay couple to attend their junior prom as being evidence of the change happening locally. He calls for the wider church to enter a dialogue with the LGBT community and to simply “listen to people in the pews.” He says that otherwise those like Fr. Lombardi will be forced to act against their will.
“They don’t want to say [anti-gay rhetoric] but feel they have to,” he concluded.