After losing school job, gay teacher loses church job

A Catholic school music teacher who was fired after church officials learned that he planned to marry his male partner has been fired from his other job as a music director at a suburban Catholic church.

Al Fischer, 46, was told by a priest at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Catholic Church in Florissant that he could no longer work as one of the parish’s part-time music directors, a paid position he’s held for several years, according to Fischer’s partner, Charlie Robin.

The reason given by the priest, according to Robin, was that Fischer’s firing and pending marriage had become “too public of an issue.” The pastor at St. Rose could not be reached for comment.

Fischer declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis said in an email that Fischer “was relieved of his duties (at St. Rose) when he publicly demonstrated a life inconsistent with Catholic teaching.”

The spokeswoman said expectations for church employees are laid out in “the Christian Witness Statement that is on the first page of the Parish Employee Handbook.” The email said the witness statement applies to all employees of the archdiocese, parishes and schools.

Fischer was fired Feb. 17 from his job as music teacher at St. Ann Catholic School in Normandy, Mo., where he’d taught for four years. Several sources have said Fischer’s sexual orientation was well known at the school.

According to Robin, officials first took action against Fischer after a representative of the archdiocese overheard Fischer talking to co-workers about the couple’s plan to marry in New York City on March 9.

Robin said Fischer signed a Christian Witness Statement at St. Ann, but that he was never asked to sign such a document at St. Rose.

The witness statement says all who serve in Catholic education should, among other requirements, “not take a public position contrary to the Catholic Church” and “demonstrate a public life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Robin said he was particularly upset over the firing from St. Rose, where Robin is a cantor and the two have attended Mass for years and are pictured as a couple in the parish directory.

“He’s not up there demanding the liturgy to be pro-gay,” Robin said. “Al is not causing this ruckus. Al is doing his best to stay above all this because he’s more hurt than anything.”

Complete Article HERE!

Priest Walks Out Of Woman’s Funeral Because Of Her Gay Daughter

The battle in this country between the right and the left is raging. Since the right has no answers to the economic questions we face, they’ve decided to concentrate on dividing the country on so-called “moral” issues, one of those being the demonizing of gay and lesbian people. Little by little, they are losing the battle, as we see states individually legalizing gay marriage and recognizing that our forefathers intended that ALL are created equal and marriage is an equal right. But that doesn’t stop the right from carrying on their battle.

Something terrible happened this past weekend in Maryland and the fact that it was Maryland, a state that has just proclaimed that all are equal and has enshrined that concept into state law, goes to highlight the lengths to which the right will go. In this instance, the right was personified by Father Marcel Guarnizo, who officiated at the funeral of a former family member of mine. She was no longer a family member because I divorced the man who was her blood relative. But with social media these days, a person can remain in touch with those who, although there is no longer a family connection, are still people who are valued.

My friend Barbara, the daughter of the deceased woman, was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. She was the first in line and Fr. Guarnizo covered the bowl containing the host and said to her, “I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin according to the church.” To add insult to injury, Fr. Guarnizo left the altar when she delivered her eulogy to her mother. When the funeral was finished he informed the funeral director that he could not go to the gravesite to deliver the final blessing because he was sick.

I will tell you a little about the woman who drove that priest from the altar. She is kind, she is smart, she is funny and she works hard promoting the arts. She pays her bills, she cares deeply for her family and she loved her mother and her mother loved her right back. And now she will never set foot in a Catholic church again and who can blame her?

It is time for Christians of all stripes to stop and think about the teachings of the Jesus they proclaim to love so deeply and revere so much. I spent twelve years in Catholic school and the Jesus I was told about would never have turned away anyone for any reason and certainly not on the occasion of burying a parent. Fr. Guarnizo has a lot to learn about Christianity and the Catholic Church has a lot to learn about the teachings of Jesus if behavior of this sort is tolerated.

