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Gay choir director's firing splits a Catholic congregation in US

July 1, 2003

ROCKFORD, ILLINOIS - When the choir rose to sing on Sunday at Holy Family Catholic Parish, it was not part of the program. It was a protest.

The firing of a gay music director has split the congregation at the largest Roman Catholic church in this industrial city of 150,000.

Bill Stein, the music director and organist for five years, was fired June 17 after he refused church leaders' request that he promise to lead a "chaste" life - a vow he equated with giving up his partner of 10 years, Manny Ahorrio. Stein said he neither flaunted nor hid his relationship; a few parents learned he is gay when they heard he was trying to adopt a child.

"I was fired based on church law. There was no mention of Gospel. There was no mention of what Jesus taught us: compassion, love, forgiveness and charity," Stein said.

His supporters see hypocrisy in the firing, noting the Catholic Church is embroiled in scandal for keeping child-molesting priests in the clergy for years. Others applaud the church for refusing to bend under pressure to ignore Catholic teachings.

Calls and e-mails to Holy Family were not immediately returned.

Penny Wiegert, a spokeswoman for the Rockford Diocese, said the Catholic Church is clear that its employees must follow church teachings, including a prohibition on sex outside of marriage.

"We aren't talking about a particular lifestyle," she said. "We are simply talking about what the Catholic Church and Catholic teachings expects of its leaders as well as the people in the pews."

Choir members sang "God Be in My Head," a cappella, before Sunday's Mass to honor Stein.

"It's been a very hurtful and awful time for the choir members because we all knew that Bill was gay. It just wasn't an issue," said choir member Greg McQueary.McQueary said the adult choir grew from about 30 members to more than 70 under Stein's leadership.

Stein took the choir to Austria and Italy, where it performed for the pope.

After the choir's unscheduled performance Sunday, some parishioners wept, while others applauded. Just as many applauded after the Rev. Aaron Brodeski completed a homily on staying true to church teachings, including those that reject premarital sex and homosexuality. A few walked out during the sermon.

Brodeski said Monday that the sermon was meant to honor St.

Peter and St. Paul and "had nothing to do with Bill Stein."

- Sapa-AFP 



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