Church Music Director Fired For Marrying His Partner of 23 Years

February 12, 2012

In another case which illustrates that Catholics in the pews are much more accepting of LGBT issues than some Catholic leaders are, The Charlotte Observer reports that a North Carolina parish music director was fired from his job because he married his long-time partner in New York State.

Bill and Steav Bates-Congdon

Steav Bates-Congdon, 61, led the music ministry at St. Gabriel parish, Charlotte, one of the largest Catholic parishes in the state.  He and his partner, Bill Bates-Congdon have been together for over 23 years.  They were married October 15, 2011, in New York, with several St. Gabriel’s parishioners present.  The pastor, Rev. Frank O’Rourke, had been informed of their plans, and no repercussions were mentioned, according to Steav Bates-Congdon:

“Bates-Congdon, who has produced music for Catholic churches for some 30 years, says he told O’Rourke about his wedding plans within days of his June proposal to Bill ‘because I didn’t want him blindsided.’ ”

“He recalls O’Rourke’s response:

Congratulations, I’m very happy for you. But I can’t give you my blessing.

“ ‘I wouldn’t ask you to,’ Bates-Congdon says he replied.

“More than six months passed before he was fired.

“Now, Bates-Congdon wonders why his boss and friend didn’t warn him of any problems, ‘why (he) didn’t pull me aside and say, “Dude, this is a really bad idea.”

“Had O’Rourke raised any concerns, Bates-Congdon says, ‘Bill and I would have pulled the plug and postponed it until some time when it wouldn’t have mattered, like in retirement.

“ ‘This was never about activism or forcing the church to make a stand – or even Bill and me making a stand. It was for the sheer joy of celebrating the fact that we could get married that we decided we would.’ ”

Though parishioners have varied opinions about the firing, many support Bates-Congdon:

“Cate Stadelman, a church member and choir singer for almost 25 years, says she has been back to St. Gabe’s once since Bates-Congdon’s firing – to help him pack. She says she doesn’t know if she’ll return.

“ ‘It’s the injustice of it,’ says Stadelman, who was on the search committee that recommended Bates-Congdon and, with her husband Tom, was a member of his wedding party.

“ ‘The church doesn’t recognize this marriage. The state of North Carolina doesn’t recognize this marriage. What changed from Oct. 14 to Oct. 15?’

“ ‘And then there’s the fact that this has absolutely no bearing on his ability to do a fabulous job.’ ”

John Gresham, a Charlotte attorney who specializes in workplace issues, noted a cruel irony in the decision:

“ ‘It is interesting that it was all right for him to “live in sin,” ‘ he says. ‘But when he got married it became a firing offense.’ “

One long-time parishioner, Bill Collins, who is angry with the decision, made a comment that expresses the desire of many in the Catholic church when it comes to LGBT issues:

“ ‘I need a community that’s compassionate beyond its rules,’ he says. ‘I need a leadership with compassion, not a leadership that simply talks about it, then acts otherwise.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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