Citing the right of religious organizations to control internal affairs, a federal judge has sided with the Archdiocese of Chicago and an Inverness parish in a lawsuit filed by a former music director who claimed he was improperly fired after publicly announcing his engagement to a man in 2014.
U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras granted a motion for summary judgment in the case that was sought by the archdiocese and Holy Family Catholic Community. Kocoras addressed the material facts in the case and found in favor of the church and archdiocese before a trial.
Kerry Lavelle, an attorney for the ex-music director, Colin Collette, did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday. Archdiocese spokeswoman Colleen Tunney-Ryan also could not be reached.
Collette, who worked at Holy Family for 17 years, sought reinstatement to his position, back pay, and compensatory and punitive damages in the federal complaint he filed in March 2016. He alleged he was improperly fired after announcing his engagement to his male partner on Facebook.
A letter from the late Cardinal Francis George, published in Holy Family's bulletin in October 2014, stated Collette was dismissed for his "participation in a form of union that cannot be recognized as a sacrament by the church."
Court documents filed by Collette's lawyers say he did not have a ministerial position with Holy Family and could not be fired for reasons cited by the church and archdiocese.
However, in the April 18 ruling, Kocoras agreed with the archdiocese's and Holy Family's position that Collette was a "key ministerial employee" of the Inverness parish.
"The Supreme Court has recognized the right of religious organizations to control their own affairs," Kocoras wrote. "This right includes the freedom to 'decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.' Matters of church government include the right of churches to select their own leaders."
Kocoras added Collette also served as a director of worship with duties "specifically oriented toward helping the church carry out the celebration of Mass."
Collette's lawsuit claimed Holy Family and the archdiocese violated the federal Civil Rights Act, the Illinois Human Rights Act and the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance when his employment was terminated on July 27, 2014.
Parishioners were sharply divided over Collette's firing. Collette and his partner were married in Rome in July 2015.
Holy Family's pastor, the Rev. Terry Keehan, deferred to the archdiocese for any comment on the case. Collette could not be reached Tuesday.