Thursday, August 02, 2018

"Ministerial Exception" Applies To Church Organist

In Sterlinski v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, (ND IL, July 23, 2018), An Illinois federal district court held that the ministerial exception doctrine applies to an organist at a Catholic parish.  Plaintiff claims he was demoted from Director of Music to Organist because he is Polish and because of his age. The court previously held that the Director of Music position was within the ministerial exception doctrine.  It now rejected plaintiff's claim that his position no longer qualified as "ministerial" after his demotion. In the court's view:
the key dispute is the importance of music—and, more specifically, the importance of instrumentalists—to Catholic Worship at Mass.
The court went on to say:
the Catholic Bishop argues that the evidence indisputably proves that playing the organ in support of the Church’s religious services still qualifies as performing a ministerial function....
Based on the record evidence, the Court must agree. To start, there is only so much that a federal court may do in questioning a church’s view of its own religious doctrine. It is true that, although “a secular court may not take sides on issues of religious doctrine, it must be allowed to decide whether a party is correct in arguing that there is an authoritative church ruling on an issue, a ruling that removes the issue from the jurisdiction of that court.”... But “once the court has satisfied itself that the authorized religious body has resolved the issue, the court may not question the resolution.”
Cook County Record reports on the decision.