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How about NOT Firing Her?

Over on the Deacon’s Bench, Greg Kandra develops a public relations strategy on how to fire a pregnant unwed teacher at a Catholic school in a kindler, gentler way, so as to avoid bad publicity for the Catholic church.

I have another suggestion: you could just NOT fire her.  The school has the option of not enforcing the contractual term in this particular case.  It should consider exercising that option.

Everyone knows that St. Thomas Aquinas says that an unjust law is no law at all, but rather an act of violence (actually, Aquinas’s reasoning  is much more subtle on this question, but that is for another day).  But he also says something that gets far less attention: a law that imposes a burden unequally upon members of the community is also an act of violence–even if it furthers the common good.

Contract law is private law, not public law, but I think that Thomas’s insights are applicable by analogy here.  The pregnant, unwed mother is no more guilty than the father–who cannot be as easily identified as she can. Nor is she more guilty than the more than 90 percent of people who have premarital sex, most of whom don’t get “caught” by getting pregnant, and many of whom might be members of that school community. In fact, if statistics are correct, we are in a situation in which there is massive disregard for the principle that all sexual intimacy outside of marriage is seriously wrong. She is also more vulnerable than other people, since getting another job while dealing with the stress of a pregnancy, much less an unplanned pregnancy, is significant. So the burden of the moral law against fornication is applied unequally.  Moreover, the Church should consider that it is arguably against the common good, since it will likely encourage people, not to refrain from premarital sex, but to obtain an abortion if they get pregnant.

My guess is that the contractual provision at issue is a general morals clause–saying that the teacher is obliged to conduct herself in accordance with Catholic moral teaching. Aquinas tells us that prudence is required in the interpretation and application of general laws.  It’s one thing to fire the Spanish and the French teacher, each married to other people, caught canoodling in the broom closet at school. It’s another thing entirely to fire a single teacher, who presumably did not behave inappropriately at school, and whose only evidence of sexual impropriety is her pregnancy–which in our culture, should also be seen as evidence of moral courage.  Rather than obtaining an abortion, which would have allowed her to keep her job by hiding evidence of sexual activity, she is going through with the pregnancy.

Some would say that the firing is necessary for pedagogical reasons: to “teach” the importance of Catholic teaching on sexual morality. But it would be good to ask a) is this the most effective way to communicate this message to young people; and b) is this line of action communicating other lessons that are inconsistent with other aspects of a Catholic worldview? My own view is this: in a world in which Catholic teaching on sexual matters is so widely dismissed, even by Catholics, this kind of necessarily selective enforcement is going to make Catholic teaching seem arbitrary and cruel.  I appreciate Kandra’s attempts to blunt the effects, but I still think they are there.

My second point is a bit more difficult to state. Catholic schools say they exist to support a total Catholic worldview.  Well, Catholicism is a religion of “being,” not a religion of “willing.” Membership in the community depends upon, in most cases, baptism as an infant. The sacramental framework talks about ontological changes.  You are part of the Catholic family–no matter what.  That is the most deeply countercultural message the Church can convey in American culture, which has a deeply voluntarist strain–you say something wrong, you do something wrong, you’re out of the club : we choose to exclude you or you choose to exclude yourself.  (That’s also why I’m so worried about the spread of evangelical Catholicism, which I think tends to turn Catholicism into one more American Christian sect.)

I think the message that firing this teacher conveys to the students is that they, too, are subject to being “fired” from the Catholic community if they misbehave in any way. After all, the little school is probably the main Catholic community they’ve known.  For all the talk of love and understanding and forgiveness, in the end, it is a hard and abstract contractual provision–a sign of willing, not being–that counts the most. For all the talk of a rich and humble inner life, it is a wholesome appearance that matters most. (And they all know–we all know–people who appear beautiful and holy who are in fact deeply corrupt–c.f. Legion of Christ.)

