Today is ZDay in Seattle and across the nation. Catholic high school students from Eastside Catholic Prep organized the event as an expression of solidarity with the Mark Zmuda, the former vice principal of the school who was fired in December for marrying his husband.
Believe Out Loud‘s blog carried an essay by Zeena Rivera, a student at Seattle’s Holy Names Academy who has been active in the inter-varsity demonstrations that Catholic high school students have been conducting to support the fired teacher over the last month. In the essay, Ms. Rivera, who is founder and editor of Be!Magazine, an online publication for LGBTQ youth, reflected on how her Catholic faith has informed her decision to oppose the firing of Zmuda:
“I am Catholic. By May, I’ll have gone to Catholic schools for 13 years and there’s a good chance that I’ll be spending another 4 years in a Catholic school. I go to Mass every Sunday, work at a Catholic food bank during the summer, and am in a leadership position in my school’s campus ministry.
“It would be a lie to say that my moral compass hasn’t been touched by Catholic virtues.
“Furthermore, in my experience as a Catholic school student in Seattle, I know that my religion classes never taught discrimination. I was taught to live a loving life. I have learned that you’re supposed to stand up in solidarity and help create positive action when someone is being treated unfairly. We’re supposed to protect the rights and dignity of workers, not being the ones taking them away.”
As Catholic Schools Week concludes, details of new employment issues emerge, even as a leading national publication praised the Seattle area’s Catholic high school students who are protesting the firing of Mark Zmuda for their principled and persistent activism.
In one new case, Matthew Barrett has filed a complaint against Fontbonne Academy, a Catholic all-girls high school in Milton, Massachusetts, saying that a job offer was rescinded. Hired as the food services director at the school in July 2013, Barrett had listed his husband as an emergency contact. After doing this, he said he was called to the school and the employment offer was withdrawn. The complaint is with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, about which The Boston Globe reports:
“Barrett’s complaint, which may be the first of its kind in the country, comes at a time when religion-based schools in the increasing number of states where gay marriage is legal have been scrutinizing hiring and employment practices to ensure they conform with the pillars of their faiths…
“Barrett’s attorney and other supporters argue that officials at Fontbonne went too far in rescinding its offer for a job that has nothing to do with the school’s religious mission.
” ‘There is a balance between important values, which are religious liberties, and discriminatory practices,’ said Bennett Klein, a senior GLAD attorney. ‘This is a job that has nothing to do with religion . . . and this weighs toward discrimination.’ “
Massachusetts includes sexual orientation within its anti-discrimination law, and the debate is over whether a food services director is included under the so-called “ministerial exemptions.”
In New Mexico, a parish musician was also fired recently for marrying his husband. Orlando Jimenez served in several roles, including pianist, at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Las Cruces. He was asked to resign by the pastor, Fr. Bill McCann. Jimenez agreed, acknowledging complaints from parishioners about his marriage.
However, Jimenez challenged the pastor’s rejection of him to play at services for which a family, and not the parish, pay the fee. This type of work makes up a significant portion of the musician’s income, and Jimenez told KVIA 7:
” ‘It’s very hurtful, it’s very, very hurtful. I’ve tried to maintain my position as strong about this…I’ve tried to remain strong about all of this, but it really took a toll on me. I just never thought they would go this far, that he would go this far.’ …
” ‘I don’t understand how I’m supposed to make a living…Because a lot of requests I get are here at the cathedral, to provide music for quinceaneras and even funerals. Especially if he knows it’s a big part of my ministry.’ “
Today’s “Z Day” of action led by Seattle Catholi high school students is a model for LGBT activism, said Keegan O’Brien in The Nation:
“In a time when LGBTQ people still face powerful and well-funded opposition to equality, where Democratic “allies” continue to stall and put LGBTQ issues on the back burner, where mainstream LGBT organization stubbornly persist with their narrow, ‘don’t rock the boat strategy,’ where our victories remain tenuous and fragile—as the recent episode in Utah demonstrates—the bold, defiant and unapologetic character of Eastside Catholic High School students serves as a model to the LGBTQ movement for how to struggle and fight for the changes we urgently need and deserve.”
For further details how you can participate in Z Day from around the world, please visit www.standwithmrz.com or click here. Eastside Catholic High School’s students are proving that when LGBT church workers are fired, these injustices do not have to be the last word.
