A longtime music director at Holy Family Catholic Church in Inverness said he was fired from his job this week after he announced that he was engaged to his male partner.
Colin Collette, of Chicago, said that church leaders knew he was gay long before he posted the announcement of his wedding plans on Facebook.
“This has not been a secret,” said Collette, who held the job at Holy Family for 17 years. “My partner has read for the church at Mass. … We have been living together for five years.”
Leaders of the northwest suburban church, known for its nontraditional, contemporary style of delivering Mass, deferred all questions to the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, which released a statement:
“The decision by the pastor of Holy Family was made with the knowledge of the archdiocese and in consultation with the archdiocese; however, we do not comment on or discuss an individual’s personnel issues,” it read.
“Pastors hire and dismiss all parish personnel and govern according to the teachings of the Church and Archdiocesan policies. This is a matter of personal integrity on their part.
“Those that serve as ministers of the Church, including worship ministers, are expected to conform their lives publicly with the teachings of the Church.”
Collette’s fiance, William Nifong, is a Latin teacher at Northside College Preparatory High School in Chicago. He proposed to Collette while the two were in Rome last week, Collette said.
After returning to town, Collette headed worship for weekend Masses before being called into the pastor’s office Sunday night, he said.
Collette said the pastor, the Rev. Terry Keehan, told him: “‘I know that this is something that you’ve wanted for a long time.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I think this is what everyone wants, to be happy and be loved.’ He said, ‘In light of that, I would be happy to receive your resignation.’ “
Collette, who also owns a floral design business, said he refused to resign, and was told the next day that his services were no longer needed.
Nifong, while not Catholic, had frequently attended the church with Collette, sang with the choir and been asked to give readings in Latin, he said.
He believes a member of a “conservative faction” complained to Francis Cardinal George after the couple’s engagement was announced on social media.
“We had concerns, but we decided we were not going to hide and would be who we are,” Nifong said.
The Archdiocese had received complaints about the couple before, he said, but church leaders took no action.
“It’s OK if you want to stand on principles of orthodoxy, where you abide absolutely by the dictates of the church,” he said. “But you need to be consistent about it.”
The couple has heard from many parishioners who support them, Nifong said.
“Unless (Collette) gets his job back, I will not go back,” said one of them, Gina Groberski, a 20-year member. She said she married at the church and had three children baptized there.
“I have always viewed them as being an accepting church,” she said. “That was their tag line: ‘Where everyone is welcome.’ They are being hypocrites.”
She said she knew Collette was gay, and assumed everyone else did because “it’s not like he hid it.”
“Just because he made it public on Facebook that they are engaged, that makes it different?” she said. “My God loves everyone because he made everyone just the way they are. He makes no mistakes.”
Domenica Avelluto, who said she has attended the church for about five years, disagreed.
“You have to follow the rules,” said Avelluto, of Hoffman Estates. “It's an offense to the Catholic Church.
“To me, they're (the church) just protecting themselves,” she said. “To me personally, these people should not get married.”
Court rulings clearly support the church’s ability to fire employees who don’t abide by its teachings, said Michael Budde, chairman of DePaul University’s Department of Catholic Studies.
But he called Collette’s termination “unfortunate” and said he expects to see more congregations grapple with the similar issues.
“I think it’s an attempt to sort of impose a degree of moral or institutional example that the church doesn’t necessarily demand with the same force or vigilance in other areas of human life,” Budde said.
“In many congregations … gay people are an integral and vital member of the community,” he said. “At the same time, these tensions within the larger church, with those who want to maintain a notion of church law being transparent in the lives of its employees, its leaders and even volunteers — that kind of tension is not going away.”
On Thursday, the church announced on its website that an outdoor music program planned for Saturday had been postponed.
“The church was founded to be not your traditional Catholic church,” Collette said. “This was a place where, our hallmark was, all are welcome. Until now.”
Tribune reporter Alexandra Chachkevitch contributed.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun