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

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!

Catholic League: Jewish Rabbis Even Greater Abusers Than Catholic Priests


Bill Donohue, the head of the pedophile priests supporting Catholic League, in an attempt to deflect attention from the regular, serious, and unresolved sexual transgressions, sexual assault, and child rape within the Catholic Church, today pointed the finger at Orthodox Jewish Rabbis, saying, “[t]he most serious cases of the sexual abuse of minors currently taking place are among Orthodox Jewish rabbis in Brooklyn.” Donohue, proving the ludicrousness of the existence and purpose of his entire organization, lambasted Jay Leno for a joke he made last night about an L.A. Bishop who recently resigned after revealing he had fathered two children. Donohue claims also that Leno has “a long track record of bashing Catholicism.” So, rather than work to fix the root causes of systemic and felonious issues within the Church, Donohue chooses instead to attacks its critics, hoping, praying that no one will notice the Catholic Church’s role and reputation in America is rapidly diminishing, even among America’s Catholics.

Jay Leno, according to the Catholic League, Thursday said, “I thought bishops could only move diagonally. I didn’t know they could move up and down.”

Donohue’s group added,

When making these remarks, Leno gestured with his hands, waving them side to side, and then up and down.

Leno went on to say, “Isn’t it amazing the bishop of L.A. confessed to fathering two children? But, hey, he didn’t use birth control, so at least he followed the church rules. Ya gotta give him credit for that.”

“The most serious cases of the sexual abuse of minors currently taking place are among Orthodox Jewish rabbis in Brooklyn, yet Leno would never tell a joke at their expense,” Donohue said in a statement. “The rate of HIV/AIDS among homosexuals is 50 times higher than in the rest of the population, yet Leno would never tell a joke at their expense. [Note: making such jokes would be equally offensive.] But if there is one wayward Catholic clergyman, it’s not only acceptable to ridicule him, it’s okay to mock the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

(The disclaimer above is Donohue’s, not ours.)

Donohue offered no proof of his allegations, nor did he offer any compassion, help, or hope for any victims, regardless of religious affiliation.

Donohue, who earlier this month claimed that rape victims of the Catholic Church’s pedophile priests are “professional victims,” and “a pitiful bunch of malcontents” unable to move on, apparently is learning that we’re watching his every word. In the past, Donohue would not have inserted the HIV/AIDS disclaimer.

In fact, just two months ago, Donohue called AIDS a “self-inflicted wound,” claiming that if “homosexuals” followed the teachings of the Church they would not “self-destruct.”

But Donohue’s default position of trying to point the finger elsewhere is offensive and misguided. No doubt there are child abuse problems in the Jewish community also, but Donohue neither works for the Jewish community, nor the Islamic community, nor any other community.

If Donohue spent his time working to prevent abuse, working to help victims of child rape by the Catholic Church — rather than, say, assist Archbishop Dolan to bash 16-year old abuse victims — then perhaps he would be qualified to point fingers and call his organization the “Catholic League.” Because right now, it’s merely a league of one extraordinary bigot.

Complete Article HERE!

Mrs. Santorum, Can We Talk?

COMMENTARY — Kate Kendell

On a recent campaign stop, Karen Santorum accused LGBT activists of “backyard bullying” against her husband in the presidential race. National Center for Lesbian Rights executive director Kate Kendell responds.

Someone’s been using the extra bit of cash he got from his surge in Iowa to buy some spin doctor advice. Earlier this week, Rick Santorum, his wife, Karen, and their oldest daughter, Elizabeth, were all talking about how much Rick “loves gay people” and that his opposition to our right to marry is a “policy difference.” Karen then added to the obscenity of this utter claptrap by suggesting that gay activists were being “backyard bullies” in our attacks on her husband and his policies.

Karen, we need to talk. And by that, I mean that I need to talk and you need to listen.

You love your husband — I get that. You love your faith — fine by me. But when you pretend that hate is love, that lies are truth, and that victims are oppressors, you have become inane.

Your husband believes that LGBT people cannot be trusted to serve in the military, raise children, form stable relationships or be fully respected under the law. According to you, Rick may love us, but honey, his love is killing us, and we want nothing to do with this abusive relationship. Our community has endured expulsion from family, mass firings, daily epitaphs, assaults, harassment, humiliation, death, and suicides. We know that if your husband becomes president of our country our long suffering will only deepen and magnify.

So yes, we are calling him what he is: a sanctimonious bigot who believes that we are dangerous, sick, and evil. We are telling the truth about his vision and his beliefs about us. That is NOT bullying, it’s about saving our own lives. Your husband would erase the landmark and life-saving changes we have seen over the past few years, and revisit the hell of a government that does not see us as fully human. Given what so many of my brothers and sisters live through daily, you calling us bullies is contemptible.

It did not have to be this way. Many people of faith truly and authentically do love the LGBT people in their lives. They also love fairness and equality and inclusion. They do not live in fear of those who are different. My mom was such a person, and I am sure you could have been too.

In some ways, it’s very sad. In another two or three months, the cameras will be gone, and the press will not care about you or Rick. The march of justice will continue, leaving you and your family a forgotten footnote on the wrong side of history.

I’m glad we talked, Karen. I feel better now. While I know you will keep saying whatever that reprobate PR firm is telling you to say, at least we understand each other.

You and Rick are the haters. My community is the victim, and anyone paying attention knows the truth.

Complete Article HERE!