We are in the middle of Catholic Schools Week here in the U.S., a time to reflect on the importance of Catholic education in the life of the church and society. This year, the celebration of this week is particularly bittersweet because while we know that Catholic schools have done so much good in our history, we are painfully aware that over the past few years, some (not all, by any means) Catholic schools have committed grave injustices by firing gay and lesbian employees who have legally married their spouses. No response to such actions have been stronger than that of the students of Eastside Catholic Prep School, near Seattle, Washington, where students have been active for over a month in their protest efforts to have former vice principal Mark Zmuda re-instated to his job. Tomorrow, the students will be hosting #ZDay–a major demonstration of their support for Zmuda who was fired for marrying his husband. People are encouraged to wear orange as a sign of solidarity with the students and Zmuda.
A wealth of interesting commentary has developed around this case and around the growing trend of such firings. Rick Garnett, who contributes to Mirror of Justice, a blog about Catholic legal theory, has provided some important questions for reflection on the issues in this case. Garnett writes:
“As a legal, constitutional, and political-theory matter, I guess I am committed to the view that a Catholic high school is and ought to be able to decide (a) that teachers and administrators must teach and form students in accord with the Church’s proposals and teachings and (b) whether or not a particular teacher or administrator is failing to do so. That said, cases like these are . . . tricky for several reasons: Even those Catholic schools that are most committed to tethering hiring and firing decisions to their Catholic mission and character do not, generally speaking, investigate employees’ private lives to be sure they are entirely consistent with the Church’s moral and other teachings. (Phew!). What’s more, failures to live in accord with the Church’s teachings regarding sexuality are failures, but they are not necessarily, as a category, more ‘serious’ or ‘grave’ failings than the failure (of so many of us!) to live in accord with the Church’s teachings on charity and humility, and yet we don’t hear about many Catholic school teachers being fired for exhibiting insufficient joy. “
I disagree with Garnett’s claim that not living in accord with Church teachings are “failures.” After all, a person may have made this decision after serious conscience reflection, and, thus, are not “failing,” but actually “succeeding” in doing what they believe God has said is right. Despite that disagreement, I think he is right to point out that adhering to rules about sexuality should not be the litmus test for whether or not one is a good role model as a Catholic educator.
Eduardo Moisés Peñalver, a blogger atdotCommonweal, commented on Garnett’s post by offering an alternative course of action that the schools could have taken:
“Although I am inclined to agree with him [Garnett] that (at least for Catholic elementary and secondary schools who do not accept state funding) this is a choice for the Church to make, it seems to me that the Church has left itself the space to make a different choice in these situations. It could choose to view the injustice it sees in gay marriage as (in its view) one that is perpetrated by the state, and not by the participants in gay marriages. Consequently, as to actual gay couples, it could simply treat the marriages as a nullity and ignore them. On this view, the Church’s beef is with the state, not with the gay couple. If it is willing to hire someone who is gay, it should not fire him/her for taking advantage of a set of secular benefits that the state has chosen to exend to him/her.”
Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, responded to Garnett’s blog post by teasing out many of the other moral issues at work in this case. For instance, he writes:
“As a matter of law, Garnett is undoubtedly correct that there is no real debate: Eastside Catholic has the right to terminate any school employees it wishes. Teachers are certainly within the compass of the ministerial exemption from anti-discrimination laws, and even other staff members could seriously disrupt a parochial school’s mission if they wished in ways that would extend the ministerial exemption to them as well. The Church is free to fire and hire free from government interference, which does not mean it is smart to do so, only that it is undoubtedly within its legal rights to do so. “
I think this is an important distinction to make because it addresses the issue of what the school is teaching the students by its actions. Though they may have had a legal right to fire Zmuda, did they stop to think what lesson they would be sending to students with such an action? From the response of the students, they have learned a terrible lesson about Catholic institutional discrimination, what columnist Jamie Manson has termed “a vaccine against faith.” Who did more damage to the students’ lives as Catholics: Mark Zmuda for marrying his husband or school administrators for responding so harshly to such an action? Winters makes another important distinction relevant to this case: the difference between violating church teaching and undermining church teaching:
“Here is the rub for me. It is true that marriage is a public act. It entails official government recognition. You can look it up on a government register. But, most people do not spend their time sorting through government records to see who is, and is not, married. If Mr. Zmuda began bringing his husband to the school and introducing him as his husband, I do not see that as any different from a straight woman bringing in her live-in boyfriend or a straight man bringing in his mistress, and introducing them as such. In all three cases, I think the school would be within its moral as well as its legal rights to fire them. The offense, however, is not that they violated Church teaching, but that their announcement of their violation can be considered an effort to undermine Church teaching.”
