Archbishop writes to Alter families, explains removal of gay teacher

Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr sent a message to the Alter High School community on Friday afternoon, further explaining the Catholic church’s position on the ousting of gay teacher Jim Zimmerman.

The letter, while not naming Zimmerman, described him as a “longtime and highly valued teacher” and acknowledged that the move caused “a great outpouring of sadness and anger.”

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Zimmerman’s contract was not renewed for next school year after someone sent his marriage certificate to the archdiocese. He annually signed the archdiocese’s teacher-minister contract, which includes an agreement to refrain from any conduct that is “in contradiction to Catholic social doctrine or morals.”

Schnurr’s letter said the “inherent dignity of every human being” does not mean that all behavior is to be condoned by the church.

“Behaviors that are not regrettable mistakes but are rather confirmed life choices contrary to Catholic teaching cannot be offered to young people as a witness to the faith, no matter the many other outstanding attributes a person may possess,” he wrote. “Sometimes, personal decisions mean that an individual and an organization are simply no longer compatible — nothing more, nothing less.”

Zimmerman is an Alter graduate, a 23-year English teacher at the school, and one of the 3% of teachers nationally who earned National Board Certification status. Dozens of his students rallied in support of him Friday evening, saying he cared deeply about their futures.

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“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,” said Alter student Meredith Russ at the rally. “I think Mr. Zimmerman exemplifies everything it means to be a teacher and to be a disciple of God.”

Schnurr said the policies guiding archdiocesan schools are informed by “the enduring teaching of the Catholic church — not by hate, bigotry or homophobia, as some have alleged.”

The catechism, or enduring teaching, of the Catholic church says of heterosexual people that “the plan of God regarding man and woman” is that they are called to “an intimate communion of life and of love in marriage” and told to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Archdiocesan officials said the catechism says gay people are not gay by choice, but they are not allowed under church law to act on their feelings, instead living a life of chastity because “Sacred Scripture … presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity.”

Schnurr’s letter goes on to say, “We respect and love all our brothers and sisters because they and we are each made in the image and likeness of God.”

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Schnurr also urged people to stop mean-spirited comments and personal attacks against Alter Principal Lourdes Lambert and her family, calling them “immoral and unfair.”

“Mrs. Lambert is faithfully fulfilling her responsibility as principal of a Catholic high school and employee of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati,” Schnurr wrote.

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