NC Catholic Church Fires Gay Music Director For Marrying His Partner

As an openly gay man, Steav Bates-Congdon (right) might’ve have wanted to pick a better employment option than music director at a Catholic church. But everything seemed fine until Bates-Congdon married his longtime partner, Bill, in New York State. That’s when  St. Gabriel Catholic Church in South Charlotte, NC, fired him.

From all accounts, St. Gabriel’s clergy and parishioners were well aware that Steav, 61, was gay when he began working at the church in 2004 and never really made any bones about it. But when he returned home from an emergency hospital stay for a ruptured appendix in January, he was handed a note by Rev. Frank O’Rourke, which 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.”

Wow, firing a senior citizen who just got out of the hospital? There’s some good Christian compassion right there.

Diocese spokesman David Hains told The Observer:

“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 had told O’Rourke about his plans to marry and didn’t foresee any fallout.

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.

Sadly, Steav seems to be suffering from some kind of religious Stockholm Syndrome, rolling over and  accepting the Church’s bigotry. He tells writer Michael Gordon that if anyone had raised an objection beforehand,  “Bill and I would have pulled the plug [on the wedding] and postponed it until some time when it wouldn’t have mattered, like in retirement.”

He even goes on to praise the man who canned him:

[Bates-Congdon] 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.”

…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… [A] priest asked Bates-Congdon to end his affiliation with One Voice, which he did.

We hate to think what would’ve happened if O’Rourke had asked Bates-Congdon to recant his marriage.

In one last sad twist to this pathetic parable, Steav is now facing surgery for Parkinson’s disease. His salary and health benefits from St. Gabriel will continue through June.

 Photos: One Voice Chorus

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  • Junior

    Once again the Church confuses man’s rules with God’s teachings. And this poor man suffers. But that is the lot of Gay Catholics in America. Stay in the closet or else. And believing that God is the only one who can rightfully judge me – I challenge any priest or any Bishop to show me in the bible (written by men – inspired or not) that one should be hated just for who he loves. And let’s not even get into the Pedophile Priest (Bishop Dolan knows of what I speak). But my question becomes, what if the annul the marriage, and that IS WHAT IT WAS.. no matter how the Diocese wants to call it (civil union) would he be re-instated? I am hurt and ashamed at my church for treating him this way. I am gay and I am proud and I am a Christian and a proud Catholic. And that will never change.

  • Mark

    Sorry Junior but if you in any way support the Catholic Church you are supporting your suppressors. I gave up Catholicism, and Christianity, when I accepted who I was as a gay man and have never been in a more mentally healthy state.

  • Geri

    “From all accounts, St. Gabriel’s clergy and parishioners were well aware that Steav, 61, was gay when he began working at the church in 2004 and never really made any bones about it.” So liberal Catholics have no probs with same-sex couples as long as they stay living in sin.

  • Jonathonz

    Friar O’Rourke can be reached at [email protected]. I just wrote him a strongly worded, yet polite and respectful, email protesting this un-christian act. Hopefully others will do the same.

  • Disgusted American

    the church can kiss my x-catholic ass…..Reality and Science ARE MY RELIGION! Seriously – why belong to a organization that does EVERYTHING it can to ake you a 2nd class citize>? If you want to talk to Immaginary sky fairys..join the United Church of Christ….they accept everyone.

  • Expat - Queer Supremacist

    No. 4 – DONE.

  • The Real Mike in Asheville

    @Geri: Well done; so many times the obvious is missed.

  • Joe

    He chose to work for an organization that regularly and overtly demonstrates their disapproval and hatred for him. He’s surprised that their homophobia affected him directly? Really? Was it OK when he was safe but others were adversely affected?

    Churches deserve the right to practice and preach what their religion professes. They should be under no legal obligation to employ gays or lesbians if their religion is opposed to the orientation. The separation of church and state should work both ways and each should be safe from meddling by the other.

  • Expat - Queer Supremacist

    No. 8 – I agree with you but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Jesus preached AGAINST exclusion and ostracizing a poor old and sick gay man is definitely not Christian. Please write to Friar Rourke !!

  • QJ201

    Excuse me Mr. Hains, they were MARRIED LEGALLY in NY State. They DID NOT have a civil union.

  • Jim Hlavac

    Well, since the vast majority of church organists are gay men, (and I’m friends with more than a few, too,) especially in the Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations, it would seem that a healthy proportion of the church going public hears music by gay men every Sunday. Of course, it would be nice if these church organists would go on strike and let the organs fall silent for a Sunday or two, to get the point across.

  • kevininbuffalo

    @Jim Hlavac: ” The Church needs Gay men, who else is going toe lead the choir?”- Archbishop Desmond Tutu

  • Jorge Cuellar

    Why priests aren’t dismissed from the Church when they molest children??? …catholic mysteries…

  • Terry E. Christian

    In 2002, I was ousted from my employment at a Pauline Books & Media bookstore in Memphis, Tennessee, which was owned and operated by the Daughters of St. Paul in Boston, Massachusetts, simply for my being gay, although the staff had known it for quite a long time: I’d worked there for six years. Ironically, my husband and I are both Catholic and I’m liturgically more “conservative” than the Daughters. I eventually found employment else where with better benefits, so God was on my side in more ways than one.

    Unlike Joe’s comment above, I believe that churches should not be allowed to fire gay/lesbian employees – nor divorced/remarried employees — nor any employee for a purely “moral” reason. The only attributes of an employee that should be relevant to an employer are ones that relate directly to his/her job performance. In my case, I’d received a positive review not long prior to my being shoved out the door by a homophobic HR person representing the Daughters, and was even told in writing that they would not give me a reference for any future job with a religious employer, nor one that involved children. WTF??!!

  • Isaac C

    As a religious institution the church is within its rights to discriminate. This man should not have been in this line of work expecting to be accepted.

  • Patricia

    There is an exact situation to this that has happened in Sioux City, Iowa. When Bishop Nickless found out that the choir director of St. Boniface had LEGALLY married his life partner, the bishop fired him. That choir director and his husband did leave the church and the choir disbanded without a director. Another example of Catholic/Christian love and acceptance?

  • J Stratford

    IF he cant stand for himself, and rolls over like that, he deserves what he got.

    I have no sympathy for people like him who defend their oppressors. Masochist!

  • Randy

    When you are fired from a job what are you supposed to do?? What protection does he have? How is he supposed to fight it? You think he rolled over and took it? I think he is full of dignity. He has Parkinson’s and probably doesn’t have the strength to fight it. In the church…what’s done is done. Their doctrine will not change-so what do you recommend he do??? When you have a disease like that the church medical benefits would obviously be an important factor of life.

  • Jeremy

    You find me one organist or priest who isn’t gay?? They knew he was gay from the beginning. The only change was the fact that he got married…and it’s not even recognized in NC. Hypocrites. What about divorced people, or marriages that happen outside the catholic church-are those recognized as wrong? cult

  • hyhybt

    Most of the organists I know are straight women.

    Anyway… with surgery coming up and jobs hard to find, is it really so wrong to “roll over” (for the time being, at least) to keep the pay and benefits a few more months?

    Surgery is expensive. Let the church pay for it.

  • Queer Supremacist

    @Expat – Queer Supremacist: Jesus wasn’t a Christian and would turn over the tables of 95% of Christan churches on this planet. Hopefully he’d crush these 21st century scribes, pharisees and hypocrites in the process.

    Nice to know I’m not the only queer supremacist here. And why that number is going to grow if the Christians are not stopped.

  • B

    No. 4 · Jonathonz wrote, “Friar O’Rourke can be reached at [email protected]. I just wrote him a strongly worded, yet polite and respectful, email protesting this un-christian act.”

    It was probably a CYA act – if he didn’t have a problem with it for 6 months, then what probably happened is that “upper management” found out and demanded a human sacrifice.
    If O’Rourke didn’t fire him, the most likely outcome would have been O’Rourke being fired too.

    After all, the Catholic Church *did* run the Spanish Inquisition, where everyone was expected to do what they were told to avoid growing a few inches rather suddenly.

  • Steav Bates-Congdon

    @Junior: Some reflective comments and a bit of a correction:
    I am not Catholic, I am Episcopalian and my church recognizes our marriage.
    I was an employee and, “Stockholm Syndrome” notwithstanding, it was a great job.
    Wonderful choirs (this is a church of about 12,000 members) and an exquisite 4 manual (new) organ.

    Fr. O’Rourke and I had a very excellent working relationship as well as a deep respect for each other’s abilities.
    I suspect that no one in the Charlotte community believes this was his doing since, sadly, they carry a very heavy burden of a very ultra-conservative bishop who is rapidly rushing into Vatican I (June of 1868).

    I am not defending my oppressor, Bishop Peter Jugis. I am trying to be understanding of how a good priest had to deal with a vow of obedience.

    And, to JStratford, i am more than able to stand up for myself; but NO ONE deserves to be treated as I was. I am hardly looking for your sympathy. Your vitriol is misdirected.


  • the crustybastard

    Yes, He’s the God of Love, just not your kind of love. He hates your love. Anyway, you’re fired, because we only cover for child sexual abuse, not for something as odious as an out-of-state nonreligious marriage.

    Yeah, it takes religion to make people this twisted.

    And the congregation might pause for a moment to reflect, “That’s such a shame. He shouldn’t have been fired for that,” then they’ll return to the pews next Sunday, and all the other Sundays after that, persuading themselves they played no role in the injustice.

  • dawei

    That’s okay. You can’t feel bad because you are stupid. Most people in this godless country are just as stupid about God and the Bible and have absolutely NO IDEA of what crap is coming out of their mouths.
    Of course men wrote the Bible, you momo. You should be a politician. By the way, I don’t hide behind the Bible. I should respect people because people were created by God in His image, but I have a bad temper, which is my downfall.
    We say the Bible is God or Holy Spirit inspired. If you went to a good Baptist church you would know that. You would also be accepted no matter if you were gay, which you might be but I have no time to figure it out. You might be one of those silly people who have no gay friends or know nobody who is gay.
    God said in the OT and NT, don’t lay with a man as you lay with a woman. He said it twice and it was not to hear himself speak. Better wake up because trying to violate God’s laws and help people sin is not a nice thing in God’s eyes. people think they atre helping these people when in fact they are just going against God.
    I doubt you or anybody would care that EVERY culture and nation (Greeks, Romans, etc) all had laws. They had gay people, and I mean openly later in life. Within 100 years of making laws to protect them , every one of those nations fell. We are already falling, for 30 years. We are heading to becoming a third-world country. We are a “take what I can get away with it” society.
    Stealing of everybody’s money 5 years ago, $14B porno industry, child abuse (do you protest that and) 1.3 M babies killed every year, babies are now killed by Planned Parenthood when there is a boitched abrotion and they are on the operating table, hands pulled off, heads decapitated. Does anything I said bother you or penetrate?
    Gays burned down a Pastor’s house around 1982 because he fired his organist for being an open practicing gay. He had no idea in the berginning and nobody else did because he never would have hired him. His wife and kids just narrowly escaped.
    This is a choice they made, to be gay. God does not create gay people and then say if you keep this up you could end up in hell. That would be a contradiction to who He is. He makes you like this and then condems you? He destroyed a whole city and naed the sin homsexuality. Quick! What is the chapter, verse, and book of the Bible?
    I would suggest all you 35M people who are protesting, pick up a Bible and then answer if you could still do this. No REAL Christian could support these people. Not even when your best friend’s sister who is like a sister to you, culd you go against God and help then win support for a bill to get them a marriage license.

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