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CHARLOTTE, NC, October 23, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The issue of same-sex “marriage” has brought controversy to a longstanding tradition in the city of Charlotte, the Mecklenburg Ministries Thanksgiving Interfaith Service. 

The event, which is in its 38th year, was supposed to be hosted by St. Matthew Catholic Church in Ballantyne, which is the largest church in Charlotte.  But after some event organizers insisted on adding Steav Bates-Congdon – who was fired from his job as music director at St. Gabriel Catholic Church after traveling to New York to ‘marry’ his gay lover – to the planning team, St. Matthew’s backed out. 

Bates-Congdon was fired from St. Gabriel’s in January 2012 after he posted photos of his homosexual “wedding” ceremony on Facebook.  Because all diocesan employees sign a morality clause agreeing to uphold the teachings of the Catholic faith, and because the Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a union between one man and one woman and homosexual acts are immoral, diocesan officials said they had no choice but to fire him.

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“The music minister was fired for violating his employment agreement. All employees of the Diocese of Charlotte agree not to publicly oppose Church teaching. By getting married [to another man] he violated that agreement,” diocesan spokesman David Hains told LifeSiteNews.com.

Bates-Congdon, who now serves as music director at St. Paul Episcopal Church, told the Charlotte Observer he had originally planned to steer clear of the event to avoid any hard feelings.  But then, he claims, he received phone calls and threats from three people who said they represented St. Matthew and St. Gabriel, telling him to stay away or face legal action. 

Both parishes and the diocese say they know nothing about the phone calls.  “We are unaware of anybody making a phone call like that,” Hain told LSN.  “That’s just not something we’d ever do.”   

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But Bates-Congdon called Rev. Christy Snow, who chairs the event planning committee at Mecklenburg Ministries, and told her about the alleged threats.  He told Snow he felt he had to stay away because “the church is making an issue of this, and I’m not.”

In response, Chairwoman Snow contacted St. Matthew’s and asked them to issue a formal invitation to Bates-Congdon, making it clear he would be welcome to help plan the service.

St. Matthew’s pastor, John McSweeney, refused.  “In no way would we give the impression that the Catholic Church approves of same-sex marital covenants,” he said.

Diocesan officials backed McSweeney up.  “We felt like we were kind of put in the position of having to bring someone into a leadership position in this event who had been fired by one of our churches, and that’s just inappropriate,” Hain, the diocesan spokesman, told LSN in a phone interview. 

McSweeney told the planning committee said that he had no problem making a general statement that all are welcome to attend the service, but he felt that inviting Bates-Congdon to take a leadership role was a step too far, and disrespectful to the Catholic faith.

“I don’t think we should have to violate [our faith],” McSweeney told the Observer.  “We were the hosts, and they were the guests.  Because you are welcome does not mean we have to agree to everything you may hold to.”

McSweeney said that out of respect for St. Gabriel’s parish, his own parish would not allow Bates-Congdon to be part of the leadership team for the event, although he stressed that he was welcome to attend as a worshiper.

“If this is a problem, if this is a concern,” McSweeney told the planning committee, “then we are recommending moving the interfaith thanksgiving service to another church.”

Chairwoman Snow readily agreed.  She told the Observer she was “shocked” and “disappointed” by Sweeney’s decision not to include Bates-Congdon in the planning effort.  “[St. Matthew] had been very open and loving and welcoming,” she said.  “I just didn’t see that coming.”

The event will now be held at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Dilworth, and Bates-Congdon is helping to plan it.  He is expected to sing and conduct during the musical portions of the service. 

While local Catholics will likely be present in large numbers, they will have no leadership roles.  

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