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Catholic Schools--The Next Casualty of the Culture Wars?

Professor Robert P. George has responded to this post of mine over at Mirror of Justice. 

A couple of points:

1. Professor George  made an authoritative  pronouncement about how a hypothetical Muslim school should decide an internal personnel matter. But making those sorts of pronouncements really does require the extensive knowledge and training of a  mullah—a common term for a Muslim scholar who is an expert in Islamic law and theology, just as making an authoritative pronouncement about an internal personnel matter in a Jewish day school really requires the extensive knowledge and training of a rabbi.  My point was that a Catholic really can't be a mullah—or a rabbi—and shouldn't act as though he or she is. One has to wonder why George would automatically conclude that the term “mullah” is itself an insult.

2. Is there a difference between questioning Professor George and attacking him? But let’s push through the fulminations and focus on the answer to my question. He writes:

If [the teacher] were repentant, then I, as her fellow sinner, would support keeping her on. I’d even host the baby shower. The example being set for the school children in that case would be one of repentance and forgiveness—loving the sinner, even while rejecting the sin. Of course, if her intention is to flout the Church’s teachings, then it’s a different story. That’s what is going on when a teacher, say, moves in with his or her boyfriend or girlfriend or enters into a civil marriage with a person of his or her own sex—or goes into the strip club business.

So...the baby shower sounds good. (Don’t forget the gift.) But let’s think about this analysis. How would we know she’s repentant? Would she have to publicly repent? (If so, we’re getting a little too close to the Scarlet Letter here for my taste.) How would you communicate to the kids that she had sinned? Wouldn’t that disclose too much information, at least at the elementary-school level?

George writes: “If her intention is to flout...” But "flouting" generally connotes some form of open and public contempt. Can one disagree with a particular communal norm, not follow it in one’s own life, and yet still not be guilty of "flouting" that norm?  Looking at the polling data on these matters, we may have a situation where a) the unmarried woman doesn't think the norm about premarital sex holds in her particular case and relationship, but b) has no intention of publicizing her view in any way at work. But she gets pregnant. She's not flouting the norm—but her body is definitely revealing a violation of it. You might say the baby is flouting the norms!

When it comes to Catholic moral teaching, I just don’t see “moves in with his or her boyfriend or girlfriend or enters into a civil marriage with a person of his or her own sex” as comparable with “goes into the strip-club business.”

In the end, I think there are four points to be considered in this controversy.

1. There have always been, and there are should always be, different kinds of Catholic schools. A school run by Opus Dei isn’t going to be the same as a school run by the Jesuits. That type of diversity is all to the good. The key here is to communicate expectations to all stakeholders (teachers, parents, and, if age appropriate, kids). That takes care of some of the controversy, but not all. If Santa Rosa gets great teachers willing to dedicate themselves to their students and live the way the bishop wants them to live for $25,000 a year, then good for them. If not, they can teach at the public school, and make twice as much money. Unhappy parents won’t send their kids to either school.

2. As we all know, official Catholic teaching on some matters isn’t in sync with the behavior of vast numbers of Catholics. That in itself isn't a problem—after all, we're all sinners. But on some issues, for some people, Catholic teaching does not comport with what they judge to be a true moral analysis in every case. Even that isn't necessarily a problem—I think that for many years now, people who didn't think that all premarital sex was wrong thought that this teaching might be a good corrective for adolencents saturated in the culture's "If if feels good, do it" approach. But what is going on now with same-sex marriage and some other issues now seems to raise matters to a third level. The students in Seattle think the church's teaching is not only wrong, but also unjust—it's harmful. And that is where the heart of the contemporary clash is. 

Some conservative Catholics think this is simply unjustifiable dissent. Some progressive Catholics think they are on the front edge of a curve of doctrinal development—they think advocating for change on some issues of sexual morality is like advocating for religious liberty in the decades before the Second Vatican Council. Much of the hierarchy, it seems, fall into the first category, while much of the laity fall into the second.

3. How do most progressive Catholics who want to send their kids to Catholic school deal with the fact that they don’t agree with every detail of church teaching but think the fundamental worldview of Catholicism is true and important? How does the hierarchy  deal with the fact that many of the people who send their kids to Catholic schools are not in 100 percent agreement on moral matters? How does the church deal with the fact that, especially in the inner cities, many of the kids aren’t even Catholic? They may be religious—but all other religious traditions don’t all have the same views on sexual matters. Given the connection between marriage and income status, many of their parents may not be married. Archbishop Charles Chaput has one answer—don’t let kids whose family structures don’t conform to the catechism in the school in the first place. I'm not sure Pope Francis would agree.