And I would think that many students, and even many parents, might exercise their own wills and walk away from all this--not necessarily the morality, but the perceived meanness.  Eduardo recently raised a similar issue, involving the firing of a vice principal of a Catholic school, who married another man. generating a firestorm of protest from the students.  

It's probably not lost on the students or parents that sexual issues are the only issues that are enforced under the morals clause.  Now, I'm not saying that you should fire a teacher for driving a Mercedes.  But part of the message that the firings may be communicating is that sexual morality is important (a firing offense) and everything else, well, not so much. Is that really the message that these dioceses wish to convey?

I don't think the future of Catholic schools in the U.S. can be considered apart from these questions, at least in this era and context.


Commenting Guidelines

Excellent commentary as usual and I appreciate the Thomistic insights as well. All of us need a crash course-if there is such a creature!- on some of that wisdom even though it has been superceded in some areas.

This suggestion seems most appropriate with the timely news of Pope Francis meeting with Philomena Lee and the Vatican staff viewing the movie. Ms. Lee's own words of forgiveness for what happened to her could be the subject of many a homily.  How better to show that there is a larger dimension to these thorny issues.

I'm curious how other parents would manage the conversation with thier children about a visibly pregnant unwed teacher. (Assuming the parents share the Catholic values of the Catholic school the children are attending).

I think I would tell my daughters that Miss Jones made a mistake, but this happens sometimes. Depending on the age of my daughters, I would with varying degrees of specificity tell them that  they themselves don't want to have children until they're married; that  being an unmarried mother isn't something they should aspire to.

But does this situation undermine the authority of the teacher? 

What would you say about a visibly pregnant unwed aunt or cousin?

Louis CK has a brilliant standup bit where he lambasts the idea that parents' anxieties over talking about awkward situations with their children should not be the basis for restricting the freedoms of others. He was talking about gay marriage, but the same point holds, I should think.

Visibly pregnant aunt or cousin:

I would say the same thing.  I'm wondering though if it undemrines the teacher in the classroom.


If one's kids live in the real world and not in some strange traditionalist Catholic world, then they don't need to have an unmarried pregnant person explained to them  More children are now born to unwed parents than weeded ones.  There's  not necessarily any "mistake" in this scenarion.


It does somewhat undermine her authority, but firing her because of that does a much greater harm to the authority and integrity of the school. Authority recovers from admitted mistakes.

Abe: I absolutely agree, but don't you think there's difference between restricting others behaviors and validating that behavior with your children?  And also a difference in the appropriateness of weighing in on a stranger's behavior vs the behavior of an adult who is a role model for your children?

I guess I don't think it is unreasonable that at least some parents who send their children to a Catholic school might be  compelled to tell their children that as part of their fatih they do not believe in sex outside of marriage.


Ryan: I'm with you that firing her would not be appropriate.  Depriving a pregnant woman of her livelihood is not only un-Christian, but not very pro-life.


The whole topic of teachers' values  morality vis a vis tradtional Catholic values in education is obviously in the wind these days. And these are only offshoots of the societal discussions and the issues that Pope Francis has somewhat invited raising in upcoming conferences. Are we really on the edge of some new thoughts about how the Church will appreciate and teach about human sexuality with these issues being the early skirmishes?


Reminicient of Barney Frank's comment that the pro life side believes lif begins at conception and ends at birth, no?  There is a tendency among some Catholics to think that things related to sex are the only area that matters.  Yet it is probably the area where the Church has the least ability to actually speak with any true authority. The Church has simply lost this battle, and it was largely but not entirely a self inflicted wound.  Pope Francis is trying mightily to move us to a very different place, I think, but actions like firing a teacher who is pregnant don't contribute to that movement.

Cathleen and the commentary presented here is consistent with a view of our humaness as creatures of a compassionate God.

The story doesnot however, tell us the grade level(s) of the teacher. As a Board superintendent , Cathoic or Public, Irene comes closest to asking the right question. Has the teacher by her behaviour undermined her own ability to teach the children. 

