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Gay church volunteer loses bid for reinstatement

Nicholas Coppola, left, and his husband David Crespo

Nicholas Coppola, left, and his husband David Crespo in their Oceanside home. (April 4, 2013) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

The Diocese of Rockville Centre has rejected a plea by a gay man to be reinstated to his volunteer duties in an Oceanside parish after he was ousted following his marriage to another man.

Nicholas Coppola personally delivered petitions requesting the reinstatement to the Rockville Centre offices of Bishop William Murphy Thursday morning.

The diocese responded later that Coppola cannot resume his duties because by marrying last October under New York State's same-sex marriage law he took a public position against church teachings.

"The Catholic Church recognizes that all persons share equally in the dignity of being human and are entitled to have that human dignity protected," the diocese said in a statement. "This does not, however, justify the creation of a new definition for marriage, a term whose traditional meaning is of critical importance to the furtherance of fundamental societal interests."

The nationwide online petition supporting Coppola, signed by 18,500 people, was organized by Faithful America, a Washington, D.C.-based group that opposes "right-wing extremism."

Coppola said he's not surprised by the decision, but hopes the diocese will do more to welcome gays and lesbians -- something Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City recently said he wants to do.

"It would be incredibly helpful for me and for all those at St. Anthony's who were hurt by my removal to hear a pastoral word from the hierarchy of the church," he said. "The church needs to make a pastoral response, not one that makes pronouncements from behind locked doors and through fax machines."

In January, Coppola, 47, was removed from his duties at St. Anthony's parish as eucharistic minister, religion teacher and visitor for the homebound sick after the diocese received an anonymous letter complaining that he is gay.

Coppola, a retired construction electrician, has been openly gay at the parish for years. Last October, he married David Crespo, 47. Coppola said about a dozen parishioners attended the Farmingdale wedding, along with some clergy.

The diocese has said the decision to remove Coppola was made by St. Anthony's pastor, the Rev. Nicholas Lombardi. But Coppola disputed that, saying the diocese ordered Lombardi to oust him. Lombardi has not returned calls.

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