To fully appreciate the meltdown for so – called Catholic “orthodoxy” (more properly seen as Vatican sexual ideology, masquerading as orthodox Catholic teaching) at Eastside Catholic HS, it’s helpful to take a look at the chronology of events since news broke of Mr Z’s marriage.
Prior to Zmuda’s firing:
Before joining Eastside, Mark Zmuda had worked at several other Catholic schools, including one in Florida, where he lived in a registered domestic partnership with his partner.
The couple moved to Washington in order to be in a state where they could legally marry, which they did in July 2013.
There had already been eleven previous instances in 2013 alone, in which LGBT people are known to have been fired from Catholic institutions in the U.S. because of sexual orientation, gender expression, or marital status, inluding the firing of Michael Griffin, a foreign language teacher, from Holy Ghost Preparatory School n the Philadelphia area because he and his male partner obtained a marriage license
.As in many of these prior instance, there does not appear to have been any difficulties expressed about either Zmuda’s sexuality, or his male partner, until it became known that the two had married.
A December 19th news report says “Mike Patterson, an attorney for the Archdiocese of Seattle and for Eastside Catholic, said the process that led to Zmuda’s departure began “about two weeks ago” “. – or about Dec 5th
“We became aware of his same-sex marriage through some other employees at the school who indicated that he had related that to them,” said Patterson.
Also from the same report, we learn that after they became aware of the marriage, and also in early December, Sr Tracy met [ersonally with Seattle Archbishop Eastside Catholic president Sister Mary Tracy said she discussed Zmuda’s case in person with Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain (who had previously attempted to mount a strenuous campaign against equal marriage in Washington, but lost).
Sartain didn’t give her an explicit order to fire Zmuda, Tracy said. Rather, “We were directed to comply with the teachings of the church.”
The oddity here, is just which "teachings of the church" they were expected to comply. (It couldn't have been simply because he was openly gay, or even because he was living with a man, because that had not previously been an issue. It's also possible that the issue was not even the marriage - if he was as open as he obviously was to students, I find it difficult to believe that colleagues on the staff will not have known about it. (People usually invite some colleagues to their weddings, and these colleagues tell other colleagues). Clearly, like so many other Catholic institutions, the school had been bending the rules in a regime of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" - until Zmuda broke the invisible red line, and started to tell students that he and his partner had married.
And it very obviously was not teaching about resisting discrimination that was to be adhered to, or that on resisting discrimination - or many other, more nuanced teaching about conscience, or about the levels of Catholic teaching. No, the only "teaching" that had to be stuck to, rigidly, was that opposing gay marriage.
The diocesan lawyer, Mike Patterson, and the school president, Sr Tracy, met with Zmuda in
a cordial meeting on Tuesday and everyone understood that Zmuda could no longer work at Eastside Catholic. “It was just one of those situations where he knew ... that he needed to comport with the [teachings] of the church, and his same-sex marriage was not comporting with that,” Patterson said. Patterson said Zmuda’s same-sex marriage, not the fact that he is gay, is the reason he cannot work for the school
It’s explicit, The only contravention of teaching that upset the diocese (as reported by Patterson) was his marriage, not the same relationship before it was formalized in marriage.
News broke that Mr Zmuda was to leave the school.
Thursday morning, Sr Tracy informed the school staff of Zmuda’s termination at a regularly scheduled faculty meeting, and word spread quickly among students.
Officials gave conflicting messages about the nature of Zmuda’s departure, insisting that he had resigned even as the school, in a letter to parents, stated that his employment had been terminated because he violated his contract.
“He resigned,” Patterson said Thursday afternoon. “I just spoke with him within the last two hours. He agrees he resigned.”.
“He’s a great administrator,” Patterson said.
“We fully support him. We’re going to give him glowing reference letters, all that sort of thing. But Eastside Catholic doesn’t have the power to change that law,” Patterson said, referring to church teachings.
Students and faculty at Eastside Catholic High School immediately began to protest. The protest spread via Twitter and text messaging to other students at area Catholic high schools, and to at least one junior school, where students showed solidarity with a similar sit-in protest.
Protests, on site and on – line, continue steadily over the next few weeks, gaining support from parents, other Catholics (and some clergy) of the diocese, and begins to go global.
In a Youtube video interview, Zmuda says he was told he could keep his job if he got a divorce:
During the 16-minute interview with one of his former students, Catrina Crittenden, Zmuda said, “Apparently the fact that I have a same-sex partner and (am) having a same-sex marriage … they are against that.
“But I also thought another teaching they were against was also divorce. I’m a little shocked that was even on the table to have me keep my job. They also offered for me to have a commitment ceremony if I were willing to get a divorce.”
On the video, which was posted on YouTube Saturday, Zmuda also said he didn’t resign but was terminated — contradicting a persistent claim by the school’s attorney, Mike Patterson
On Saturday (Jan 4th), they held a rally outside the offices of the Seattle Archdiocese and are planning other events, including something they are calling nationwide “Z” day, asking students and others across the country to wear orange, one of the school colors, on Jan. 31 in solidarity with Zmuda.