And the only way to find this out is to put the teacher in the classroom and monitor her teaching and how the children inteact with her. Even before that however, it is necessary to interview the students, (especially if they are of an age where they can understand both the legal and moral dilemma the teacher may have created) as to how they view the teacher and whether they can still accept her as a teacher.

Jumping on the holier-than-thou denomination right band wagon as recent examples have demonstrated even in so called Catholic communities is likely to be a generate a bigger problem than the original problem in the first place.


Visibly pregnant aunt: I had an aunt who missed her father's funeral because she was visibly pregnant then. She called and said that she could not be present because she had the flu and a high fever, but in reality it was because she was 8 months pregnant. I didn't even know about the existence of her son, my cousin, until six months after the birth, and was asked to keep it a secret from my siblings. She stopped coming to family events for a number of years after that: one might say that she was "fired" from the family for being an unwed mother. In the 1980s!

The take-away message: if you get pregnant outside marriage, you must have an abortion, or else, be ready to be disowned by your folks. 


The Catholic ideal is so different from reality.  About 95% of people have premarital sex, and most people do use contraception, and about a third to a half of people get divorced and most of them get remarried without annulments.

"Reports from bishops' conferences in Germany and Switzerland show a clear divergence between what the church teaches on marriage, sexuality and family life and what Catholics -- even those active in parish life -- personally believe." ...

Without getting into a more detailed analysis of Cathleen's arguments, a good deal of which I agree with - especially the point that firing the teacher seems to send the message that people can be "fired" from the Catholic religion - I just want to note that Greg Kandra's blog post more or less assumes that all of the analysis already has taken place, and that, wisely or not, the school has decided to fire the teacher.  His post focuses on how to 'handle' that situation.  His advice seems to be directed toward helping the school leaders explain the decision to the public, but some of his advice - going out of its way to help a woman in this situation - would be applicable whether not the incident is publicized.

For the record: I don't think teachers should be fired for getting pregnant. (Nor do I think that pregnant students should be expelled.)   It's something that each school would need to discern, but my advice would be: don't fire her.


Eduardo recently raised a similar issue, involving the firing of a vice principal of a Catholic school, who married another man. generating a firestorm of protest from the students. 

The difference, I suppose, is that the woman presumably did not wish to become pregnant, whereas the fired vice principal presumably did wish to become married.  In both cases, their life situations were made public, perhaps against their wishes, and the respective schools were put in the position of deciding how to handle situations that would become publicly known within the school community.

JP - agree

Crystal - thanks for the link - yep, speaks volumes and then couple that with any reputable study or history of the Humanae Vitae wasn't on the merits of birth control; rather it was about *imagined* threats to papal authority.  This has morphed now into a belief that anti-contraception is a literal truth??  with complete certainty??  (sounds like Prof. Kaveny's sect or cult)

In terms of Prof. Kaveny's post and her prior excellent analyses of *virtue* - our faith starts with a relationship......relationships are not private or public laws - whether church or civil.  To posit things such as being against contraception, unwed pregnancy, etc. as the core of the faith journey corrupts our communal relationships - it turns it upside down.  Think of the gospel stories of Jesus and various folks caught in Jewish/Roman *sins* and how he acted.  (which seems to be what we want to impart to our kids - understand the meaning; not just rules.  Sorry, Joe, the question is not whether the kids will or will not respect the teacher - then, you have a different issue and to fire based upon that?  well?)

Interesting article from Down Under which links to this discussion:

"Theologians (or church/school administrators) must analyze, weigh and judge all these terms used to define elements of religious experience. It hardly needs saying that much of what is most sordid and shameful in the history of humankind is directly traceable to the unwarranted ascription of literal scientific objectivity to locally conditioned religious experience and the metaphors used to evoke them. The conviction that one has the absolute truth about "God" and how one should live has provoked and excused wars, pogroms, conquests, slavery, persecutions and xenophobic hatred of all kinds. What's at stake, as we've unfortunately come to realize in these times, is nothing less than genocide carried out in the name of "God".  (or, if not wars, pogroms, etc. firing pregnant teachers or gay married teachers, etc.)

