- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Joseph Nadeau prayed for storms when he was an altar boy, hoping the lights would go out and he would be chosen to play the church’s creaking organ during Mass. Mr. Nadeau, now in his mid-30s, has brought dozens of parishioners to his suburban parish in Roeland Park, Kan., with his bold spiritual arrangements.

But last month, Mr. Nadeau ended his final Sunday Mass at St. Agnes Catholic Church with a wrenching solo on “God Help the Outcasts.” His other life, as the artistic director of one of the nation’s largest homosexual male choirs, had cost him his job.

“I’ve known I was gay since I was 15 or 16,” said the soft-spoken singer/.musician 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 those who support “so-called gay culture” cannot be ordained as priests. While Vatican teachings also instruct that homosexuals should be treated with compassion, church employees are expected to live in accordance with Catholic doctrine.

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

In January, the St. Agnes Catholic Church hierarchy summoned Mr. Nadeau into a closed-door meeting, he said.

Mr. Nadeau recalls Monsignor Gary Applegate telling him 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.

“Science and psychology have taught us that homosexuality isn’t a disorder,” Mr. Nadeau said. “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, Mr. Nadeau’s contract will officially expire this month. A letter from Monsignor Applegate dated May 15 says that the two men “discussed whether and under what circumstances you could remain as the parish music director.” It also says, “We were not able to reach an understanding.”

In April, a Las Vegas Catholic high school reportedly fired a veteran philosophy teacher after he placed an ad on Myspace.com detailing his preferences in men. In 2003, a homosexual 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, who once played for several Catholic parishes but 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.”

Mr. Nadeau began singing in a homosexual choir in Denver, where he united his love for harmonies with his quest for social justice. In 1998, he was recruited to direct the Heartland Men’s Chorus, whose 135 singers will celebrate the choir’s 20th anniversary this month.

He 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 men’s choir,” said Mr. 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 Mr. Nadeau, whom 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 Mr. Nadeau to ads of underwear-clad men and slipped them under churchgoers’ windshields, he said.

Later that year, Mr. Nadeau said former Kansas City Archbishop James Keleher wrote a letter to the congregation stating that if Mr. Nadeau kept his two jobs separate, he did not see a problem.

The leadership at the archdiocese changed last year, with Archbishop Joseph Naumann taking over. In January, Mr. Nadeau said Monsignor 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 church doctrine because “part of holding a church position is upholding the church’s teaching,” said the Rev. Thomas Tifft, rector of St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in Wickliffe, Ohio.

Often, homosexual 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 Mr. Nadeau, who has already started programming music for a different but “welcoming” Christian church in suburban Johnson County, Kan., the option to stay quiet was not enough to keep him in the Catholic faith.

After he performed his final solo, about 200 parishioners joined Mr. Nadeau for a send-off in the church’s basement. He hasn’t been back to Sunday Mass at St. Agnes since that time.

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