At Eastside Catholic High School, is it really appropriate to describe Sr Mary Tracy’s resignation as school president as a “Stunning Victory for Students” (as I did yesterday)? After all, the students have not yet achieved even their first goal, to get Mark Zmuda reinstated as vice – principal, and the attorney representing the school and diocese says there is “no chance” he will be.
Michael Patterson, an attorney who represents Eastside Catholic and the archdiocese, told the Guardian on Wednesday there was no chance that Zmuda would be reinstated. Repeating a statement he made in a December interview, Patterson insisted that Zmuda resigned and wasn’t terminated. “I confirmed it with him on December 19,” Patterson said. “I said, ‘I want to make sure you had it right that you resigned in my office’, and he said, ‘Absolutely.’”
There would appear to be even less chance of the students realizing their second goal, an actual change in Church teaching. So why did I make such an extravagant claim? Some clues are to be found in the sequence of events that led to yesterday’s resignation, and in the reasons given in her resignation letter.
Sr Mary Tracy’s Resignation
The timeline shows that Tracy began by simply going along with a directive from Archbishop Sartain, to fire Mark Zmuda, not because of his sexuality, or even that he was living openly with a man, but because he had publicly disclosed knowledge of his marriage. It’s not “Catholic teaching” that he was in conflict with, but Sartain’s own very public hostility to gay marriage. Initially, Tracy went along with the pretence that this was her decision alone, but it’s not at all clear that this was in fact the case.
Similarly, there was a claim, which continues to be promoted by attorney Patterson, that Zmuda was not dismissed, but resigned. This is patently not true. Zmuda denies it, and even if there was technically a resignation, this would have been forced, not voluntary – dismissal in all but name.
As reaction and protests against the dismissals mounted, Tracy struggled bravely to find a resolution to the impasse, consulting widely with staff, parents and students. Throughout, there were reports of continuing meetings with students, singly and in small groups, to “explain” to them the facts around the dismissal, and Catholic teaching. But every teacher knows that teaching is a two way process: teachers also learn from their students. While staff were persisting in putting to the students one side of Catholic teaching, we can be certain that students too, will have been putting to staff the other side of Catholic teaching, and of the Gospels, that Archbishop Sartain and attorney Patterson have so patently ignored.
I suspect that Tracy simply came to realize that the juggling act she was attempting was simply impossible. The announcement of her resignation referred to a decision taken after serious prayer and reflection, and of her hope that a new leader could bring new vision to the school.
Sister Mary Tracy’s departure was announced by Eastside Catholic high school’s board of trustees in an email on Tuesday evening. “Sister Mary came to this decision after much prayer and reflection. For Sister Mary it was a difficult but necessary decision so that a new leader can be brought in to ensure the entire Eastside Catholic community is moving forward on a positive path.”
That’s not too different from the reasons given earlier by the chair of the board of trustees, when he resigned.
What happens next?
Even before this resignation, a parents’ meeting was announced for this evening, Thursday 23rd January. Feelings will be running high: a group of alumni were planning to submit a petition for Zmuda’s re-instatement, in parallel with the students’ on – line petition (to change Catholic stance on gay marriage) at Change.org., which currently has 45 000+ signatures.
Also before this announcement, students had planned a major protest event for January 31st. Sr Mary’s resignation will energise the students, attract much greater publicity and support for that protest, and for their facebook letter writing campaign. There will also be greater publicity and support at Eastside, across the archdiocese, and across the world, for the on-line petition to Catholic bishops to change their stance on gay marriage.
Meanwhile, the school needs to select and install two new key people, a chair for the board of trustees, and a new president. Both Sr Tracy and the outgoing board chair have expressed the need for people of new vision, capable of uniting the school community. Faculty, parents students and other Seattle Catholics will share that hope – but Archbishop Sartain will certainly want to see installed people compliant with his desire to impose on the school his particular selective interpretation of Catholic teaching – his sexual ideology, rather than the more complete, pastoral and nuanced version found in the complete documents, and promoted so visibly by Pope Francis.
We cannot yet know who will be selected to lead the school. We can be certain though, that if Sartain has his way, this struggle will not be over. The school community will not accept more of the same. Opposition will intensify, until eventually Sartain backs down. He has already lost one major battle over gay marriage. He will lose another.
- Stunning Victory for Eastside Catholic Students Who “Made a Mess”
- A Timeline for the Seattle HS Orthodox Meltdown
- Why this is a “Victory” for Eastside Students
- Archbishop Sartain Has a Problem
- Students react to Eastside Catholic president’s resignation (news.queerchurch.com)
- Eastside HS: “Mr Z” Reacts to the Resignation of Sr Mary Tracy (news.queerchurch.com)