It seems to me there was a tacit agreement in place in the past. Schools wouldn’t inquire into the home lives of their students, their students' parents, and their teachers. And, in turn, the students, parents and teachers wouldn’t push their disagreement or uncoformity in the face of administrators or clergy. 

But this tacit agreement is breaking down, on both sides. Where will this leave Catholic schools? Will they be the next casualty of the culture wars?

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Archbishop Charles Chaput has one answer—don’t let kids whose family structures don’t conform to the catechism in the school in the first place.

He draws a distinction which isn't clear: single parents and divorced parents are OK, but not same-sex parents:

It’s also true that some of our schools exist as a service outreach in largely non-Catholic communities.  Many of our schools also accept students of other faiths and no faith, and from single parent and divorced parent families.  These students are always welcome so long as their parents support the Catholic mission of the school and do not offer a serious counter-witness to that mission in their actions.

Unless he meant to limit that to single [widowed] parents and divorced [but not remarried without an annulment] parents, it's not clear why the children of same-sex parents should be singled out to be excluded from Denver Catholic schools. 

He links to a letter from the pastor of the school that excluded the children, who says:

There are so many schools in Boulder that see the meaning of sexuality in an entirely different way than the Catholic Church does. Why not send their child there?

The children should be deprived of learning about the Catholic faith because of what their parents have done?  Doesn't sound like Pope Francis. 

 

 

It's too close to the Scarlet Letter for me, too.  Female fornication is unique is that it's the only sin that exposes itself on a regular basis (other than criminal behavior, of course).  Sins not involving chastity, and unchastity by males, almost always remain secret.  If we demand ceremonies of public repentance from the pregnant teacher, and all the children are told "Ms. Jones did something VERY VERY BAD" but she is VERY VERY SORRY", the children will learn a serious distortion of Catholic moral teaching:  they will learn that unchastity by a  female is the worst thing ever, and that all other sins including unchastity by males, is mild by comparison.   I've certainly known many Catholics (and others) who thought that way.

With middle school students, if the teacher was willing, I'd be more inclined to have the teacher talk to every class along the lines of "I chose life, and here's why".  Who knows, it might save another life some day.

It seems to me that children can be taught Catholic norms of chastity in the abstract, without tying it to any particular person, or at least not to a person that they know.  By the time that they are old enough to put two-and-two together, they are also old enough to know that everyone does things they aren't supposed to do.

I would like to see Catholic schools make a distinction between private behavior and advocacy.  In the Santa Rosa schools, it strikes me as acceptable that Bp. Vasa demand a committment to regular churchgoing- a public act-  but not acceptable that he demand that Jewish or Lutheran faculty agree to follow Catholic teaching on contraception.  (Although I certainly hope that  his definition of "churchgoing" includes attendance at a synagogue or mosque if there are Jewish or Muslim teachers.)  Dr. George's post blurs this distinction- if the wicked Mr. Khalil brings the coffee cups that say "Go-Go Girls Lounge" into the Islamic school, he is committing unacceptable advocacy.

 There seems to be a growing sense on the religious right that those who have economic power- employers and landlords- should police the private lives of their employees and/or tenants.  I think the dangers of this far outweigh any possible benefit.  The temptations to unhealthy domination, boundary violation, sexism, and hypocrisy abound.  It can even become a cover for sexual harassment- under "Don't Ask Don't Tell" there were numerous complaints from women in the military that they were under pressure to "prove" that they were not lesbians by having sex with men.  The actions of Catholic schools, and bishops, seem to be pushing this idea, and I wish that they wouldn't.

As I read George, he took offense when his "old friend" (his term) called him Rambo and more offense when she implied he was a mullah (which is an implication I didn't get from the first piece) and most offense when she called him Robbie. A little earlier in the month I would have suggested this argument could be settled by a Valentine to Prof. George. Alas, it is too late for that.

Instead of pregnant women as examples, I would like to see some of these principles applied to males who drive cars costing more than, say, $60,000, who take their families to the south of France for two months every summer, and who toss $5 into the collection basket while they are in the country. Now, I realize they may have won the car in a raffle, that the pied-a-terre in France may have been in the family for years, and that they may leave the parish a million dollars when they die. But, as for now, they appear to be at least as out of sync with the Church's teaching as the pregnant woman.