I am not about to paint all Christians with a broad brush. There are those out there who understand that the teachings of Jesus boil down to one thing. And that thing is Love. For if you love, you do not deny a person the solace of communion with the Creator, if that is their belief. You judge not, lest ye be judged. Only God knows the true heart of any person and in the end, if there is to be judgment, it will not come from some misguided, prejudiced priest who needs to go back to the seminary and learn the basics. And if he can’t find them there, then he needs to get down on his knees and pray to his Jesus to forgive him the terrible trespass he visited upon a grieving woman on the occasion of the death of her mother.

This is but one small story but it is indicative of the battle raging in America today. It is an ugly battle and one I never thought I would see. But it is here and we must deal with it. We must keep politics out of religion and religion out of politics. Perhaps if we can get back to a place where the separation of church and state are once again accepted as one of the founding principles of this country, stop trying to out-Christian each other, stop vilifying other religions and other people based on purely human and not godly concepts, we will begin to mend the fractures that are tearing us apart today. To do that, the Father Guarnizos and the Rick Santorums of the world will have to undergo a radical change of heart and I don’t think they have it in them. So it is up to the rest of us.

As for me, I send my love and condolences to my friend Barbara and all of the other family members who were made to witness such an egregious display of prejudice in such an inappropriate setting. To Father Guarnizo, I say, “Jesus would weep.”

JOANN FITZPATRICK: Catholic church, political opportunists fail as role models and leaders

COMMENTARY

Catholic church, political opportunists froth over perceived affronts but repeatedly fail as role models and leaders.

You cannot be a woman and a Catholic without having a stiff set of blinders to screen out so much about the church that makes women fourth-rate participants.

The Catholic hierarchy operates in a bubble, reconfirming at every opportunity that these men have no awareness of how most Catholics live their lives.

The ruckus over the new health insurance law and contraception is just the latest and loudest example. Never mind that reputable surveys show 98 percent of American Catholics have used birth control, the official church rushes to the barricades, determined to keep reality at bay.

Never mind that the health insurance provision that caused this trumped-up outrage would not force Catholic hospitals or other religious institutions to dispense birth control. That would have been wrong, but that was not the case. The stipulation in the new health care law is that insurance companies will provide birth control to women at no cost. That meant insurance plans offered by religious-affiliated institutions would have to include the birth control provision. The link between the Catholic Church and federal government is that most large Catholic institutions – hospitals and universities – accept federal money for research or services.

The Catholic Church position on birth control would be harder to swallow if it did not have such disastrous results: It condemns the poor in Africa and Latin America to wretched lives in which children, at best, face a future of deprivation and at worst die within a few years of birth. Where is the compassion? The poor we may always have with us but it is painful to observe the church’s active role in perpetuating poverty.

Here in the United State the church rages against abortion while crusading against family planning in general and the organization Planned Parenthood in particular. The illogic of this position – given that family planning is the easiest, cheapest way to prevent abortion – is of no consequence to church leaders, none of whom will ever have a conversation with a gynecologist. Theirs is a unique set of blinders.

The contraception flap was a godsend to the Republican presidential candidates, coming as it did just when economic indicators showed the economy continuing to improve. Mon Dieu! Good news – what’s an angry candidate to do? One-up the Catholic bishops by accusing the president of “waging war on the Catholic Church,” as Newt Gingrich did with relish.

This is the same twice-divorced Gingrich who was baptized into the Catholic Church in 2009 by no less than the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Weurl. Newtie discovered Catholicism some years after discovering his then-mistress Callista, which happened at the time he was married and flogging President Clinton for discovering Monica Lewinsky. I don’t know whether Cardinal Weurl was among the church leaders who had called for denying Communion to Democrats Ted Kennedy and John Kerry – both divorced Catholics. But consistency is a fleeting thing with the Catholic hierarchy, especially where politicians are concerned.

The White House had little choice but to find a compromise that would calm the furor so it decided insurance companies would pay for birth control if women getting their medical coverage at a Catholic institution asked for it. Predictably, the more hard-line bishops continue to see red.

