As bishops prepare to gather for a meeting to discuss a range of family issues, including pastoral care to gay and lesbian Catholics, an openly gay church musician in Chicago met with that city’s archbishop today to plead for his job back.
Colin Collette was fired in July from his post as choir director at Holy Family Parish in Inverness, about an hour outside Chicago, when he posted on social media that he was engaged to his partner, William Nifong. After parishioners protested his firing, Collette reached out to Cardinal Francis George for a meeting.
The two met Tuesday afternoon, and Collette told the Chicago Tribune that they prayed together.
“I was incredibly grateful to the cardinal for meeting with me. This is an incredibly difficult time to him. … I was moved beyond words that he would meet with me,” Collette said. “We prayed together. He was wonderful. He was very pastoral.”
A statement released on Collette’s behalf said he planned to use his time with the Cardinal to explain why he wants to return to work. After the meeting, Collette told the Tribune that he was urged by the Cardinal to speak to his pastor, but offered no details about his job.
“I welcome the opportunity to meet with His Eminence the Cardinal and discuss my desire to return to the position that has meant so much to me,” Collette was quoted as saying. “My goal is to simply get my job back. I love what I do. I love this parish, and I am a lifelong Catholic who has always been devout in my faith.”
George said in an interview with WLS-TV that Collette cannot be rehired.
“[I]t was his decision, that occasioned, that caused this crisis, so I want to hear what he has to say,” said George. “He’s the one who made the decision that makes (getting his job back) impossible, so we’ll have to talk about that.”
The pastor of Holy Family Parish, Rev. Terry Keehan, explained his decision in the church bulletin last month.
“Through the use of social media, the Archdiocese of Chicago has become aware that Colin has publicly endorsed a position in conflict with Church teachings,” he wrote. “Employees who make such choices cannot remain employed by the Archdiocese.”
The Tribune reported that Collette, who holds a masters of divinity degree and has worked at the parish for 17 years, was asked to resign following the revelations of his engagement. When he refused, he said he was fired. He said that his relationship had not been secret, and that he continues to attend Mass at the parish, which is described in reports as progressive with a contemporary worship style.
Parishioners at Holy Family held a prayer vigil in support of Collette on Sunday, and asked that he be rehired. Last month, hundreds of parishioners attended a meeting at the church with Holy Family’s pastor.
A statement from the Archdiocese of Chicago last month said it was unable to comment on personnel decisions, but that “Pastors hire and dismiss all parish personnel and govern according to the teachings of the church and archdiocesan policies. … Those that serve as ministers of the church, including worship ministers, are expected to conform their lives publicly with the teachings of the church.”
A past president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, George has spoken out repeatedly against same-sex marriage, most recently on Sunday when he lamented that relationships that were once considered “sinful” are now becoming mainstream. Last year, however, he celebrated Mass for the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach group. Though he will not take part in October’s synod on the family, George, 77, announced this week that he would travel to Rome to meet with Pope Francis in November.