Nicolas Coppola is a proud Catholic, and an equally proud gay man. For years, these two halves of Coppola co-existed without incident. Until recently.
The 47-year-old retired construction worker has been a parishioner at St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church, in Oceanside, N.Y., for close to a decade. Always open about his sexuality, Coppola was also an active member of St. Anthony's, visiting home-bound members, teaching fifth-graders on the way to confirmation and serving as a member of the Consolation Ministry and St. Vincent de Paul, according to the GLAAD.
Then, in October of 2012, Coppola wed his longtime boyfriend, David, in a ceremony attended by several members of St. Anthony's. In a phone interview with The Huffington Post, Coppola explained the subsequent series of events that ended in his removal from all parish duties.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Coppola said he attended a mass at St. Anthony's celebrating justice and equality. After the homily, he was summoned into the office of his pastor, Father Nicholas Lombardi, where he was told an anonymous letter complaining about his sexuality had been sent to Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre Diocese, which includes St. Anthony's Parish. Lombardi said Coppola would be banned from his parish duties, as a result of the letter.
GLAAD obtained a copy of the complaint, which read, in part:
This letter is to inform you of a serious situation at St. Anthony's in Oceanside. I have made numerous calls to your office which I believe have fallen on deaf ears.
Nicolas Coppola ... is a homosexual. He was recently married to another man. He does not hide this or keep it silent.
With all that The Catholic Church has been dealing with and trying to stop, WHY IS THIS PERMITTED?
"[Lombardi] said 'my hands are tied, the bishop gave me no choice,'" Coppola told HuffPost. "He had a very heavy heart, he struggled and continues to struggle with it."
Parishioners, too, seemed to disagree with the decision. Coppola said he has received many calls of support. St. Anthony's parishioner Janine Maloney told NBC New York: "This is a nice man, what does it matter? This is a good parish and I feel bad they had to do this."
But when Coppola appealed to the bishop, he received the same answer as he had from Lombardi: My hands are tied.
While devastated by the diocese's decision, Coppola told HuffPost that he mostly worries what kind of message this sends to younger Catholics who might be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
"Being gay is difficult enough, thank God that it's getting better," he said. "But my concern is ... for younger people who might be put in the same position."
The diocese is standing firmly by its decision.
“The [C]hurch has the right to have people in public positions who accurately represent its teachings,” Sean Dolan, director of communications for the diocese, told The New York Times. “If someone decides to get married in a homosexual marriage, they don’t quite understand, or at least don’t follow, Catholic teaching.”
The actions of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, by all accounts a welcoming and supportive diocese, also fly in the face of the message currently being broadcast by leaders such as U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan. On Easter Sunday the influential Dolan said the Church must do a better job of welcoming the LGBT community into the fold, and not be "anti-anybody."
"This completely contradicts [Dolan's comments]," Coppola told the HuffPost. He went on to say he feels Christians are called to live the gospel, not just observe it.
"That's what I believe as Catholics we are called to do: be an active part of the Church," he said. "It's important for us to go forth and set the world on fire, to be there for the marginalized, to correct injustices. By allowing me to be a parishioner, but denying me the blessing, or the right, to show my faith and act on my faith -- this is very hurtful."