Winters concludes with an appeal to the example of Pope Francis, whose style would be welcome in cases such as these:
“Blessings upon the gay rights leader who stands up for the constitutional right of a Catholic school to fire whom they wish. Blessings upon the Catholic prelate who admits that civil marriage for same-sex partners is not the threat it has been painted as. And, blessings upon everyone who helps to restore a greater appreciation for the idea that one’s private life is best kept private, that the personal is not necessarily the political, and that it is possible, at the same time, to both cling to the Church’s teachings and be generous and merciful with those who cannot or will not share them in their entirety. Isn’t that what Pope Francis has been trying to remind us these past few months?”
Ken Briggs, who also blogs for The National Catholic Reporter, has a more pessimistic view about Pope Francis’ influence on firings. Briggs feels that Catholic institutional leaders have their hands tied by church law, and that they can’t do anything until the law changes. He writes:
“Francis’ sentiments have become a mantra for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates as meaning gay and lesbian sexuality is within the bounds of moral approval. The anathema visited upon homosexual acts by the Vatican (‘intrinsically disordered’) is believed to have been superseded by the pope’s tolerance in the view of these hopeful thinkers. And who’s to blame them for the optimism in that ray of hope? “But in the real world of the Seattle archdiocese, decisions are supposed to be guided by official church teaching. The Catholic church’s opposition to same-sex marriage isn’t just advice. Practically speaking, it’s church law. What option do Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and the Eastside administration have but to follow the rule? “Nothing the pope has said gets to a particular case such as this and others that are cropping up. Perhaps that’s what the pope intends. He utters a personal vision of how things should be, even contrary to church teaching, hoping it will spark a grassroots debate that will eventually bring about change. Let a wholesale discussion work it out. He has endorsed a much more communal, conciliar church, so maybe he’s playing the role of catalyst.”
I disagree with this more pessimistic view. I think that church leaders have the right and responsibility to weigh all factors in any situation and that they have an obligation to do what they think is right, not just what they think an authority is telling them to do. People have a lot more freedom than they give themselves credit for. Of course, they also have to be willing to live with the consequences of their decisions, but that is what a life of faith is all about. Moving past the culture of blindly following authority is something that Catholic leaders and people need to do. We also need to move past a culture in which people courageously do what they think is right only up to the point where they may get in trouble. Robert McClory touches on this topic in a National Catholic Reporter analysis of the Zmuda case. McClory notes:
“Now that gays are marrying their longtime partners thanks to changes in federal and state laws, they are facing dismissal from their jobs. The alleged reason for dismissal is the fact that they are not following the church teaching on homosexuality. The real reason is that the word is out; the public knows they are gay — and the church is embarrassed. “But the affected employees weren’t following church teaching on this issue before, and somehow pastors and bishops were able to live with this less-than-perfect situation. Now, they feel, it’s time to impose a strict interpretation of the law. That’s where the hypocrisy, the double standard, is so obvious. Secrecy has been the chronic disease of Catholicism for a long time.”
There are many lessons to be learned from the Zmuda case about how church leaders can constructively respond to LGBT issues as they arise in Catholic institutions. Let’s hope that the next time such a situation arises, the leaders involved will be able to look at some of the broader issues involved, and not narrowly focus on just the sexual issues that may be involved.
Just as Pope Francis appears on Rolling Stone magazine’s cover, Catholics and people of faith worldwide have called on him to condemn anti-LGBT laws implemented in several nations recently through a new campaign called #PopeSpeakOut.
“[It] encourages Twitter users to use the hashtag #PopeSpeakOut to ask Pope Francis to condemn laws in Nigeria, Russia, Uganda, India, and Jamaica, places that ‘legislate and enforce death dealing policies and/or the suspension of civil rights based on sexual orientation or gender identity,’ according to the campaign’s website…
“The website also gives visitors the option to email Pope Francis, with text asking him to ‘to stop discrimination, hate, and violence against gay and lesbian people by condemning Uganda’s anti-gay bill and similar efforts in other nations.’ “
Pope Francis has used his global profile and popularity to speak out for human rights, and now many have asked why Catholics, including the pope, have not spoken more strongly when acts of LGBT discrimination and violence occur. Writing in the Catholic Herald, a columnist asks the question “Shouldn’t Catholics be protesting loudly against anti-gay persecution?” The article continues:
“The Catholic Church’s position on such laws are clear: they are are unjust. And it sometimes seems that the Catholic Church is standing atop two boats heading in opposite directions, with radical, illiberal anti-discrimination laws in the West and ultra-conservative morality laws in the developing world. Barbarism in one direction; decadence in the other…
“Catholics should see this as a matter of social justice. As [Niall] Gooch [a Catholic] has argued, as much as Catholics oppose discrimination laws that affect adoption agencies and B&Bs, and various other radical secularist measures, what’s happening in Nigeria is surely far, far worse than schools using the charity Stonewall’s material.”
