Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr has defended his decision not to renew the contract of a gay teacher at a Dayton-area Catholic high school after finding out the man was in a same-sex marriage.
Jim Zimmerman, an alumnus and current English teacher at Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio, for 23 years, and is currently working as students learn remotely from home, was informed his contract for the 2020-2021 school year would not be renewed after a “concerned” individual sent a copy of his marriage license directly to the archbishop.
Schnurr said in a statement sent out to families of Alter High School students that the decision not to renew Zimmerman's contract was necessary because he had violated church teaching and the terms of his contract, which requires teachers to refrain from conduct “in contradiction to Catholic social doctrine or morals.”
“Sometimes, personal decisions mean that an individual and an organization are simply no longer compatible — nothing more, nothing less,” Schnurr said in his statement.
He also denounced what he called “misinformed and mean-spirited comments” that had been sent to Alter principal Lourdes Lambert via email an social media after people mistakenly thought she was responsible for Zimmerman's termination, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer.
“This is immoral and unfair,” Schnurr said. “It saddens all of us that this matter has caused a fracture in the wonderful, strong Alter community.”
Schnurr's decision was panned on social media and prompted Zimmerman's defenders to circulate a Change.org petition calling on the archdiocese to reverse its decision. More than 24,000 people have signed the petition.
Other students took to Facebook and social media platforms to criticize Zimmerman's firing, defending him as a respected and dedicate teacher, and accusing the archdiocese of “homophobia.”
Other students and alumni took part in a protest on Friday in front of Alter. From their cars, they honked car horns and listened to a set of songs that organizers said were among Zimmerman's favorites.
Alter High student Henry Blair told the Dayton Daily News that he doesn't think Zimmerman should lose his job based on “who he decides to love.” Fellow student Meredith Russ called Zimmerman an “inspiration” and said he never said anything negative about the Catholic Church or its teachings in class.
“He teaches us very important lessons, not just about literature or English but about being a good person, how to stand up for yourself, how to think creatively,” Russ said. “I think Mr. Zimmerman exemplifies everything it means to be a teacher and to be a disciple of God.”
Alter High School is only the latest in a recent trend of Catholic or religiously-affiliated schools to fire employees who are LGBTQ, with several teachers being fired or encouraged to resign specifically for marrying their partners.
Controversies have arisen in Seattle, where two teachers were pressured to resign, and in Indianapolis, where three LGBTQ teachers, and one straight colleague who defended them, were fired for failing to live according to Church doctrine, which states that gays and lesbians should be celibate.
In his letter to parents, Archbishop Schnurr said that the decision not to renew Zimmerman's contract was not a reflection on the teacher's abilities or his conduct at school, noting that Zimmerman was a “long-time and highly-valued teacher” who was “very obviously highly-regarded and well-liked.”
But he said the church has a responsibility to act when its employees behave in a manner that contradicts Catholic church teaching.
“We respect and love all our brothers and sisters,” he said. “The inherent dignity of every human being does not mean, however, that all behavior is to be condoned.”
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