Add that the hypothetical males speak out vociferously in the community aganst "illegals" and pay employees less than the minimum wage. And I still don't think there anything likely to arouse the concern of principals, pastors or parents that children are seeing a bad example. It's all sex, all the time. But if this sort of thing doesn't rise to the level of "concern," a pregnancy shouldn't either.

Is there any talk anywhere in those texts about the primacy of conscience, or is that obsolete? It's still in the catechism.

1782    Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”53 (2106)

1790    A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

 

When it comes to Catholic moral teaching, I just don’t see “moves in with his or her boyfriend or girlfriend or enters into a civil marriage with a person of his or her own sex” as comparable with “goes into the strip-club business.”

It's not a perfect parallel, as the strip-club business exploits and objectifies (not that all instances of moving in with a boyfriend are free of exploitation).  Presumably the points of similarity are that all these examples - cohabiting with a boyfriend, marrying a partner of the same sex, investing in a strip club - are intentional acts that set up a stable, permanent, publicly visible social arrangement (a household, a business enterprise) whose end is sinful behavior.  Persisting in these social structures has the effect of publicly proclaiming to the faith community, "I don't believe what you believe.  I don't value what you value".

The Montana pregnancy case seems quite different to me.

 

Claire: it can be admirable when those church employees with conscientious objections to Catholic teaching voluntarily resign and seek employment elsewhere.  It's not clear to me to what extent the church must accommodate those who have conscientous objections, particularly when those objections are public and persistent.  A Catholic school, it seems to me, has a right to pursue its mission and not have to expend a great deal of energy and resources to counteract employees who publicly oppose its mission.

 

 

Jim: but when employment in Catholic schools is conditional on respecting the most important parts of Catholic teaching, shouldn't they say that following one's conscience is more important than, you know, following official rules on contraception and all that stuff? I see your point, but isn't what's important that employees believe those rules on contraception etc., and then it follows that by obeying their conscience they will automatically respect those rules? The intermediate step of forming their conscience cannot be short-circuited, it seems to me, so insisting that they obey those rules without talking bout conscience misplaces the emphasis. The insistance should be that they believe those rules in conscience, and, if they do not, that they take some course to get better formed.

I really like this:  somehow her body is flouting the norms but she isn't.  Cute!

 

Cathleen and Robert George are asking the important Larger Issues here, and I appreciate the exchange. I was struck by this question though:

How do most progressive Catholics who want to send their kids to Catholic school deal with the fact that they don’t agree with every detail of church teaching but think the fundamental worldview of Catholicism is true and important? 

I interviewed the principal of my son's Catholic school before I sent him there as well as the kindergarten teacher. I had very specific questions that I won't bore anyone here with, but I presume that most parents, progressive or conservative, who care about religious instruction and quality of education in general, are going to ask some probing questions before they dole out a couple thousand dollars a year for a Catholic education. 

 

If Catholic schools end up get caught up in the cutlure wars, as far as I can tell most of the criticisms directed at these schools seem to come from Catholics on the left.  

I pay very close attenion to my children's religious education and yes, there are aspects of Church teaching I disagree with; we don't bump into it with my younger daughter, but some of it comes into play a little with my older one.  I tell her honestly that I disagree on a particular issue, but also let her know that  her teachers will be teaching what the Church teaches. And I talk to her about what I think she could question in the classroom and what she shouldn't because it might put her teachers in a difficult position.  And I tell her that,  if she makes her mother happy and goes to a nice Jesuit college someday, she can have at it then with her professors about all of her questions.

 

 

If you talk to them, most single mothers value marriage.  For myriad reasons, probably falling into a few major themes, they can't succeed at getting or staying married, often for reasons they don't control.  So when I learn that someone is about to become a single mother, my first emotion is a kind of regret or sadness for them because one thing is certain, if it's hard to find a husband generally, it's even harder if you are a single mother.  Whatever chance they had, henceforth, they are more likely to be cut off from a meaningful relationship that cannot be easily duplicated by friendships or dates or what have you.  I keep this to myself, of course, because my guess is that they know that, they just figure the probabilities are so against them they are unwilling to deny themselves the other major life happiness of parenthood.

It used to be, I think, that the urge to ostracize reflected embarrassment or shame at sinful behavior.  I doubt if that's really what's going on now because even most observant Catholics come to their wedding nights with previous sexual experience.  Now it seems to be more like, "if I keep my kid in the bubble he/she won't be in the same boat 10 or 20 years hence." 

