One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests…

…or so said Thomas Paine, at any rate.

Eastside Catholic High School of Sammammish, WA, would disagree with the sentiment, I think. They recently fired Vice Principal Mark Zmuda, who is gay, for the horrible crime of marrying someone he loves.

In the spirit of Pope Francis I’s shoulder-shrugging-and-oh-so-tolerant “who am I to judge” quip–in which he essentially said he has no problem with gays… as long as they don’t act gay–Zmuda was mercifully given the chance to keep his job, if he divorced his husband. Zmuda, for some reason, refused, and was promptly shitcanned.

But here’s the sweet to this story’s sour: the student body really likes Zmuda, and like many youngsters these days, they couldn’t give a flying fuck in a hurricane where he decides to put his dick once the lights go off. Earlier this week, they picketed outside the school in protest, prompting school administrators to threaten them with suspension should the protests continue.

Joining the students is Stephanie Merrow, the school’s lesbian drama teacher. While Merrow is engaged (to a woman, mind you), Sister Mary Tracy–President of Eastside Catholic High–said she will not be terminated.

There’s no sense scratching your head wondering why they would fire a homosexual man for getting married to a same-sex partner and not a homosexual woman. There’s nothing theological or dogmatic about the decision to spare Merrow (assuming we can take Sister Mary Tracy at her word). Seattle news outlet KING5 sums it up succinctly:

Sister Tracy also told KING 5 the board discussed ways to prevent the current controversy from happening again, indicating the school would seek counsel from the Archdiocese and research other similar circumstances around the nation.

This brings back memories of my own time as a student at a Catholic school. When I was in the third or fourth grade, my school had hired a new principal at the start of the academic calendar. Upon returning to school after Christmas break, however, the students were surprised to find the new principal had mysteriously disappeared, replaced by a yet another unfamiliar face. I asked a friend, “What happened to Mr. So-and-so?”, to which he replied, “We’re not allowed to ask about that.”

I would later learn Mr. So-and-so was terminated because he had been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor at a previous post. The school board, somehow, had missed this. Rather than own up to their mistake, the school cracked down on any inquiry into the matter. Mr. So-and-so never worked there. It never happened.

To say the Church is obsessed with its image is something of an understatement; maintaining its position of authority over its followers is of paramount importance. It is a decidedly top-down organization, one that is preserved by the down’s unquestioning deference to the top. Catholic schools, in many ways, are merely a microcosm of the church as a whole. Teachers and administrators demand the absolute obedience of the student body, and they completely lose their shit at the slightest hint of upheaval.

Whether it is students wondering what happened to their pedophile principal over Christmas break or students protesting the firing of a well-liked administrator, the Church simply cannot abide their supplicants losing even the slightest degree of confidence in their leadership. If Sister Mary Tracy is truly concerned with defusing the bomb she now finds herself seated quite uncomfortably upon, the solution is surprisingly simple. She need not run off to the archdiocese to solicit the opinion of some stuffy high-ranking cleric. She would simply need to acknowledge the school made a mistake in firing Zmuda, ensure that it never happens again, and make reparations with Zmuda in some way.

But that’s not going to happen, because it isn’t the firing of Zmuda which has Sister Mary Tracy, and the archdiocese, concerned. It is the media blitz, and the students with the picket signs. She’s not working on correcting the wrongs her church committed, she’s working on reasserting her authority–and by extension, the authority of the school’s teachers and administrators–over a group of mouthy kids who really ought to know their fucking place.

The silver lining here is that this is merely another mile marker down the continuing road to the Church’s irrelevance in the secular world. These students aren’t likely to forget the time they called upon their elders to do the right thing, with punishment their only reward. Some may continue to self-identify as Catholic, but I daresay they will never respect the authority of the clergy again.

I’ll take that.


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