For some hypotheticals...

Suppose she were now to get married and have a baby "early"... would the school board think that a better outcome? Certainly has happened in the past...

Or perhaps she could say that she had been married ina civil ceremony and hoped to keep it quiet until her hhusband's annulment had been granted and they could be wed canonically, but nature intervened...? Far fetched, I suppose, but it would make for some intersting conversations!

But does this situation undermine the authority of the teacher?

Is the presumption we engender to our children that our teachers (or we ourselves) are infallible?  I am madly devoted to allowing my children to have a "childhood,"  but I am also madly devoted to raising humble, empathetic, courageous, and compassionate kids.

It certainly is demanding; short, black-white answers do not suffice (save, perhaps, "the stove is hot" and "don't get into a stranger's car").  But I think the payoff is worth it - children that are analytical, compassionate, moral, forgiving, apologetic, and brave.

In a more direct response to your comment, I think it should not undermine the teacher's authority whatsoever - it in fact offers a profound teaching moment - whether that moment is at home or in the school (perhaps it should be both).  The important take-away is that of redemption, forgiveness, the frailty of the human condition, that none of us alone is so strong.  That in Church and with Christ we find strength.

Crystal I agree with you.  I know it is anecdotal, but for the past several years my wife and I have been involved in our parish marriage preparation program.  I cannot remember the last time we had a couple who didn't already live together. That is simply the real world. the ones who don't live a good distance apart and typically one "stays over" when (usually) he is in town for the marriage prep meetings.    The idea that couples enter into marriage with no sexual experience, and none with each other simply doesn't reflect reality.  One can say it is wrong.  One can say it is sinful, but the facts on the ground say it is reality regarless of what the Church teaches.  If the Church is a field hospital, that takes the world as it finds it, that is what it finds.  I'm not sure shooting the wounded is the concept Pope Francis had in mind when he used that analagy. 

JIm P, I suppose the reason Kandra's piece got me riled up enough to write a blog post is that it, too, is about appearances--how to make the the Church look good, or at last not terribly bad. I didn't see a whole lot of interest in the analysis of the underlying decision.  He lamented mainly the bad pr consequences.

What I tried to do was give a substantive account of how one could justify, consistent with a Catholic view of the role of law, not firing her.


Cathleen - sure.  His career is in the media so I think he approached it from a media-messaging angle.  

Your post is terrific, and I hope school administrators all over the country read it.  A lot of church decisions get made via the template of how the church always has handled things in the past, and I hope your post prompts reconsideration.


The morals clause in the contract makes no sense at all.  The employee promises to abide by all the teachings of the Catholic church 100% of the time.  Is the promise to commit no sins ever?  By that standard an employee should be fired if they are seen heading into a confessional:  if they hadn't committed a sin, why does he/she need to go to confession? 

I've said this before but I'll risk repeating myself:  middle class women in their twenties or older who become pregnant out of wedlock are disproportionately likely to be making a serious effort to live by Catholic teaching.  A woman whose life plan includes the idea "of course I'm going to have sex on a regular basis with the guy(s) that I date" is going to be on the pill or use other reliable forms of contraception.  A woman who is seriously attempting chastity will not be on the pill, and if she fails in the chastity department will have no contraception or just a condom, making pregnancy likely.  All but one of the middle class women that I've known who became unwillingly pregnant  after age 20 were in this category.  The church is preferentially punishing those who are seriously committed Christians/Catholics. 

The Catholic church, like individual Catholics, has a responsibility to conduct her life in a way that disincentivizes abortions.  If a Catholic school feels the pregnant teacher cannot continue teaching, they absolutely should find her another job (e.g. with the diocese or Catholic Charities).  Otherwise, the de facto lesson will be "abortion or else".