It’s fascinating to watch these men assert themselves so authoritatively as arbiters of personal morality when the fallout from the sex abuse scandal is still very much with us. Church leaders would like to think that’s ancient history but it’s not. Because most priests are good men who were not involved, I and other Catholics are sticking with the church, believing the same horrific actions will not occur again. But the anger over what happened – the enabling and concealing of crimes against children – simmers just below the surface.

Amid the howls over the contraception dispute, little attention was paid last week when one of the best-known American cardinals, Edward Egan, former bishop in Bridgeport and archbishop in New York, said he regretted his 2002 apology for what happened in Bridgeport. Egan, 79 and retired, now says, “I don’t think we did anything wrong.” And he maintains the church in Connecticut has no obligation to report sex abuse allegations to authorities.

This is stunning. It not only reopens wounds for dozens of Bridgeport victims but also reveals once again how impossible it is for some men of the cloth to acknowledge their responsibility in the real world and, most especially, to the law.

Those Republicans, including Sen. Scott Brown – who had better sense on the issue as a state senator – who think they can convert a woman’s health issue into a question of religious freedom are underestimating the good sense of the public at large, just as the Catholic bishops do.

Complete Article HERE!

Music director’s marriage leads to his firing from St. Gabriel Catholic Church

The last five months have been eventful for Steav Bates-Congdon.

First he got married. Then he got fired.

The popular music director at St. Gabriel Catholic Church in south Charlotte lost his job last month for marrying his longtime partner in New York, one of seven states to recognize same-sex marriages.

Under a recent Supreme Court ruling, the firing appears legal.

North Carolina doesn’t recognize same-sex unions. Voters will decide in May whether to add a constitutional ban.

The Catholic Church considers homosexual behavior a sin, and Bishop Peter Jugis, who heads the Diocese of Charlotte and is the spiritual leader of Catholics in a 46-county area, has been a strong supporter of legally restricting marriage to a man and a woman.

With some 10,000 members, St. Gabriel is one of the largest Catholic congregations in the state. Bates-Congdon, 61, a former Methodist minister and now an Episcopalian, joined the staff in 2004. Parishioners say he’s been open about his sexual orientation since his first job interviews. Bill Bates-Congdon, his partner of 23 years, soon became a familiar figure around the music program and eventually joined the hand-bell choir.

On Oct. 15, with several St. Gabriel members on hand, the pair said vows at a state park on the shore of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. Then Steav Bates-Congdon returned to work.

On Jan. 19, just back from a honeymoon trip to Mexico, followed by an emergency stay at Carolinas Medical Center for a ruptured appendix, he checked out of the hospital and dropped by St. Gabriel. There, he was handed a note by the Rev. Frank O’Rourke, the pastor with whom he had closely worked for more than four years.

It read: “Employees of St. Gabriel … are expected to live within the moral tradition of the Church…Your civil marriage stands in direct opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church, therefore ending your employment with us, effective today.”

Contacted to discuss the firing, O’Rourke referred all questions to diocesan spokesman David Hains.

Jugis was not available for comment. But in response to a list of Observer questions, Hains wrote:

“Mr. Congdon’s ‘civil union,’ is a public statement in direct opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage as a lifelong, exclusive covenant between one man and one woman.”

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.”

Some St. Gabriel members, particularly those in the music program, have been left saddened and angered by the move.

Bates-Congdon, they say, expanded and significantly improved the music ministry, while never flaunting his sexual orientation or his relationship.

Bill Collins, a longtime choir member, says his family has left the parish over the firing and may go outside the diocese to find a new church.

“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.”

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 doesn’t know whether 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.”

Brett Denton, a member of the parish council, calls Bates-Congdon’s departure regrettable, but says the decision by the religious leaders was made “carefully, thoughtfully and prayerfully.”

“It was something that was necessary because (the marriage) was opposite to the teachings of the church,” he says, “and that led to a parting of the ways.”

‘Public declaration’

Bates-Congdon’s departure closely followed a Jan. 11 ruling by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court that gives churches and their schools broad powers over ministerial employees.

