National Catholic Reporter

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Students ask dialogue on dismissal of gay educator

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In an open letter to Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops, Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain and the Eastside Catholic School trustees, the Seattle University student government has asked for “dialogue centered first and foremost on affirmation, inclusion and invitation to greater understanding” in the wake of ECS's removal of vice principal Mark Zmuda because of his same-sex marriage.

The letter was made public at the March 7 press conference in Seattle at which Zmuda and his attorney announced the filing of a lawsuit against ECS and the Archdiocese of Seattle seeking financial judgments against both “in an amount to be proven at the time of trial” for wrongful termination, harm to his reputation and emotional distress.

ECS is located in Sammamish, a Seattle suburb, and enrolls students in grades six through 12.

Available only to Seattle University students, the letter had been signed by nearly 500 as of March 9, according to Eric Chalmers, student body president. Seattle University enrolls about 4,600 undergraduate and 2,800 graduate students.

“The release of the letter and the press conference were purely coincidental,” Chalmers told NCR in an email, noting that the missive's text “was officially approved by the student government on Feb. 26.”

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The SU student government letter said its signers “respectfully challenge the decision of Eastside Catholic's trustees not to rehire Mr. Z (nickname for Zmuda) and we contend that he poses a vital question to the church that we, the Archdiocese of Seattle, and all those engaged in debates like this around the country must answer with a spirit of love, unity and equality.”

“However,” the letter added, “a far more encompassing and open dialogue must follow.”

The text alluded to the ECS student and alumni protests that followed Zmuda's alleged forced resignation in December, and said the groups “were not calling for the dismantling or dismissal of the Catholic Church, they were calling for it to change.”

“The next steps for us are still somewhat up in the air,” Chalmers said March 9. “We have several ideas in the works including reaching out to the student bodies at the other 27 Jesuit schools with the letter ... and perhaps hosting discussions on Mr. Zmuda's case and others similar to it throughout the Catholic Church. At this point we are still focusing on getting as many signatures as possible on the letter.”

“Like is stated in the letter, this is not a move meant to target or indict anyone,” Chalmers added. “Rather, it is meant to begin to bring a tangibility to a growing number of voices within the Catholic Church today whose views of the church's teachings and the role in the world poses questions that the church ... must start to really wrestle with and dialogue about.”

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