One more thing that grosses me out- the firing was initiated because the diocese received an anonymous letter about the teacher's pregnancy.  I have heard of other occasions in which the Catholic hierarchy disciplined a person due to an anonymous letter.  Anonymous letters are dirty things and I hate to see them become standard operating procedure in the church.

Finally, here is a quote from the martyr Dietrich Bonnhoeffer which seems to me very applicable to this situation:  "For the pious community permits no one to be a sinner.  We are not allowed to be sinners.  Many Christians would be unimaginably horrified if a real sinner were to turn up among the pious.  So we remain alone with our sin, trapped in lies and hypocrasy.....  However, the grace of the gospel, which is so hard for the pious to comprehend, confronts us with the truth.  It says to us, you are a sinner, a great, unholy sinner.  Now come, as the sinner that you are, to the God who loves you.  For God wants you as you are, not desiring anything from you- a sacrifice, a good deed-  but rather desiring you alone.  God has come to make the sinner blessed."  (from Living Together, 1939)


CK says she doesn't abide "--how to make the the Church look good'

that's the meme to drop out the window for good.

since Matthew 1 tells us that JC came to be from an unwed mother =Mary, the "church' ought to stop obsessiing about 'looking good'... we should relish 'not looking good' .

When even the UN, which seems to tolerate a lot of slimey behavior condemns the Vatican for "the' coverup... , it's time to ordain only the most humble mouthed prelate in every terna .... for about a hundred years ,

Anne Evans,

That is a wonderful quote from Bonnhoeffer.  Sexual behavior is one are where the Church has virtually no credibility at all, yet it is where some choose to make their "last stand."  On virtually every major issue in this realm, the Church is at best ignored and at worst, a cause of suffering and pain.  My own view is that it can be traced back to Paul VI's encyclical, which pretty much taught Catholics that they can ignore the Church's teachings on sexual matters since they are given in a context which doesn't apply to anyone's real life.  The purpose of marriage is many things.  In the Church's eye it has a single purpose.  The sex abuse scandal played into the same narrative from a different angle.  On gay rights the same narrative is underlying things, from yet a different angle.  Just stop, already.  The primary teachers of children on sexual behavior are't their social studies or algebra teachers.  It isn't the swim coach.  It isn't the pastor.  to the extent they have any impact at all it is at the margins.  Parents have far more impact than all the teachers ever. 

Finally, I wonder if the school would fire a male teacher if they got an anonomous letter that he cheated on his taxes year after year? 


What would Francis say? I think he'd be overjoyed that she is bringing new life into the world, despite tough circumnstances, and furthermore, would welcome both her and her child at church.

Firing someone over a morality clause is exactly the kind of thing that makes people hate the church.


Btw, here is the NY Daily News' story on the firing.


They are like the Pharisees who strictly followed the law.  The Bishop's Dallas Charter falls into this type of evangelizal Catholicism.  Some will not agree but when priests are removed before proven guilty,  we have ostracized them and proclaimed them evil.  Before proving a wrong doing, we treat them like sinners and throw them out of the club into the wrath of the media and public at large. Then those 95% go back to their cohabitating and contraception mentality.  How Christ-like is that?

Was anyone beside me appalled at the NY Daily News "news" story on the incident? (Thanks for the link, Jim Pauwels.) It did eveything but give the bishop's phone number and the spokesman's home address and the make, model and color of the car he drives (for readers who prefer the anonymity of car bombs).

I like the photo at the head of this post—the woman's clear-eyed, unwavering gaze; the tender and protective way she holds the baby; the ringless finger; no attempt to conceal the letter. It says, "I am a sinner in your eyes; in mine I am a mother."

I think she might be an icon for many women today, and perhaps even for some men. Not a recommendation for sin, but a testament to courage and resilience, the ability to rise above one's mistakes and carry on. I would want to keep her within any community I was a part of.

It's a good post.


Jim, likewise thanks for the link. 

