Just when we had heard of a "softening" of the Catholic line on gay and lesbian people–because two Catholic high schools allowed same-sex couples to attend prom and because New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said gay people were entitled to "friendship" (???)–we get yet another story of a Catholic parishioner canned from parish work because he got civilly married to his partner. Nicholas Coppola joins a growing band of church musicians, Catholic schoolteachers, and communion ministers who are sidelined from church duties for entering civil contracts with their same-sex partners.
Setting aside what I think is a blatant disregard for the rights of baptized people in the church by the Diocese of Rockville Centre and its bishop, William Murphy–who acted based on an anonymous letter to the diocese–it is impossible not to be moved by Coppola's devotion to his parish. After decades of service, he is being literally benched, but he is still showing up Sunday after Sunday, and even speaking kindly for the pastor, whose "hands were tied" by the bishop's decision. Frankly, it breaks my heart that his pastor or members of the parish weren't willing to go to the mat for this guy. Entering a civil contract, even when it's called "marriage," simply does not violate church teaching about the immorality of same-gender sex acts–it only violates the public policy position of the U.S. bishops and the Vatican, and there is a big difference between the two. It's enough of a difference to justify letting Coppola continue his ministry in the parish.
That lack of loyalty when the rubber hits the road is particularly tragic in the don't-ask-don't-tell situations LGBT Catholics find themselves in. Parish after parish, school after school, celebrates and relies on their gifts and labor, offering some semblance of acceptance–then pulls the rug out when it gets tough. "My hands are tied" is a common cop out; wouldn't it be better if Coppola's pastor said it instead to the bishop: "My hands are tied. The gospel won't let me treat a child of God like that." Coppola deserves better than that; everyone deserves better than that.