Collette, the music director at Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness, was with the parish for 17 years before he was let go in 2014 after announcing he was engaged to his same-sex partner.
He filed a lawsuit against the church and the Archdiocese of Chicago last year, alleging discrimination and seeking reinstatement of his job, lost wages and damages.
Collette said Wednesday that the decision “flies in such contradiction to the wonderful things that are coming out of Rome. The pope is speaking about unity and love, and here we are creating a church of fear and division.”
But U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras indicated in his ruling that the law gives churches more leeway than other employers to hire and fire who they want.
The judge concluded that the job Collette held was “critical to the spiritual and pastoral mission of the church.” While that might speak to Collette’s high standing in the parish, the judge determined that it placed him within an exemption that churches have from some employee discrimination laws.
Kocoras wrote that the Supreme Court has “recognized the right of religious organizations to control their internal affairs,” and that non-ordained employees can be considered ministerial if they are responsible for conveying a church’s message, teaching the faith and carrying out the church’s mission.
From helping carry out mass to playing music at church ceremonies, Collette’s responsibilities as director of music and director of worship fell into those categories, Kocoras wrote in his April ruling.
Collette’s attorney Kerry Lavelle, who had argued that Collette’s role was not ministerial, said in a statement Wednesday that the Catholic Church has “chosen to stand behind its ministerial exception to discriminate against members of the gay community.”
“That someone of (Collette’s) commitment and ability is prevented from pursuing their career in this day and age is a sign of how far some institutions have to go in accepting all members of society, and demonstrates that there are still many individuals who are not granted equal rights in the workplace,” Lavelle said.
Holy Family Catholic Community referred requests for comment to the Archdiocese of Chicago. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese declined to comment.
Collette was a popular figure in the parish. About 700 people attended a community meeting after he was terminated. Collette said that church leaders knew for years he was gay, but it wasn’t until he posted his engagement announcement on Facebook that he was fired.
He said he was told at the time that his same-sex relationship violated the tenets of the Catholic Church. In his lawsuit, Collette argued that many church employees, gay and otherwise, were in non-sanctioned marriages.
“It’s very difficult,” Collette said. “That was my whole life.”