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Seattle Archdiocese responds to Eastside Catholic protest

Supporters of a gay vice principal who was fired from a Catholic school in Sammamish, Wash. delivered a petition to the Archdiocese of Seattle Wednesday, urging the church to reconsider its stance on same-sex marriage and give the educator his job back.

More than 20,000 Christians signed the petition, which was addressed to Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.

“Please listen to the students at Eastside Catholic and reinstate their vice principal. If Pope Francis says he won’t judge gays and lesbians, you shouldn’t be firing them,” the petition read.

Mark “Mr. Z” Zmuda was fired from his position at the school in Sammamish on December 18 after school administrators found out that he married his longtime partner over the summer, following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington state.

For the first time since his termination, the archdiocese spoke publicly about the school’s decision.

“Catholic schools have a right to expect that school leaders will not only pass on Catholic teaching, but model it for students,” Greg Magnoni, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Seattle, told a crowd of Zmuda supporters who gathered outside to deliver the petition.

“Mr. Zmuda’s decision presented the school with a difficult challenge; one that required a lot of reflection and prayer,” said Magnoni, who was met with hostility by supporters who asked if Jesus would have supported the school’s decision.

Archbishop Sartain issued his own statement Wednesday.

This morning a petition signed by numerous people around the country was delivered to the offices of the Archdiocese of Seattle seeking the reinstatement of Mark Zmuda, the former vice-principal of Eastside Catholic High School.

Catholic schools in this archdiocese and around the country have an extraordinary heritage of faithfully handing on the Catholic faith, providing an excellent curriculum, and creating an environment in which young people are educated and formed as disciples of the Lord Jesus and faith-filled citizens. Catholic teaching in all its breadth is the hallmark of Catholic schools and we have a right and responsibility to help them uphold their principles and traditions.

Leaders of Catholic schools are charged with the responsibility of both imparting and modeling our teaching. The recent personnel decision by the board and administrators of Eastside Catholic regarding Mr. Zmuda was made after a great deal of prayer and consultation. In no way was their goal to be discriminatory to anyone but to be faithful to their mission as a Catholic school. The Archdiocese supports their decision. The decision has been misunderstood and mischaracterized by some, and we now have an opportunity to help our students learn even more about Catholic teaching.

Pope Francis has often reminded us of the limitless mercy of God, for Jesus came to bring his Father’s mercy. At the same time, Pope Francis has also reminded us of our responsibility as Catholics to live the timeless truth of Church teaching on a wide variety of topics, including the sacredness of traditional marriage.

Corey Sisner, a former Eastside Catholic student and organizer of the “Keep Mr. Z” campaign, said the statement by the Archdiocese of Seattle was unexpected.

“We commend them for that,” he said. “This is what we want. We want to ask questions and get answers. So this is, I think, the start of that dialogue that we’ve been asking for.”

Kshama Sawant, an activist and newly-elected socialist Seattle city councilwoman, also issued a statement about Mr. Zmuda’s firing Wednesday.

I, and many others, have been inspired by the principled stand taken by the students. History has shown that collective action of this kind has effectively combated so many forms of discrimination in our history and helped secure victories for marriage equality, civil rights, and women’s suffrage. The widespread practice of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation must be opposed everywhere it occurs. It destroys lives and sows divisions among workers and young people in our society.

The “Keep Mr. Z” campaign has garnered international attention, much of it on social media where students continue to post under the hashtag #KeepMrZ2013 on Twitter.

In addition to the hand-delivered petition, an online petition started on by the school’s senior class president has gathered more than 30,000 signatures.

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