To which I say, fat chance.  The collapse or more hopefully decline of marriage is a larger socio-economic phenomenon that isn't going to turn around by trying to drum all known single mothers out of your child's orbit.  The challenges for sustaining marriage are real and daunting, and so far, the Catholic Church including these Catholic schools are seriously flunking.  Most of the focus is on preserving the currently married from divorce, which is important but not sufficient.  If it helps, most other institutions are failing at this task as well, so I guess it comes down to how cruel you are willing to be in order to prove a point to yourself. 

I also suggest that the Muslim relationship with alcohol is a lot more complex than Professor George understands it to be and that many Muslims would reject the notion that they have a "duty" to similarly ostracize a teacher who imbibes in his free time (among other reasons, because, so do they). 

Pretty sure people should just put the kibosh on using other religions as hypothetical examples to talk about their own religion; Catholics are especially bad about it.

Barbara - great comment about single mothers.  FWIW, I've known two single men who have married single moms with multiple children (the fathers of whose children were not these men).  They became instant dads, in at least one case a dad of teens.  It's a very admirable thing to do.

isn't what's important that employees believe those rules on contraception etc., and then it follows that by obeying their conscience they will automatically respect those rules? The intermediate step of forming their conscience cannot be short-circuited, it seems to me, so insisting that they obey those rules without talking about conscience misplaces the emphasis. 

Claire - it's an interesting question.  I daresay there are teachers in Catholic schools who accept what the church teaches on contraception and don't really accept the church's teaching on freedom of conscience (which, as you know, is so Vatican II; error has no rights, etc.).  

 

 

What Barbara said. Priests and bishops talk a lot about the sanctity of marriage—repeating the term so often it comes to sound like empty sing-song—but not enough about the feasibility of marriage.

Barbara, your comments always cut to the heart of the matter - thanks.  Too many Catholics with the legal authority to fire employees do not get it - they may have the legal authority, but should they always exercise it?

"....so I guess it comes down to how cruel you are willing to be in order to prove a point ..." 

Plus I wouldn't necessarily assume that the position they are getting in Catholic schools is actually the Catholic position . For example, I have heard of cases where teachers say contraception is wrong,by which they mean anything done with a contraceptive effect . 

Plus I wouldn't necessarily assume that the position they are getting in Catholic schools is actually the Catholic position 

Yeah, they don't call them "parochial schools" for nothing. In looking for a Catholic school for our son and, later, a good CCD program, I ran into quite a lot of variety. I felt the personalities of those running these outfits set a particular tone that was going to determine whether the kid was receptive to the presented doctrine more than the actual doctrine itself.

Re marriage and single mothers, there was an interesting piece in the NYT magazine awhile ago: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/magazine/can-marriage-cure-poverty.htm...

 

Btw, Greg Kandra at the Deacon's Bench has linked to a news story reporting another Catholic school firing - technically, it appears to be a nonrenewal of a contract - this time, a part-time high school girls baseball coach.  Apparently, her offense was that she also worked for Planned Parenthood.  The story is here.  

Incidentally, even though this story and the pregnant-teacher firing are both out of Montana, they appear to be different dioceses: Butte is in the Helena diocese, while Billings is part of the Great Falls-Billings diocese.

 

"When it comes to Catholic moral teaching, I just don’t see “moves in with his or her boyfriend or girlfriend or enters into a civil marriage with a person of his or her own sex” as comparable with “goes into the strip-club business.”

 

That's not so clear. I will  not try and make a comparative study of the sinfulness of taking off one's clothes in a sexually suggestive way vs. others morally dubious activities we can perform with our girlfriends and boyfriends. But you see where that could go.

But in any case, the real serious problem which neither George nor you seem interested in is what message we want to give to the students. Essentially, you don't see any problem in a dicothomy between what the school says in theory and what the educators that teach in the school do in practice. If I were a student, personally I would take conclude that what the schools says should not be taken too seriously.

As I commented earlier, I don't think the teacher should be fired, but she should be given a non-teaching position in the school or helped find a similar job somewhere else.

I wouldnt have much of a problem with a pregnant unmaried teacher, other than trying to figure out what I'm suposed to say to my kids.  Explaining the Planned Parenthod thing could be a lot more problematic. It would defintely all be a lot simpler in a public school context- I could just say we all have different values, she has a right to hers, but we don't share them. 

I would like to hear from the teacher herself what she would tell her students about her being pregnanat and not married.  Does she have a conflict with the Church teaching about pre-marital sex?  Was she simply weak?  What does she think her students ought to be told and by whom?  Or does she perhaps think its a completely private matter?  Or what?