A gay music director's firing from Rockford, Ill.'s largest Catholic church has divided parishioners, some of whom rallied to his support with a picnic on Sunday. Bill Stein said Holy Family Parish officials gave him the ultimatum of taking a vow of chastity and giving up his partner of 10 years or losing his job June 17. "I was honest. I walked out of the office without a job, but I had my dignity," Stein told the Rockford Register Star. "This shouldn't happen to anybody. It's the year 2003, for crying out loud." Stein has been with the church five years. He played the organ, directed choirs, and planned music for all church functions. He oversaw installation of a $777,000 pipe organ and led a church choir on an Italian tour that included an audience with Pope John Paul II. Rockford diocese spokeswoman Penny Wiegert said the diocese could not comment. "We can confirm that Mr. Bill Stein is no longer an employee of Holy Family Parish, but as a matter of practice, we can make no comment about personnel issues," she said.
The church has 2,760 member families. Stein's firing angered some of them, and he said he received more than 100 phone calls, letters and E-mails of support. On Sunday, parishioners used a previously scheduled choir picnic to toast Stein and offer tearful farewells. "I'm very disappointed and saddened with the dismissal and the lack of information coming from the church regarding it," choir member David Mason said. Others said Stein always used music to help choir members deepen their contact with God.
"The most important part of singing in the choir was the sacredness of the liturgy, and Bill made sure we knew that," choir member Mary Parry said. "The saddest thing is not that I lost a job," Stein said. "I'll get a job somewhere doing something. The saddest thing is the people who have told me that
this has shaken their faith."
But others in the church who disagreed with Stein's lifestyle may have set his dismissal in motion. The flap began three months ago when Stein and his partner decided they wanted to adopt a child. Some choir parents complained to church officials. Some Catholics from other Rockford parishes agreed with the church's decision. "Anyone working in a Catholic institution, whether it be a high school or a
parish, is required to live in a chaste manner," said John Gile, who attends the Cathedral of St. Peter. "If we're going to be in a leadership position, the organization sets the rules."