Colin Collette
Parishioners Support Ousted Gay Music Director, But Firing Stands

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com August 15 2014 3:29 PM ET

Many parishioners at a Roman Catholic church in the Chicago suburbs are voicing outrage at the firing of their longtime music director, let go after he announced his engagement to another man.

About 700 people, many of them supportive of ousted music director Colin Collette attended a meeting Wednesday at Holy Family Catholic Church in Inverness, Ill., to discuss the situation, the Chicago Tribune reports. Collette received a standing ovation when he entered the church sanctuary.

Collette was fired in late July after he posted a notice on Facebook of his plans to marry William Nifong, a Chicago high school teacher. Nifong proposed to him while they were on vacation in Rome. Collette, who has been music director at Holy Family for 17 years, says church leaders knew he was gay long before he ever discussed his wedding plans. The two men have been together for five years.

The Rev. Terry Keehan, the church’s pastor, called the meeting so that parishioners could make their feelings known to a panel that included representatives of the Catholic archdiocese of Chicago, which has authority over Holy Family. He explained in last Sunday’s church bulletin that Collette could not remain employed by the church because he “has publicly endorsed a position in conflict with Church teachings.”

At the meeting, Kevin Keane voiced his anger at Collette’s firing and noted that he has resigned his position as cantor in protest. “He has given his entire life to the church,” Keane said. “That leads me to the conclusion if he’s not fit to serve, then I am not fit to serve.”

Collette’s termination “was a bad decision,” added Bob Garbacz, according to the Tribune. “He’s just a pillar of that community. For the church to say you can’t be here because of this rule is ludicrous to us.”

Some attendees expressed agreement with the church’s position, such as Frank Girjatowicz, who told the Tribune that gay people’s “style of life, according to human nature, is not acceptable.”

Collette said he has continued to attend Mass at Holy Family in hopes that he could resume his job on an independent contract basis, but Keehan told him this week that that was not a possibility.

In the past year, as more states have allowed same-sex couples to marry several Catholic parishes and affiliated schools around the nation have fired employees for marrying same-sex partners or being supportive of LGBT loved ones. There have been cases in Washington State, Virginia, Arkansas, California, and Pennsylvania, to name a few. Some Catholic institutions’ employee contracts specify that workers cannot go against the church on the marriage issue. Meanwhile, some gay teachers fired from Catholic schools have petitioned for a meeting with Pope Francis, but church policy is not likely to change anytime soon.