This defense of LGBT human rights would also be in keeping with Pope Francis’ more welcoming attitude for all people, as when he said the famous remark “Who am I to judge?” or called for the Church to be a “home for all.” A Kenyan newspaper, KTN, carried an opinion piece which highlighted the promise of Pope Francis if he would use his voice to stop anti-LGBT efforts:
“Pope Francis is set to reverse centuries of blind intolerance, misogyny, and useless ‘culture wars’…He’s the right man for the job, and the historic moment.
“Pope Francis said not a word when France became the largest predominantly Catholic country to permit gay marriage. Apparently he was too busy washing the feet of the poor to tweet. You’ve got to admire Pope Francis because he ‘gets it’. The Church needs him to ‘modernise’ to survive….
“The basic mission of the Church ought to be social justice, as Pope Francis has emphasised. That’s the lesson I take from Jesus. The man from Judea and Nazareth was a social activist who would’ve embraced gays and gay rights.”
New Ways Ministry encourages you to participate in the #PopeSpeakOut campaign. Visit NoMoreTriangleNations.com or click here for suggested tweets. Share this information with your friends and networks and encourage them to participate, too!
Here are some items that you may find of interest:
1) At the end of 2013, Bishop Casimiro Lopez Llorente of the Segorbe-Castellon Diocese, Spain, wrote a pastoral letter entitled The Good News of Marriage and the Family, in which he denounced same-gender marriage. He claimed that same-gender marriage, which has been legal in Spain since 2005 has been “weakening the lasting love between spouses, maternal and paternal love, familial love, the significant increase in children with severe disturbances of personality and the development of a climate that often ends in violence,” according toOn Top magazine.
2) Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong, China, eliminated all negative messages about same-gender couples from his Christmas message in 2013, though he was extremely strident against gay and lesbian couples in his 2012 message. Columnist Alex Lo of the South China Morning Post believes the change in tone is due to Pope Francis’ more accepting attitude toward sexual minorities.
3) The Boy Scouts of America’s new policy of accepting gay youth as members went into effect on January 1st, and the organization reports that there has been no mass exodus of members or sponsoring organizations, which include hundreds of Catholic parishes. The Sheboygan Press explains the details of the new policy.
4) Irish Redemptorist Father Tony Flannery, who attracted the ire of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) because of his progressive views, including support of gay and lesbian couples, said that though he is hopeful about the papacy of Pope Francis, he recognizes that the CDF’s ban on his public ministry as a priest will likely not be lifted. Flannery, who foundered Ireland’s Association of Catholic priests, is beginning a speaking tour in that country, according to The Irish Times.
What’s the latest from Eastside Catholic High School, near Seattle, Washington, around which a growing movement for LGBT church workers has emerged? Just look at the front page of the New York Times to find out about this revolution happening in Seattle. And pay attention at the end of this week when a major action is planned.
Students walked out of classes in December after a vice principal, Mark Zmuda, was fired for marrying his husband. Since then, supporters from many quarters have kept the pressure on the Archdiocese of Seattle and school administrators, causing the resignations of both the school president and the board chairman.
The goals of the #KeepMrZ2013 movement are for Zmuda to be reinstated and for the Catholic Church to rethink its sexual ethics. Parents at Eastside Catholic are collecting signatures on a letterto the board condemning the firing and seeking resolution. You can view that letter here.
Alumni, like Corey Sinser, are also offering their support by speaking with the media. At The Daily Beast, another alum, Scott Bixby, wrote about the selective enforcement of Church teaching happening at Eastside Catholic, the students leading this movement, and an upcoming action scheduled for later this week:
“…even a cursory look at Eastside’s personnel practices show that the school is picking and choosing just what counts as behavior ‘inconsistent’ with Church teachings.
“The only group that hasn’t exercised back-bending feats of hypocrisy is the student body. Students have walked out, picketed, debated with church leaders, and are even organizing a national “Mr. Z” day, asking people across the country to wear orange on January 31…the students continue to demonstrate Eastside’s only real leadership.”
