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“Anyone working in a Catholic institution, whether it be a high school or a parish, is required to live in a chaste manner,” Gile said.

6/26/2003 3:29:00 PM by EDITH C. WEBSTER - Rockford Register

ROCKFORD - The music director at Rockford's largest Catholic church had a choice: give up his gay partner of 10 years or lose his job.

When Bill Stein refused to take a vow of chastity Tuesday, he was fired from his position at Holy Family.

"I was honest. I walked out of the office without a job, but I had my dignity," Stein said. "This shouldn't happen to anybody. It's the year 2003, for crying out loud."

Neither Msgr. David Kagan, who is parochial administrator at Holy Family during the leave of absence of the pastor, Msgr. Thomas Bales, nor Bishop Thomas Doran was available for comment on the firing.

"We can confirm that Mr. Bill Stein is no longer an employee of Holy Family parish," diocese spokeswoman Penny Wiegert said, "but as a matter of practice, we can make no comment about personnel issues."

Holy Family, 4401 Highcrest Road, has 2,760 families. Stein was hired five years ago to play organ, direct choirs and plan music for all church functions. During his tenure he oversaw the purchase and installation of a $777,000 pipe organ, organized an annual concert series and led the choir on a tour of Italy, where it performed at Pope John Paul II's canonization of a saint.

The controversy over his homosexuality began three months ago, when he and his partner decided they wanted to adopt a child. The parents of a few children in the choir complained to church officials, pressuring them to take action.

"Everybody I talked to was shocked that someone with this much talent, who did so much for the church, would be pinpointed for his personal lifestyle."

Some Catholics agree with the decision.

"He should not be in such a position," said Marjorie Coleman of St. Edward parish on 11th Street, who calls herself "a strong old Catholic - 77 years."

Church officials did not announce news about the firing, but word spread quickly. Stein received more than 100 calls, letters and e-mails of support in the days after he was dismissed. On Sunday, a previously scheduled choir picnic turned into an appreciation and rally, with choir members offering farewells, toasts, hugs and tears.

"I'm very disappointed and saddened with the dismissal and the lack of information coming from the church regarding it," choir member David Mason said.

Mary Parry, who has been singing in church choirs for 30 years, said Stein taught members how to make spiritual contact with God.

"The most important part of singing in the choir was the sacredness of liturgy, and Bill made sure we knew that," Parry said.

Those kinds of lessons were taught to kids, too, said Kathleen Prohaska, a senior at Boylan who plays flute with Holy Family's contemporary choir.

"He treats them just like he would adults," Prohaska said. "He helps them grow with music."

Some of Stein's supporters expressed outrage at the choir gathering, shouting out suggestions for protest, but Stein told them to keep the faith and discouraged them from responding with anger.

"The saddest thing is not that I lost a job. I'll get a job somewhere doing something," Stein said. "The saddest thing is the people who have told me that this has shaken their faith."

The incident is shameful, said Mary Zuba, a member of St. James Church on Second Street in Rockford and half of the first same-sex couple to adopt a nonrelated child in Illinois.

"Bill and his partner want to share their love with a child. They also want to have their church family share their anticipated joy, and what happens? The leaders of their church family reject them," Zuba said. "I would hate to think of what it would be like to be without our church family. I hope I never see the day, but events such as these make me feel less secure."

Rockford publisher John Gile, who attends Cathedral of St. Peter on Church Street, said the issue is not about the character of Stein, whom he does not know.

"Anyone working in a Catholic institution, whether it be a high school or a parish, is required to live in a chaste manner," Gile said. "If we're going to be in a leadership position, the organization sets the rules. The standard cannot be tossed aside."



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