When Frank Hattula met Sandor Demkovich — a devout Catholic who loved music — his heart went pitter-patter.
Last year, after 15 years together, they were married in Chicago. But along with the joys of marriage came a painful split from a lifelong relationship with the Catholic church.
Demkovich, a music director at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Calumet City, claims he was asked to resign in September 2014 because his marriage was against the church’s “policies and teachings.”
When Demkovich said no, he was fired, according to a discrimination complaint filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint also alleges he was discriminated against because of his weight.
Demkovich was fired just four days after his wedding, a service filled with love and music. “We had a very spiritual event because it was part of what we do,” said Hattula, 45. “It was important for us to get married in the church.”
A year after the firing, the men no longer feel welcome to attend a church they love. They’ve instead chosen to attend the Episcopal church where they married, a place where they feel accepted.
“We’re partners in this. It’s our faith, and our baptism and unfortunately we have to go now where we are welcomed. We are not welcome in the Roman Catholic church,” said Demkovich, 53, of Whiting, Indiana.
Demkovich said the church’s pastor called him into a meeting where he asked if he had married. When Demkovich said yes, Pastor Jacek Dada said, “That is bad,” Demkovich recalled.
“He knew we were getting married. He asked me in July 2013 if we were getting married and he was very encouraging about it,” Demkovich said. “At that point, he said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you that your union is against the teachings of the Catholic church.’”
Demkovich said he reminded Dada of the his rights as an employee.
“I told him that the Catholic church does not act on their own. Their personnel manual does not discriminate against sexual orientation, marital status. It’s literally in black and white,” Demkovich said.
Demkovich was told he wasn’t being fired for his sexual orientation, but for his union, which was “against the Catholic church.”
The firing left Demkovich stunned and saddened.
“It’s hurts so deeply,” he said. “I can’t tell you how difficult getting through Christmas and Lent and Easter this past year has been. It’s just been horrible.”
He’s hoping his discrimination complaint can help him get his job back, even if it means working for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
“I love the church. I love the music. I love the spirituality,” Demkovich said.
Demkovich’s case is similar to Colin Collette’s termination, a choir director who was fired last year after someone sent Cardinal Francis George an image of Collette and his partner announcing their engagement.
The Archdiocese of Chicago on Thursday notified Collette’s attorney that they would not be seeking mediation and had hired attorney Jim Geoly, who has represented the Catholic church in several high-profile cases of clerical sex abuse.
Archbishop Blase Cupich recently returned from a meeting of bishops in Rome — where he drew some criticism for his comments about creating a path for divorced and gay Catholics. He again reiterated a message of inclusion in Chicago on Wednesday.
After he was fired as a director of worship from Holy Family Church in Inverness, Collette filed a complaint with the Chicago division of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Cook County Commission of Human Rights last December.
Collette said someone sent Cardinal George a Facebook image featuring Collette and his partner after their engagement. The cardinal then sent the Holy Family Church pastor an email calling for Collette’s resignation. When he refused to sign, he was fired.
Collette also said the pastor knew he was gay and had attended dinners with the couple.
In a emailed statement Thursday night, an archdiocese spokeswoman wrote: “Mr. Colin Collette and Mr. Sandor Demkovich have filed complaints with public agencies who are still investigating the matters. The Archdiocese of Chicago has responded to the agencies and these matters remain pending. We do not comment on the progress of such matters.”
After Collette’s firing, the archdiocese released a statement saying, “Worship ministers are expected to conform their lives publicly with the teachings of the church.”