“We will continue to write letters, lobby Church officials, and use any other means at our disposal to respectfully work toward our ultimate goal of changing the discriminatory attitudes regarding homosexuality in the Church,” local students said in a statement.
Seattle Times reports:
Tracy referred calls to Patterson, who said Zmuda’s statement about the divorce was untrue.
Patterson acknowledged he was not present for that particular conversation but said Tracy raised the idea of divorce with Zmuda only as a hypothetical question, along the lines of “would you consider a divorce … I don’t even know if that would work.”
Tracy did so, Patterson said, without legal counsel and Zmuda said it was not something he would consider.
And Zmuda, he added, never brought up the issue during a conversation he had with the attorney.
Patterson dismissed any further questions on Zmuda’s claims, including about the commitment ceremony, and hung up.
In contrast with the rigidity of the diocesan lawyer, Sr Tracy’s attempts to find some middle path become ever clearer:
Tracy hosted a meeting Sunday evening 5th Jan with staff and faculty members to talk about “the plan we will use moving forward” and invited parents to meet with her to address questions they might have.
In her emails to faculty and parents, Tracy said Eastside Principal Polly Skinner will meet with students “this week” (beginning 5th Jan) to begin planning a workshop to bring about change at the school, where about 60 percent of the 654 high school and 281 middle school students are Catholic. Eastside is also prepared to contract with professionals to work with students “to effect progress in a meaningful, positive and impactful way,” she wrote.
Board Chair Gene Colin resigned from the Board of Trustees, saying that he believes now is the right time for new visionary leadership to emerge and direct Eastside Catholic forward.
Sister Mary Tracy says freelance drama coach Stephanie Merrow, who is engaged to another woman, is “welcome” to continue working on campus, and that her employment was not discussed at a school board meeting.
It’s reported that
The students believe Sister Mary Tracy is sympathetic to their cause, and even allowed them to quote her as saying: “I look forward to the day where no individual loses their job because they married a person of the same sex,”
The school Board of Trustees releases a letter to parents spelling out much of the facts behind Zmuda’ departure, stating clearly that this was because the school must uphold Church teaching – and that the Church is opposed to gay marriage. The letter also announces a parent’s meeting to discuss the issues, to be held on Thursday January 23rd.
A statement from the school, released in January, said all school employees are required to sign an agreement in the employee handbook stating that “the public behaviors of our faculty and staff must at all times be consistent with the values and teachings of the Catholic Church.”
The school added that the Catholic church opposes same-sex marriage. The church teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman and sex outside marriage is a sin.
It also noted that when Zmuda “married his same-sex partner, the school administration was left with no acceptable alternative that would allow him to remain eligible for employment at Eastside Catholic School” and the school’s president and CEO, Sr. Mary Tracy, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, “had no choice other than to discuss resignation.”
It’s announced that a gay drama school has been reassured that she won’t lose her job, after coming out as gay. What’s the difference? It’s not that she hasn’t married her partner (not yet), because she’s made clear that she intends to, but has been presented a contract, all the same. The only real difference is that the school has obviously learned something, from the fiasco over Mr Z. (Archbishop Sartain hasn’t)
Now it gets interesting. While Sr Tracy has been showing increasing signs of trying to balance all the conflicting elements of Catholic teaching, and not only that opposing gay marriage, Archbishop Sartain starts to dig in his heels. Originally, it was a meeting with Sartain and Sr Tracy that began the whole sorry process, not doubt expecting that there would be protests, but that these would die down – just as they had done elsewhere. Later, as the story made major news headlines, he appeared to backtrack, saying that decisions were in the hands of the school and its trustees.
But as they showed signs of looking for a compromise, he backtracked:
Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain said a local Catholic school’s requirement that the vice principal quit after it learned of his same-sex marriage was not discriminatory but held to church teaching and the school’s Catholic mission.
“Leaders of Catholic schools are charged with the responsibility of both imparting and modeling” the Catholic church’s teaching, he said, adding that the decision by the board and administrators of Eastside, an independent Catholic school, asking Zmuda to resign “was made after a great deal of prayer and consultation.”
“In no way was their goal to be discriminatory to anyone but to be faithful to their mission as a Catholic school,” the archbishop said. “The archdiocese supports their decision. The decision has been misunderstood and mischaracterized by some, and we now have an opportunity to help our students learn even more about Catholic teaching.”
Once again, there is no acknowledgement at all, that “Catholic teaching” contains far, far more, and is far more nuanced, than a simple opposition to gay marriage. He does make a nod to the importance of avoiding discrimination – but is simply unable to see that it is impossible to oppose discrimination while actively practising it.
Is it any wonder that -
Sr Mary Tracy resigned as school president.
A meeting of parents resolves that Mr Zmuda will not be re-hired, and that the school will continue to uphold “Catholic teaching”
- Why this is a “Victory” for Eastside Students
- Archbishop Sartain Has a Problem
- The Kids Are Alright (commonwealmagazine.org)
- Eastside Catholic (commonwealmagazine.org)
- More on the Firing of Mark Zmuda from Eastside Catholic (commonwealmagazine.org)
- Gay Marriages Confront Catholic School Rules (nytimes.com)