By Steve Skojec
While most of us are getting ready for Christmas, a battle is ongoing in Seattle over the dismissal of Mark Zmuda, the Eastside Catholic School vice principal and coach who married his same-sex partner in violation of school policy and in breach of his contract.
The official statement from Sister Mary Tracey, president of Eastside Catholic, indicates that Zmuda’s departure was a mutual decision:
In meetings with Mark, he and I discussed the situation and, although he was disappointed, we reached an understanding that the correct action was for him to submit his resignation. I then met with Archbishop Peter Sartain to inform him of the situation and of my decision and he agreed with the decision.
The Seattle Times reports that upon hearing the news, students were upset about the ouster of the popular faculty member:
School authorities said they learned about two weeks ago that Zmuda had married his partner over the summer.
They met with him on Tuesday and, according to the school’s attorney, everyone present — including Zmuda — agreed that he couldn’t remain on staff because the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage. His last day at the school was Friday.
“Mark’s same-sex marriage over the summer violated his employment contract with the school,” the school said Thursday in a letter to parents.
When students learned about it Thursday morning, they staged a sit-in and rally that attracted wide media attention and prompted other area Catholic high-school students to show solidarity.
What started as a grassroots student protest at Eastside has grown. Other Seattle area Catholic schools have joined the demonstrations, and a Change.org petition started by an Eastside student entitled, “United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: Change the Roman Catholic Church’s stance on gay marriage” has gained over 20,000 signatures since it was posted yesterday. The protests have now gained international attention and thousands of media hits.
What is the takeaway from all of this?
At first glance, it’s somewhat surprising to note that many are ignoring the fact that the reason Zmuda was dismissed from his position was because of a contractual violation. As a Catholic School, Eastside had a clause in its employment contract which stipulated that faculty must follow Church teaching. That policy and legal obligation are being so conveniently ignored when they conflict with political correctness is troubling.
But this makes sense in the broader cultural context of the gay marriage debate. In America, it is no longer considered acceptable to have your own views on the matter. As many have noted this week in A&E’s decision to suspend Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson over his comments opposing the homosexual lifestyle in an interview with GQ, nothing less than total surrender on the issue is acceptable. Those who resist, even on the basis of religious conviction, will be treated as bigots and outcasts.
In Seattle, this has been distilled into a demand that the Catholic Church change its position on gay marriage. Nevermind that this is a perennial teaching not subject to change with the zeitgeist. The bastions must, yet again, be razed. In an editorial, The Seattle Times makes the agenda plain:
The students’ rebellion should provoke an institution that preaches compassion to also accept that individuals have a right to marry the person they love.
Sure, church doctrine is staunchly opposed to same-sex unions. And yes, Zmuda signed a contract to uphold Catholic teachings. But the ground has shifted significantly, from the Vatican to Sammamish.
The church has a history of selectively enforcing its own doctrine. Is Eastside Catholic now going to investigate whether its teachers use contraception?
Pope Francis himself illustrates the softening of doctrine. He was just named the Person of the Year by gay-rights magazine The Advocate after saying, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”
This quote from Pope Francis showed up on the signs of protesters and in much of the coverage of the story as well, despite the fact that official Church teaching on homosexuality remains constant. But its use signals a shift in the debate, in which Catholic supporters of gay marriage see, however mistakenly, an ally in the pope.
Whatever happens in Seattle, this is a milestone, both in the fight over gay marriage and the ever-shrinking protections for religious liberty. If a discrimination lawsuit is filed, will the school’s First Amendment rights be upheld?
It is almost certain that this same battle will be coming to Catholic schools around the country as other teachers in homosexual relationships, emboldened by the support being shown for Zmuda, step forward.