Under the court’s decision, churches receive “a ministerial exception” that protects them from government say on whom they hire for their spiritual missions. A lower court ruling in 2000 involving a Catholic church in Raleigh said music directors are part of a church’s ministerial staff because music is an integral part of worship.

Hains says the timing between the ruling and the firing is coincidental.

He added that the decision also had nothing to do with Jugis’ support for the proposed marriage amendment. The bishop played a role in the personnel matter – just what is unclear.

Asked if Jugis had ordered the firing, Hains said: “Employment decisions for parish-based employees are made in the parishes.”

It’s not known if the diocese has made similar moves using the same grounds. In 2010, a lesbian who taught theology for 28 years at a Denver Catholic church was fired after she placed an ad on Match.com.

Hains says church employees here are not screened for sexual orientation, nor do churches delve into private relationships. Bates-Congdon’s case, he says, involved a “public declaration” contrary to church teachings.

In taking the job at St. Gabriel, Hains says, Bates-Congdon agreed to abide by the diocese’s “Principles of Ethics and Integrity.” It states that employees “must respect, appreciate, and uphold the teachings, principles, legislation, policies and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church in both word and example.”

Asked why so much time passed between the wedding and the firing, Hains said: “Decisions such as this one are not made in haste, and the parish wanted to take the time to consider what the appropriate action should be.”

John Gresham, a Charlotte attorney specializing in workplace issues, says state and federal laws do not offer Bates-Congdon protection.

“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.”

Spelled out

St. Gabriel will continue to pay his $60,000 salary and insurance premiums through June. Bates-Congdon, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 15 years ago, faces surgery for the problem that hospitalized him last month.

Then he hopes to find another job.

He proposed to Bill in June, moments after the New York legislature approved that state’s same-sex marriage law. He was watching the vote live on his computer, in the backyard of their Waxhaw home. He popped the question on Facebook. Bill, 47, asleep on the couch, didn’t respond. The next morning, Steav walked into the bathroom. There on the mirror was written the word, “Yes.” It’s still there today.

They decided to marry after all this time together because they wanted their relationship, Steav says, “tied up in a bundle that was both legal and sacred.”

He says O’Rourke was one of the best bosses he ever had, and while he still doesn’t understand the timing of his firing, he appreciates that the priest “told me why.”

“When you have years of sexual scandals in the Catholic clergy and nothing is addressed, everything is left to rumor and speculation. Father Frank, whether intentionally or not, spelled it out.”

Only once, he says, did his sexual orientation become a parish issue. It occurred in 2006, after Bates-Congdon started a youth choir, which was a goal of his job description. A parish member wrote to then-pastor Ed Sheridan expressing discomfort that Bates-Congdon was leading the youth group while also serving as artistic director of the city’s One Voice Chorus, made up of gay and lesbian vocalists.

Reached last week, the parishioner asked that his name not be used, and said he didn’t approve having the children under Bates-Congdon’s tutelage. He said he also felt the director’s role with the gay chorus put the church in an inappropriate position. He declined to speak about the firing.

In 2006, Sheridan wrote back that his music director had already arranged to have a female assistant present during all youth practices. The priest went on:

“Your note implies the concern of whether Steav is gay or not. As you know there is a question on this issue in the church, whether it impacts priests, lay people etc. I know that we do not judge individuals and we do not have adequate information to make any judgment.”

Afterward, however, the priest asked Bates-Congdon to end his affiliation with One Voice, which he did.

Collins, the choir member, says the director’s sexual orientation made some music program members uncomfortable. “Certainly, it didn’t bother them enough to not participate because they loved the music, and their appreciation of his leadership and talent overcame any discomfort.”

The uncertain future of the music program “has left this great hole,” says fellow choir member Stadelman. “I’m hearing other people say the same thing. They feel adrift.”

On Wednesday, O’Rourke sent an email to choir members inviting them to the church this Thursday night for “dinner and discussion.”

“I hope this ministry will continue to nourish our parish,” he wrote. He did not mention Bates-Congdon.

Friday afternoon, for the first time, St. Gabriel’s full congregation received fuller details about the firing of their music director and organist.

