An openly gay Long Island man says he was barred from his church duties after marrying his partner of 10 years.
Nicholas Coppola, 47, who was born and raised Catholic, has been an active member of St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church in Oceanside. He volunteered at the church, participating in services and teaching a children's religion class. But he was stripped of those duties when he and his partner, David Crespo, became legally married.
"It has been difficult, very difficult for me," said Coppola. "Because I'm trying to fill that void of good deeds."
"I was accepted into the church being openly gay," said Coppola. "But once I got married, which went against Catholic teaching, they had to remove me from my teaching position."
Coppola said he is openly gay, and that was never an issue with his parish. In fact, in the parish yearbook, Coppola and Crespo are pictured together as a couple. Coppola said parishioners and even some clergy attended their October wedding.
But news of their wedding was not well received by the Diocese of Rockville Centre. Bishop Bob Brennan sent Rev. Nicholas Lombardi at St. Anthony's a letter stating the diocese had received a letter from an anonymous person saying a married, gay man was teaching religion at the church.
Brennan said in the letter, "While not on a witch hunt, I know it would be of concern to you if a catechist were in fact 'married' as described."
Coppola said Lombardi had no choice but to take action.
"I don't want anyone to think this is Nick Lombardi's fault," said Coppola. "He did this with a very heavy heart. You could see it in his face. I felt sad for him that he had to make this decision. In fact, he's still struggling with this now and it's sad."
Janine Maloney is a parishioner at St. Anthony's and her children attend the pre-school.
"This is a nice man, what does it matter?" she said. "This is a good parish and I feel bad they had to do this."
Coppola's story comes days after Cardinal Timothy Dolan said the Catholic Church should do a better job of reaching out to gay men and lesbians. But a spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre says its decision is in line with what Dolan preaches.
"We are not denying him the right to participate in church or to receive sacrament," said Sean Dolan, spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre. "We are just saying marriage is a holy sacrament between one man and one woman."
Even though Coppola is saddened by what happened, he still attends church at St. Anthony's in the hopes that one day, he'll be able to resume his work with the congregation.