Catholic School Leader Fired Gay Administrator After He Got Married, but Said He Could Keep Job if He Got a Divorce

Last month, a student-led revolution began at Eastside Catholic High School in Seattle, Washington.

It started when Assistant Principal Mark Zmuda was forced to resign from his position after school officials confronted him about his sexual orientation and summer wedding:

Mark Zmuda (right) and husband Dana Jergens

Before his final day at the school, hundreds of students staged a protest online, on Twitter, in the cafeteria, and outside the school:

Students protest on behalf of Mr. Zmuda (Steve Ringman – The Seattle Times)

The students, like Zmuda, are all aware that the Catholic Church is an anti-gay organization and school officials are well within their right to fire Zmuda.

But that doesn’t mean the students have to stand by and just watch it happen.

In fact, they’re planning an even bigger protest at the end of the month:

“We care too much about Mr. Zmuda to let this go,” said Ian Edwards, a senior at Eastside Catholic, after speaking at the second demonstration in as many weeks outside the old chancery of the archdiocese.

With social media at their disposal, the students are thinking big. They plan to organize, nationwide, a “Z-Day” on Jan. 31 to protest the forced resignation of Eastside vice principal Mark Zmuda after his same-sex marriage last summer.

“We encourage students, at Catholic schools or otherwise, as well as any other impassioned individuals, to proudly wear the color orange on that day. In so doing, we will be showing solidarity with Mark Zmuda, as well as expressing our hopes for an enlightened perspective on issues of sexuality in the Catholic Church,” said a statement read by Edwards and other students.

The Archdiocese of Seattle has nothing to say to the students. They know they’re outnumbered on this issue and the students have momentum on their side.

You might be wondering if the students can really accomplish anything here. It’s the Catholic Church, after all. Well, the students are trying to work within the confines of Catholic rules to establish a few “demands”:

“We expect a transparent and HONEST statement that accurately addresses how this decision (removing Zmuda) was reached, what players were involved, and their rationale for doing so in light of Catholic social teachings. The students, alumni and community members deserve an apology for the opaque and misleading fashion in which this difficult situation was handled.”

“In future matters, we ask that the Archdiocese, or any Catholic school under its purview, conducts itself accordingly — that the review of ANY employee judged to have broken Catholic doctrinal teachings (birth control, cohabitation, matters of sexuality) will henceforth include a holistic review of the individual’s job performance, character and embodiment of Catholic social teachings before a final decision regarding employment standing is made.”

“No school, in conjunction with the Archdiocese or acting upon its own accord, will ever again make any similar decision based strictly on doctrinal matters, as the draconian enforcement of a set of oft-ignored dogmatic mores is no longer relevant to the 21st Century Church.”

I’m not sure their demands will be met. They’re expecting honesty and ignorance of archaic dogma from leaders in the Catholic Church… as if those things were ever hallmarks of the Church in the first place.

But even if the Church and school change nothing, the students give you a glimpse into the Church’s future. It’s making itself obsolete by pushing away young people who are concerned with social justice and civil rights and who know the Catholic Church can’t be counted on to stand for what’s right.

Are these kids going to remain in the Church once they’re out of their parents’ houses? Are they going to raise their kids in the Church? Are they going to attend Church when they’re older? Are they going to have any respect for Church authority?

I doubt it. As I said before, Eastside Catholic may have inadvertently created a batch of future atheists with their decision to terminate Zmuda.

You can follow what the students are planning on Facebook and Twitter. Already, their actions have convinced another teacher at the school to come out about her own same-sex engagement. (Her termination may be imminent.)

After all that, here’s the real kicker. In the video below, featuring a student interviewing Zmuda and his partner, Zmuda explains at the 12:00 mark that school President Sister Mary Tracy offered him a way he could keep his job. All he had to do was get a divorce:

Because the Catholic Church believes gay marriage is wrong. But divorce is perfectly acceptable…

(via The Daily Dish)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.


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