This dissonance between the Roman Catholic hierarchy and its parishioners were made apparent in a recent incident involving a gay Catholic man who, despite finding acceptance from his fellow peers and priest, was nonetheless shunned by those higher in command.
Nicholas Coppola, a parishioner at St. Antony’s Roman Catholic Church in Oceanside, New York, was not only actively involved in his church as a religious education instructor, lector, altar, and server — he had also been openly gay to his priest and fellow parishioners for years. Many of them supported his relationship and a number of members within the congregation attended his legal wedding on October 27, 2012.
However, the pastor of St. Antony informed him shortly after returning from his honeymoon that his marriage was against church teachings and he could not longer be active in the church.
This episode, while unfortunate, happens all too frequently. In Maryland, a woman was denied communion at her own mother’s funeral because she was a lesbian. And in Minnesota, a 17-year old was denied confirmation because he had posted a Facebook photo of himself that showed his support for gay equality.
For all its teachings of love and acceptance for everyone including sinners, the Roman Catholic hierarchy continues to shun the LGBT community even though three quarters of Catholics support same-sex relationships, according to a 2011 poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute.
Members of the LGBT community remain Catholic or religious not because they are sadists and enjoy blatant prejudice — they remain because they believe in the church’s teachings of love, acceptance, community, mercy, and forgiveness. Despite Catholicism’s homophobic sacraments, gays can still find solace and love from other congregation members because of those other Catholic doctrines — you know, the ones that promote love and acceptance of all. Therefore, it seems bizarre that the Roman Catholic hierarchy — the catechists of such teachings — can’t quite seem to follow suit.
To adapt and justify the presence of gay members within a congregation, Sister Mary Ann Walsh — Director of Media Relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — took to the web and explained that gays had always been welcome within Catholicism. The church turns no one away. However, after a lengthy dialogue that preached inclusivity, Sister Walsh in the end writes, “But know this: The Catholic Church will battle hard to maintain the sacredness of marriage as between a man and a woman.”
From Sister Walsh’s blunt disclosure, it would not be illogical to conclude that while gays are certainly welcome into a congregation, they would be labeled as sinners, and their sexual orientation a sin that begs forgiveness. Sister Walsh’s prolonged rhetoric did nothing but to justify the scarlet lettering of gays within a parish.
The Roman Catholic Church has resolutely stood behind a highly exclusionary and antiquated veil that once worked for a homogenous and less tolerant society. However, with a changing global culture in which a United Methodist Church shows solidarity for same-sex marriages and Catholics attend gay weddings — as was the case with Coppola — the church’s old definitions of “all-encompassing” just doesn’t cut it anymore.
If the Roman Catholic hierarchy wants to truly represent its flock, they should listen to the current parishioners — including the gay and happily married religious education instructor — and redefine their values for a diversifying congregation.