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Catholic Church Fires Music Director For Being Gay

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Catholic Church Fires Music Director For Being Gay

by The Associated Press

May 27, 2006 - 5:00 pm ET

(Kansas City, Missouri) Joseph Nadeau prayed for storms when he was an altar boy, hoping the lights would go out and he'd be picked to play the church's creaking organ to celebrate Holy Mass. Now in his mid-thirties, Nadeau's bold spiritual arrangements have brought dozens of parishioners to his suburban parish in Roeland Park, Kan.

But last Sunday, Nadeau ended his last Mass at St. Agnes Catholic Church with a wrenching solo on "God Help the Outcasts." It was his other life, as the artistic director of one of the nation's largest gay male choirs, that ultimately cost him his job.

"I've known I was gay since I was 15 or 16," said the soft-spoken Nadeau at his brick home in Kansas City. "My parish priest told me just follow your heart and you can't go wrong. I can't think of doing anything else."

The Roman Catholic Church views homosexual acts as "intrinsically disordered," and in November held that priests who support "so-called gay culture" cannot be ordained. While Vatican teachings also instruct that gays and lesbians should be treated with compassion, church employees are expected to live in accordance with Catholic doctrine.

The church's decision to let Nadeau's contract lapse, however, comes at a time when the role of homosexuals is causing debates inside churches nationwide - though the bulk of those conversations never go public.

In January, St. Agnes Catholic Church hierarchy summoned Nadeau into a closed-door meeting, he said. Pastor Gary Appelgate told Nadeau that to continue as music director, he needed to resign from Kansas City's Heartland Men's Chorus, take a vow of celibacy and acknowledge that homosexuality was a disorder, Nadeau said.

"Science and psychology have taught us that homosexuality isn't a disorder," said Nadeau. "If I had agreed to that, I would have felt like I was being very dishonest with myself. And I think there are a lot of parishioners who feel the same way."

Officials with St. Agnes refused interview requests, and the Archdiocese of Kansas City said it would not discuss personnel issues. But staff confirmed that after eight years of service, Nadeau's contract will officially expire in June.

Last month, a Las Vegas Catholic high school fired a veteran philosophy teacher after he placed an ad on Myspace.com detailing his taste in men. In 2003, a gay music director at a Catholic parish in Rockford, Ill., lost his job when he refused to take a vow of chastity.

"The most divisive issue in American religion today is homosexuality, and the Roman Catholic church is absolutely shut down on this," said Bernie Schlager, a gay former organist who now works for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry in Berkeley, Calif. "I knew that as a gay person I had to leave the church because of the danger of being fired at any time with no recourse."

Nadeau began singing in a gay choir in Denver, where he united his love for multi-part harmonies with his political convictions. In 1998, he was recruited to direct the Heartland Men's Chorus, whose 135 singers will celebrate the choir's 20th anniversary next month.

Nadeau heard of the opening at St. Agnes after moving to Kansas City, and decided to apply. His father, now a Catholic priest, encouraged him.

"During the interview process, I wanted them to know what was going on with me. I told them I was the director of a gay mens' choir," said Nadeau. "I was greeted by a Catholic Church that I thought didn't exist: very kind, very loving, very compassionate."

Under his direction, the music program grew to include two children's choirs, youth and contemporary ensembles, and a Spanish-language musical liturgy. But in 2003, a group of conservative parishioners started campaigning against Nadeau, who they saw as an emissary of a movement to "legitimize homosexuality at the parish level."

Members collected signatures on petitions to the papal nuncio, while an anonymous group stapled pictures of Nadeau to ads of underwear-clad men and slipped them under churchgoers' windshields, he said.

Later that year, former Kansas City Archbishop James Keleher told Nadeau if he kept his two jobs separate, he did not see a problem with his other position.

The leadership at the archdiocese changed last year. In January, Nadeau said Applegate informed him that his membership in a "gay-affirming" group kept him from living out church doctrine.

Like priests, parish employees need to follow religious texts because "part of holding a church position is upholding the church's teaching," said the Rev. Thomas Tifft, rector of Saint Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in Wickliffe, Ohio.

Often, gay and lesbian church workers will follow a "don't ask, don't tell" policy to avoid controversy and keep their jobs, said Debbie Weill, executive director for DignityUSA, a national lay movement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics.

But for Nadeau, who has already started programming music for a different but "welcoming" Christian church in Kansas City, Kan., the option to stay quiet was not enough to keep him in the Catholic faith.

"You and I have discussed whether and under what circumstances you could remain as the parish Music Director," reads Applegate's May 15, 2006 letter to Nadeau. "We were not able to reach an understanding."

But after Nadeau performed his final solo, about 200 parishioners - many of them emotional and holding back tears - joined him for a send-off in the church's basement.

©365Gay.com 2006

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