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LONG ISLAND, N.Y. – When Nicholas Coppola learned he might have a chance to brush shoulders with Pope Francis in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, his mind started racing – first, about what he would say to the religious leader if he had the opportunity, and second, whether he could figure out a way to translate it into Spanish.
“There are so many things I would like to say,” said Coppola, a lifelong Catholic and New York native. “The first thing that came to mind is, ‘I want to come home.’”
Coppola is gay and says his marriage to another man led St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Oceanside, New York, to restrict his volunteer work with the church.
For Coppola, although he is allowed to worship and attend mass at his neighborhood church, “coming home” means returning to the parish unconditionally.
In 2012, an anonymous parishioner mailed a complaint letter to Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre Diocese, which includes St. Anthony's Parish. The letter expressed concern about Coppola’s marriage to his long-time partner, David, as well as Coppola’s role within the church.
“The problem is that he is a homosexual,” the letter read. “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?’”
As an altar server, Coppola had been a regular volunteer during weekday mass, bringing gifts to the altar and assisting the priest. He also served as a lector, reading religious text from the altar in front of the congregation.
However, after the letter arrived, Coppola said his parish at St. Anthony’s church, at the request of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, prohibited him from participating in the religious ministry in which he enjoyed taking part.
“I never felt discrimination that was directed at me 100 percent,” Coppola said. “This was the first time I had that experience, and it hurt.”
Petitioning for change
He launched a petition campaign to convince Bishop Murphy to meet with him.
In a statement, the Diocese of Rockville Centre said it respected the effort and acknowledged that “all persons share equally in the dignity of being human and are entitled to have that human dignity protected”, but reiterated the Catholic Church’s position that marriage should be between one man and one woman.
“Others may disagree but they have no justification to prevent the Church from living according to her teaching and protecting that teaching and the lives of faithful Catholics from those who would disregard it,” the statement read. “Regardless of contrary opinion or even civil legislation, the Church must be faithful to her teaching and consistent and coherent living out that teaching.”
Coppola recently launched another petition at Change.org to convince Pope Francis to meet with members from the LGBTQ community during his trip to the United States.
Coppola, who is an invited guest of the advocacy group Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) at the White House reception for the Pope, said he is inspired and encouraged by the Pope’s progressive outlook.
“There was something about him that I knew…we were going to see good things,” Coppola said. “He is a compassionate and very pastoral pope and a loving pope and an accepting pope who really knows the problems of the church and understands the problems of the church.”