“Everybody was welcome. That was our hallmark. All are welcome. Well, that’s all changed now. That’s become a lie.” Those are the words of the latest church worker to be fired for being part of a committed same-gender relationship, and this time it has happened in a Chicago suburb.
Colin Collette was the beloved music director at Holy Family Church in Inverness for seventeen years, but lost that job when he became engaged to his longtime partner last week. The couple was traveling in Rome, when Collette’s partner proposed in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, and then they posted the good news on Facebook. The Daily Herald details what happened next:
“On Sunday, after leading the music for all five Masses at Holy Family, Collette said church pastor [Father] Terry Keehan asked him to come to his office.
” ‘He said, “I know this is something you’ve been longing for a long time, and in light of this I’d be happy to accept your resignation,” ‘ Collette said, recounting what Keehan told him.
“Collette said at first he considered resigning, but something inside him told him he shouldn’t because he had done nothing wrong. He left Keehan’s office without resigning, but was fired Monday, he said.”
According to Collette, his relationship was never secret and his partner, who is Catholic, was an active member of the parish and known to Keehan. The music director cleared out his office on Tuesday and notified the 100-plus members of the parish’s choir in an email, saying:
” ‘I needed them to know that I’m not doing this to contradict church teachings or make a political statement…I believe God has given me this in my life and saying no to this relationship would be saying no to God.’
“The response from his choir was overwhelmingly positive, Collette said. Their kindness and acceptance often moved him to tears….
” ‘This has been so horrific that I just pray that we even have a wedding,’ Collette said. ‘There’s no way to describe how horrible this has been.’ “
Collette joins other parishioners in pointing out Holy Family’s reputation as a place where all are welcome, and indeed the parish’s motto is “Inviting all to new life in Christ.” Liturgical minister Joe Offenburger told ABC 7 that the firing is “like a dagger in your heart for this parish” because Holy Family was “a place for Catholics where we had hope, until now.”
Still, a news report from the Sun-Times indicates pressure from the archdiocese led to Fr. Keehan’s decision to fire the music director. In a statement, the Archdiocese of Chicago acknowledged the firing saying only that “worship ministers are expected to conform their lives publicly with the teachings of the church.”
The Sun-Times reported the chronology of events this way:
“Collette told the Chicago Sun-Times someone sent to Cardinal Francis George a Facebook image featuring the couple after their engagement. The cardinal then sent the church’s pastor an email calling for Collette’s resignation, he says. When he refused to resign, he was fired.
“ ‘This voice inside of me said, “No, wait a minute. Well, no. I didn’t do anything wrong.” I said, “I’m not going to resign. God brought me to this moment and God is saying this is why I created you. You are here to live and love.’”
“Collette said the church’s pastor knew he was gay, and had attended dinners with the couple. He also helped him walk down the aisle during his mother’s funeral two years ago.
“ ‘He made it very clear that he was getting pressure from above,’ Collette said.”
Collette commented further about the situation of LGBT church workers:
” ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell is the policy in the Church. So I guess as long as you’re willing to live the lie, you’re safe. Actually, you’re never safe. You live in fear every day someone is going to call the Cardinal or someone is going to turn you in.’ “
As of now, Collette says he would welcome a return to the parish and plans to continue worshipping there. Of the immense hurt he and his partner are experiencing, the fired employee says:
” ‘I’m not angry. The closest way to describe how I feel is if you’ve ever lost anyone that you loved, your mom or dad or grandmother…That feeling you get in your stomach that your life is never going to be the same. That’s what I’m feeling. Only instead of losing one person, I just lost 3,000 people.’ “
The firing of Colin Collette brings the total number of reported church worker and volunteers firings in 2014 up to thirteen. You can access New Ways Ministry’s record of LGBT and ally church worker firings since 2008 by clicking here, and on that page there are links for further information about each case.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry