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Federal judge rules against church music director
by Matt Simonette

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A federal judge, on April 18, ruled that the Archdiocese of Chicago was within its legal rights to fire a suburban music director after he announced his impending same-sex marriage over social media.

Judge Charles P. Kocuras of the Northern District of Illinois ruled that Colin Collette's duties indicated that he was amongst religious personnel not subject to certain employment protections, and granted a summary judgment in favor of the archdiocese.

Collette was, in 2014, dismissed from his post as musical director at Holy Family Parish in suburban Inverness after he publicly announced his engagement to his longtime partner. Collette maintained that he previously had no disciplinary issues with his employer and was on good terms with church personnel and parishioners, as was his partner.

After his firing, Collette met with the late Cardinal Francis George about the matter; the findings from that meeting were never publicly revealed by either side in the case. George subsequently died in April 2015 but the Archdiocese never backed down from its defense against Collette, and refused to go to arbitration.

Collette sued in March 2016, maintaining that he was not part of the religious personnel, and would therefore be subject to employment protections which would not apply if he were clergy. His complaint also alleged that he was shown emails written by George that said the termination was brought about because Collette entered into a "non-sacramental marriage."

Upon filing the lawsuit, Collette told Windy City Times that his principal duties mainly involved working with lay parishioners, not clergy.

"Holy Family was unique in that there was an incredible amount of lay involvement," he said. "My job was to empower and 'animate' them, to bring my expertise and research to give them what they needed, so that it was part of them and in the spirit of the liturgy of the community."

But Kocuras disagreed in his findings, noting that, for example, "Choosing songs to match the weekly scripture required the group, including Collette, to make discretionary religious judgments since the Catholic Church does not have rules specifying what piece of music is to be played at each mass. … [Also,] by playing music at church services, Collette served an integral role in the celebration of mass. Collette's musical performances furthered the mission of the church and helped convey its message to the congregants. … Therefore, Collette's duties as musical director fall within the ministerial exception."

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