NPR affiliateKPLUgave Eastside students an opportunity to share their views, by interviewing a variety of individuals. Their responses give insight into both this movement’s energy and the future of American Catholicism:
“[Teresa Edwards, senior, Holy Names Academy] ‘I go to church every week. I’m involved in campus ministry at my school. At this point, I’m not happy with the church that I’m seeing…We’re frustrated. We’re really tired of hearing one thing in religion class and seeing something entirely different coming from the Archdiocese’…
“[Zena Rivera, senior, Holy Names Academy] ‘I got into this movement because I am a queer youth…Catholicism isn’t being bigoted. It’s not about being homophobic, it’s about loving people. I feel like looking back at the Civil Rights movement it’s so weird because Catholics were so into supporting people of color. I’m also a person of color…it’s weird because they’re all for me in that identity, but they turn their back when it comes to me being queer.’ “
According to the National Catholic Reporter, Archbishop Peter Sartain defended the school’s decision to fire Zmuda as not discriminatory, but merely being faithful to Catholic identity. At the same time, Sartain seemingly tried to distance the archdiocese from the decision by placing the firing at the feet of Eastside Catholic’s board of trustees.
Perhaps Sartain recognizes that an anti-LGBT Catholic Church cannot survive an emerging generation of youth for whom LGBT equality is a requirement of their faith lives. It seems that young people are responding to Pope Francis’ encouragement to dream about social change and respond to the contemporary world’s challenges, saying:
” ‘Your will and your abilities, combined with the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within each one of you on the day of your Baptism, allow you to be not spectators, but the protagonists of contemporary events.’…
“Diversity of thought, said the pope, ‘reflects the manifold wisdom of God when one approaches the truth with honesty and intellectual rigor, when one approaches the goodness, when one approaches the beauty.'”
These words from the pope follow-up on his comments during World Youth Day last year that young people should ‘make a mess’ in their dioceses in pursuit of the common good. And make a really good mess is certainly what these Seattle-area high schoolers have done. Will you join them this Friday, January 31st, for Z-Day by wearing orange, connecting on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter (use #KeepMrZ2013 and #ZDay), and finally:
“At 1:00 PST, we ask that wherever you are, you stand up for a minute of silent solidarity with students, members of the community, business professionals, and anyone else around the globe who feels as passionately about this issue as you do. Take a stand for Mark Zmuda. Take a stand for a new era of compassionate respect for the LGBT community.”
Last fall, Catholics worldwide submitted their responses to the Vatican’s request for input on marriage and family life that would inform next fall’s Synod of Bishops. In Germany, two theological associations released their responses to the Vatican’s questionnaire, and they were highly critical of the hierarchy’s teaching on sexual ethics.
The responses were drafted by representatives of the Association of German Moral Theologians and the Conference of German-Speaking Pastoral Theologians, and signatories included some of the most highly regarded theologians in the German-speaking academic world. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the letters said:
“Church sexual teachings…come from an ‘idealized reality’ and need a ‘fundamental, new evaluation.’
” ‘It becomes painfully obvious that the Christian moral teaching that limits sexuality to the context of marriage cannot look closely enough at the many forms of sexuality outside of marriage.’ “
The theologians responded in full to the Vatican’s questionnaire, but they went beyond merely criticizing the inconsistencies and harmful elements of the hierarchy’s teachings. The article continues:
“The theologians also propose that the church adopt a whole new paradigm for its sexual teachings, based not on moral evaluations of individual sex acts but on the fragility of marriage and the vulnerability people experience in their sexuality…
“Moving to their proposal for a new paradigm of evaluating sexual acts, the theologians say the church needs to appreciate the nakedness and vulnerability people experience in their sex lives.”
When writing specifically about same-gender relationships, the German theologians responded to the questions which asked what pastoral attention should same-gender couples receive and how to pastorally care for their children:
“There is ‘pastoral attention’ in many forms, but it is not enough. An official statement should signal clearly to persons in same-sex civil unions that faithfulness, dependability and solidarity are not worth less in the eyes of the Church because shown by gays and lesbians. This does not require a pre-decision for the equality of their unions with marriage…
“Fundamentally, the transmission of faith is not more difficult for same-sex couples than for heterosexual couples. If homosexuals ask for baptism for their child, one should appreciate that they intend to raise their child according to the Credo. Children can never be refused the sacrament because they grow up in the context of a homosexual partnership (cf. ‘Evangelii Gaudium’, 47).
“Regarding the communal spirituality in such a constellation, it is important to use the metaphors of mother and father for God in a differentiated manner. Moral teaching that is not idealistic, but anchored in the theology of grace, would also be helpful.”
You can read the full letter, including the entirety of the theologians’ responses to the questionnaire, at the National Catholic Reporter‘s website by clicking here.
It is hopeful to see the responses coming in from lay Catholics, theologians, those in religious life, and elsewhere in the Church which advocate for a rethinking of sexuality, marriage, and family life. What impact they will have during next October’s Synod is not clear, but it is a change in the Church that input is even being solicited and honestly given.