ATLANTA -- Nick Johns is a gifted musician. As a cradle Catholic who was the son of a deacon and an altar boy himself, Johns grew up with a love for the organ that was so strong, he pursued a degree in it at Georgia State University.
"It's very lifting for me and very spiritual for me," Johns says.
For all those years, because of his faith, Johns says he denied who he really was -- a gay man. "When you grow up Catholic, there's always that teaching being gay is wrong and not natural. It's the devil working inside of you."
Two years ago when he was 25, Johns came out. Last October he was hired as an organist at St. Brigid in Johns Creek, a church with close to 5,000 families.
Shortly after he was hired Johns says a parishioner went to the head pastor, Monsignor David Talley.
"They printed out something that was on my Facebook wall. They were pictures, I support marriage equality or something like that."
Johns' Facebook wall has posts supporting gay marriage and photos of he and his fiance. Johns says Monsignor Talley spoke to him and that he was compassionate. "He asked me to be cautious around here and make my profile private."
Johns made his profile private. He says he loved his job and that Monsignor Talley sang his praises from the pulpit, saying in one sermon how he loved to listen to Johns rehearse when the church was empty.
Then Pope Benedict named Talley Atlanta's Auxiliary Bishop. In a press conference held at the archdiocese Talley says, "I will hope to give my whole heart, all that I am, to this new way of caring for the Lord's flock."
Johns says, "We were all so excited. We were so proud of him. He was doing wonderful things there."
Johns says just weeks after Talley left St. Brigid, Father Joshua Allen, another priest at the church who served under Talley, called him. "And he said 'I hate to do this over the phone but you're under suspension facing possible termination due to your Facebook account being in moral dissension with the teachings of the Catholic church.'"
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In a letter Johns received from St. Brigid, Father Allen writes that disciplinary action 'could include termination.' Johns says one week later Allen gave him the option of termination or resignation. Johns says he chose resignation.
In a video of Father Allen on Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters website, he discusses the Supreme Court's ruling on same sex marriage, saying "Homosexual activity is just another sin. It's not like we have a problem with this one over another one. And the church is never going to stand by idly as society tries to turn it into something that is not a sin."
The Atlanta Chapter of the American Guild of Organists wrote to St. Brigid and asked for mediation. It has yet to happen. The Guild filed a complaint against the church and writes in a letter that 'No Guild member can seek employment there until the matter is resolved.' Guild leaders also wrote that members 'should be treated with dignity regardless of their beliefs and stances on social issues."
The Catholic church has every right to fire Nick Johns, or to force his resignation. Employee handbooks for dioceses across the country state that church employees must reflect the teachings of the church. The Atlanta Archdiocese would not speak for the story except to say they do not comment on current or former employees. Off camera, two priests with the archdiocese say Nick Johns' story is well known and cause for concern, especially in light of Pope Francis who said months ago when asked about homosexuals, "Who am I to judge?" And last week in an interview said that 'Religion does not have the right to interfere spiritually in the lives of gays and lesbians.'
Johns is the interim organist at Rock Spring Presbyterian Church. They know his story. They know he is gay and they welcomed him. "I've never felt more welcome than I have here," Johns said.
Being Catholic is a big part of who Johns is, but he is questioning whether he will ever return to the only faith he's ever known. "The Catholic church was my home for my whole life. And this is them telling me that I'm not wanted."
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