"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
Pope Francis seemed to reveal a new tone, if not a new doctrine, on the Catholic Church's stance on homosexuality. The Pope delivered his statement in an impromptu news conference aboard his papal jet on July 29, 2013 while returning to the Vatican from Brazil after completing his first international trip as Pope where he spoke to millions celebrating "World Youth Day."
Young people at Eastside Catholic High School, a private school in a suburb of Seattle, Washington have taken this Pope's words as infallible, but, unfortunately, the administration under the archdiocese of their school must not have received the memo.
Eastside students protested in large numbers by staging a walk-out of classes to support their respected and much-loved vice principal, Mark Zmuda, whom the school terminated, according to Zmuda, because last summer he married another man. Though the Church has a record of terminating school administrators and faculty throughout the country on the "charge" of being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, students at Eastside are demanding the archdiocese follow the lead of their Pope by relinquishing judgment and reinstating their esteemed vice principal.
Students have circulated an online petition which has already gathered tens of thousands of signatures. The petition reads in part:
The student body is outraged that an incredible administrator, coach and human being was fired solely because of his love and marriage for another human being. We are uniting in order to change the Catholic Church's opposition of gay marriage.
Students at other Catholic schools have been holding solidarity rallies and protests, and some Eastside alumni have threatened to withhold future donations to the school.
In an interview with one of the students, Zmuda said: "I asked [the administration] if [my marriage] was a breach of contract. They said 'no.' I said, 'did it have to do with my job performance or evaluations' and they also said 'no.'" Zmuda went on to say that the administration expressed to him that his firing was the result of his violation of Catholic teaching.
According to local Seattle TV station King 5 news, the school president, Sister Mary Tracy, "I suggested to dissolve the marriage to save his job. I was trying to hang onto him."
Though they were taught and some may have even come to personally accept Church teachings and tenets related to same-sex sexuality and romantic relationships, students, nonetheless, are acting on a higher, wider, deeper and broader moral plane, a universal moral code built on a foundation of fairness and justice, compassion and care. They, therefore, have much to teach Catholics and others everywhere, and even the Pope himself.
These inspired and emboldened young people have called into question the obvious paradox imposed by the Church, where it proclaims the sanctity of marriage and so-called "family values" and opposes divorce, while simultaneously pushing for the dissolution of two men's vows, thereby showing its absolute contempt for their family.
To be sure, no one, neither the new Pope nor anyone within the upper hierarchy of the Church has proposed actually changing long-standing policy -- from the Catholic catechism that terms homosexuality as "intrinsically disordered," to its official stands opposing marriage equality, and for that matter, opposition to women's reproductive freedoms, ordination of women priests and priestly marriage -- even though more and more Catholics stand in opposition to the Church's proclamations on these issues.
In a recent survey released by Quinnipiac University on October 4 last year, 68 percent of adult Catholics polled said they agreed with the pontiff's recent statements that the Church has focused too much on issues of homosexuality, abortion and contraception.
In addition, directly following Francis's installation last March, a Pew Research poll found that 76 percent of U.S. Catholics want the Church to sanction birth control, 54 percent support marriage for same-sex couples, 64 percent want priests to be able to marry and 59 percent would like to see women priests.
I don't have any illusions that the current Catholic leadership, and even the new pontiff, will either want or be able to fully resurrect itself and bring the Church into the modern era, though any movement out of the Middle Ages where it stands entrenched is better than nothing.
With the vision, talent and energy of its youth, maybe they will continue to shine as a bright gleaming star of hope and change. Only then will the Catholic Church have a chance of saving itself from itself.