Nun Driven Out Of Seattle Catholic School
The president and CEO of Eastside Catholic School has resigned amid unrelenting protests over her decision to dismiss the school’s vice principal for marrying his gay partner.
In December, Sister Mary Tracy fired Vice Principal Mark Zmuda, who also served as the school’s swim coach, saying his marriage to a man violated the Roman Catholic teachings he’d agreed to uphold when he began working at the school.
Her resignation, submitted to the Eastside board of trustees Monday and made public Tuesday, was effective immediately.
It comes just days before a planned schoolwide meeting Thursday, during which board members — who have been the target of persistent lobbying by students, alumni and parents — are expected to field parents’ questions.
The circumstances surrounding Zmuda’s dismissal — and the demonstrations that followed — have presented a public-relations challenge for the private, independent Sammamish school of 935 middle-school and high-school students, affiliated with the Seattle Archdiocese but overseen by its own board of trustees.
This is big, it seems to me. Notice that the school is private, not archdiocesan; it’s interesting to think of how the archdiocese would have handled the situation. Still, the school identifies itself as Catholic, and it’s a big deal that protests by students, parents, and alumni drove the principal to resign. She probably did the right thing, inasmuch as she had apparently lost the ability to lead. This is an unambiguous victory for gay-rights supporters among Catholics. Catholic schools nationwide are going to be seeing a lot more of this. There has been a lot of “don’t ask, don’t tell” related to gay teachers and administrators in Catholic schools (hypocrisy is the necessary lubricant for much social life), but the legalization of same-sex marriage forces the issue.
I think many, perhaps most, Catholic schools around the country are soon going to find themselves on the opposite side of parents and students on these issues (e.g., protesters at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx strongarming the administration to cancel or at least postpone a talk by a Catholic priest who was going to give a presentation defending the Church’s teaching on homosexuality). A Quinnipiac poll last fall showed that most Catholics, including regular massgoers, support gay marriage rights. This is going to show up at Catholic schools all over; Eastside Catholic and Cardinal Spellman are bellwethers.
Seattle-area Catholic school parents forced the resignation of the principal, a nun who was trying to uphold official Catholic teaching. Whether you think the firing was right or wrong, you have to admit that this particular gay-rights victory is really something.
UPDATE: Smart comment by St. Louisan:
It’s not news that orthodox Catholics increasingly have to choose between open loyalty to Catholic doctrine and bending to keep within touching distance of the culture. But incidents like this show how much is riding on that decision. Loyalty to Catholic teaching on life and sexuality doesn’t just mean a smaller, more orthodox church. It means losing most (if not nearly all) of the massive infrastructure of schools, hospitals, universities, and social services built up over a century and a half.
If across-the-board orthodoxy meant a retreat into Catholic institutions, it would be more bearable. But so many of the Catholic institutions are now much more tenuously connected to Catholicicm than they were a generation (or more) ago. Catholics who hold to othodox positions on these issues have to face being driven out of these institutions, and seeing places like Eastside School lose even the more-or-less, residual sort of Catholicism they still retain.
And the choice isn’t whether to speak out or keep a tactful silence–as in this case, the choice demands an answer. If the vice-principal enters a same-sex marriage after agreeing to follow uphold Catholic teachings, what was the principal supposed to do? She couldn’t pretend she didn’t notice. Taking no action would clearly affirm that her vice-principle’s marriage wsan’t in contradiction to his agreement (oath? employment contract? unclear, but either way) to uphold Catholic teaching. She had to either affirmatively support the church’s position on sexuality or affirmatively establish, in a Catholic school, the principle that same-sex marriage is compatible with Catholic doctrine. This sort of decision point will onyl become more and more frequent.
Orthodox Catholic administrators are having to face the stumbling block that so many bishops faced (and failed to avoid) in the abuse scandals–the love of the institutions that so many generations of Catholics built from scratch with sacrifice and toil. I can only explain to myself how so many bishops (the ones not personally involved, that is) countenanced so much depravity by thinking they were terrified of losing what the twentieth century American church had built, from the bricks of the schools and rectories to the social esteem a Roman collar bestowed. Ironically, what hasn’t been lost through greivious betrayal will have to be lost through fidelity.