O’Rourke sent out another email, alerting parishioners to the Observer’s story. It included a memo by Hains, which detailed the reasons Bates-Congdon was let go.

“This may be a challenging time for our parish,” O’Rourke said. “As Catholics we are called to prayer in situations like this, prayer for all individuals involved, for ourselves and for our community. Join me in praying, ‘Lord, make us instruments of peace.’ ”

Complete Article HERE!

Illinois priest who freelanced his prayers loses his job

What a crying shame! Sacrificing priests on the altar of conformity.

Remember, fellow priests, do not pray from your heart. Pray only from the book. That’s how God wants it!

For 18 years, the Rev. William Rowe has done a little improvising while celebrating Mass on Sunday mornings at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, Ill.

Now those deviations have led to his resignation in an incident that may be tied to global changes to the Catholic liturgy.

Last Sunday, instead of saying “Lord our God that we may honor you with all our mind and love everyone in truth of heart,” during the opening prayer, he altered the phrasing to better reflect the day’s Gospel message, in which Jesus heals a man with a troubled spirit.

“We thank you, God, for giving us Jesus who helped us to be healed in mind and heart and proclaim his love to others,” the 72-year-old priest prayed instead.

Three days later, Rowe received a letter from Bishop Edward Braxton accepting his resignation.

“The problem is that when I pray at Mass, I tend to change the words that are written in the book to match what I was talking about, or what a song is about,” Rowe said in an interview.

The book in question is the Roman Missal, a book of prayers, chants and responses used during the Mass. Rowe has been saying some of those prayers in his own words for years.

But in December the Vatican-mandated adoption of a new English-language translation of the Missal may have given bishops an opportunity to rein in freewheeling priests who have been praying in their own words for decades.

“Since December when the new translation came out, no one has said what would happen to you if you changed stuff,” said the Rev. John Foley, director of the Center for Liturgy at St. Louis University. “But I find it hard to believe a priest in Illinois would be forced to resign because he wasn’t using the exact words from the translation. It’s not a strong-enough offense for that.”

In the wake of sweeping changes in the church as a result of the Second Vatican Council, some priests in the 1970s began using their own words and phrasing in place of the verbatim translations of the original Latin liturgy in the Missal, Foley said. He said there has never been an established penalty for improvising nonalterable prayers, and bishops have traditionally looked past an individual priest’s extemporizing.

Monsignor Kevin Irwin, professor of liturgical studies at the Catholic University of America, said there are some prayers said by a priest at Mass in which he is “beholden to the structure not to the words.”

But there are also prayers that priests are “duty bound to say,” said the Rev. John Baldovin, professor of historical and liturgical theology at Boston College. Most of the prayers in the Missal, in fact, are not optional, he said.

Rowe said Belleville’s previous bishop, Wilton Gregory, had discussed his off-the-cuff prayer habit with him, referring to the practice as “pushing the envelope.” He said five years ago, Braxton also discussed the matter with him, and asked him to read directly from the Missal.

“I told him I couldn’t do that,” Rowe said. “That’s how I pray.”

Last summer, Rowe said, Braxton made it clear to his priests that “no priest may deviate from any wording in the official Missal.”

In October, two months ahead of the introduction of the new Missal translation, Braxton said he couldn’t permit Rowe to continue improvising, according to Rowe. The priest offered his resignation but didn’t receive a response.

Braxton did not respond to a request for an interview with the Post-Dispatch.

On Monday, Braxton wrote Rowe a letter informing him that he’d accepted his resignation.

The action did not sit well with the nearly 500 families at St. Mary’s, some of whom are contemplating a letter writing campaign to Braxton. “They’re devastated,” said Alice Worth, principal at St. Mary’s School. “Father Bill is the backbone of our parish.”

“The ways Father changed the Mass ritual with his words have only made it more meaningful to us as opposed to distancing us from the church,” Worth said. “Everything he does is based on our faith, it’s not just a whim. There’s a reason for every word he prays.”

Complete Article HERE!