EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBS 2) — He says he can’t take it anymore.
A gay choir director at a Catholic church in New Jersey has quit his job because he says the priest is making his work environment hostile.
But does he have a case?
St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in East Rutherford is where Bob Russell has been the choir director for decades. On Thursday, however, the 55-year-old was taking boxes into the parish to pack up his belongings.
“Felt that I was put into a position that I had to resign my job because of my sexuality,” Russell told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan.
Russell, who grew up Catholic, said his work environment has become hostile since a new priest took over and started strongly preaching against homosexuality.
“The sermon line was that marriage between two men is a lie,” Russell said.
The Catholic Church does not condone homosexuality, Sloan reported.
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Newark, which now runs the parish, said no one will comment because the church does not discuss personnel matters.
Russell said it wasn’t the sermon, but what the priest told him in private that made him realize it was time to go.
“When I spoke to Father Joseph and I told him that I was a gay man in a domestic-partner relationship, he told me that he would eventually like a children’s choir and that I wouldn’t be a good example to lead a children’s choir,” Russell said.
Legal analysts say the church has the right to preach its beliefs because freedom of religion is protected by the Constitution.
“I believe that nobody should have to hide what they believe in,” one woman told Sloan.
But parishioners at the church said they are baffled and could care less Russell is gay.
“I think he should have stayed,” Renato Pierantoni said. “I think he’s a great guy.”
Russell’s attorney said they have not filed a lawsuit because they are exploring different options, including whether they can have a dialogue with the Catholic Church and get Russell’s job back or have him transferred to another parish.
St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church was part of the Franciscan order until it was transferred to the Newark Archdiocese in July. A spokesperson said the church tends to hire people who follow its beliefs.
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