Catholic Schools and Sochi: Not So Different After All
Published: Friday, February 7, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 7, 2014 02:02
With the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, kicking off today, Vladimir Putin has a message for those in the LGBTQ community who will be visiting for the games, which he first delivered Jan. 17, 2014:
“One can feel calm and at ease. Just leave kids alone, please.”
Exactly one month before, Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish, Wash., delivered a similar message to well-regarded vice principal Mark Zmuda, better known to students as Mr. Z.
Go about your life. Just leave our kids alone please.
For an LGBTQ visitor to Russia, any “propaganda of nontraditional sexual practices,” ranging from wearing pride pins and making pro-gay statements on television to public displays of affection, “could result in arrest, incarceration for 14 days and a fine of as much as $3,100,” according to ESPN.
For Zmuda, Eastside Catholic’s similar judgment cost him his job. He was fired after a fellow teacher informed the school that he had recently married his partner.
From Sochi to Sammamish, the root of intolerance is the same. Whether delivered by Vladimir Putin or Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, the message is the same. If you are gay and out, you will corrupt our children. If you are gay and out, we will punish you. Stay closeted and hide who you are or you will suffer the consequences.
“Who am I to judge?” asked Pope Francis. “We shall judge,” answered America’s Catholic schools.
Michael Griffin was a French and Spanish teacher of 12 years at Holy Ghost Preparatory School just outside of Philadelphia. Tippi McCullough had taught English for 15 years at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock, Ark.
Music teacher Al Fischer taught at St. Ann Catholic School in St. Louis for four years — that is, until a school official overheard him talking about his plans to wed his partner of 20 years. And Ken Bencomo, who taught English at St. Lucy’s Priory High School in Glendora, Calif., for 17 years, was fired after an article about his marriage — one of the first to occur after the injunction against Proposition 8 was lifted — appeared in a local paper.
These schools all defended their decisions in the name of the responsibility of Catholic schools to uphold their principles and, as Sartain stated, “of both imparting and modeling our teaching.”
One can feel calm and at ease. Just leave kids alone, please.
The Church evolved on the rights of black Americans, and in time it will evolve on gay marriage too. Asking people to deny their own fundamental truth of who they are is too in conflict with the Roman Catholic Church’s message of the human dignity of each person and the value of each human life to stand forever.
In the meantime, in denying gay teachers and administrators their ability to administrate and teach just because of whom they love, the church and these Catholic schools take the side of Putin. Their view is his view. Zmuda’s firing is Putin’s affirmation.
Pope Francis has a moral responsibility to be clear and step in. Francis may think it is a sin to be gay, but to stand idly by while Catholic schools imply it is such a sin that the choice is the closet or getting canned is an affront to the values of human life and human dignity.
Being out isn’t propaganda. Being out isn’t dangerous. Being out doesn’t imperil the children. Being out shouldn’t be grounds for termination in Catholic school or any school. If Catholic schools fired all their employees who used birth control, they wouldn’t have many employees.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” wrote the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from a Birmingham jail over 50 years ago. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
When we look at one group of people as a lesser people, when we sit idly by in the face of intolerance, the “extremists for the preservation of hate” can get the upper hand.
Catholic schools, and Pope Francis in his silence, are helping the extremists in favor of preserving the hate get the upper hand. It must stop.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” King said. “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Putin’s Russia is darkness. I pray Pope Francis and America’s Catholic schools soon see the light.
Joshua Zeitlin is a senior in the College.