Folks, you are all missing an important part of this situation. Every country and state has employment laws. it is a responsibility of a superintendent to ensure that an employee is "fired" within the meaning of the law and where it exists the terms of the personal contract or if a union the terms of the collective agreement.

This usually involves a degree of incompetancy or a situation where as I stated earlier the teacher by his/her behaviour compromised their ability to teach often on moral or legal grounds...a charge of sexual molestation would be a good example. ( In that case a teacher would be removed from the classroom and given an office job in another location until proven guilty in a court of law at which time his contract would be terminated. )

The superintendent has another responsibilty and that is to avoid lawsuits because it is extremely costly both in $, something this bankrupt diocese seems to have in short supply and the amount of unproductive time the superintendent, principal & bishop will spend away from more educationally valuable leadership activity.

So what is the outcome of this little problem

Evenson is planning to take legal action against Butte Central. Cincinnati-based lawyer Brian Butler said the woman will file a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Read more:

The use of the separation of church and state provision (ie. denominational grounds) is what is in play in this case.

We can bemoan the decision all we want and discuss it on "religious" grounds but should this suit proceed up the ladder and the teacher win, it will impact all Catholic teachers/employees nation wide.  

Way to go Mr. Superintendent!

This gets to the Hosanna Tabor ruling which many applaud.  Basically, that ruling determined that if a teacher in a religious school teaches religion or is a *minister*, then the religious denomination can set their own rules including moral clauses.  This ruling came about because a teacher (designated as minister or religion teacher with the EEOC filed suit upon discharge.  SCOTUS found for the religious school and its actions.

But, per the links that you guys gave above - we have the usual catholic elementary school teacher who would teach all subjects including religion and thus (per Hosanna Tabor) not have recourse if fired for unwed pregnancy.

My two cents - rulings such as Hosanna Tabor (in a veiled attempt to protect religious liberty) negate other rights and protections which US workers have today.  And it sets up a tension so that those who see things through a narrow lense (protecting the religious denomination via moral clauses) negate other *common good* laws - equal protection; treating all in a consistent manner; job security vs. fundamentalism, sect like behaviors, narrow applications of Hosanna Tabor, etc.  The dignity of an individual to hold a job especially when the behaviors sanctioned are not criminal or against civil law. 

Sorry - think the links to the alleged priest abuser and this case are mixing apples and oranges.


Perhaps some who are concerned about her "authority as a teacher" could explain what they believe that to be, how it is established, and how these circumstances would touch on that.

I a quite sure that when I was a boy, teachers had authority because they were adults and I was a child; I had been taught by my parents, and the rest of society seconded this, that it was a matter of common sense.

At the next level, the teacher had authority arising out our respect for her/his ability to help us learn.  This represented both authority with respect the content of the material studied and the authoritative, fair, and effective manner in which it was transmitted to us. 

I was aware, I think from kindergarten, that teachers were people, male and female.  And I knew that people had families and friends.  I had seen pregnant women, and did not think it odd; I am quite sure that I had teachers who took maternity leave, and this was no mystery.  But the private lives of teachers?  That had nothing to do with my relationship as pupil to teacher, and certainly nothing to do with the teacher's authority.

Now if a priest broke his vow of chastity (much less molested a child), and there ere physical evidence of this, that would certainly lead to a crisis of authority.  And, by the way, does it seem ironic to anyone elsethat is the Diocese of Helena, MT that finds this an intolerable moral lapse?

Mark L.

Maybe things are different in Montana (it's not on the beaten path, exactly), but I would be very surprised if the teenagers in that school don't know the facts of life, as we use to call them, and that they don't know that teachers have sex outside of marriage.  So keeping the poor woman in her job is not going to teach them anything they don't already know, *except* maybe, just maybe, they'll come to realize that  treating the teacher with kindess and understanding, is the Christian thing to do.  They might even learn that people who are less than perfect still deserve our love and help.  And maybe someday they'll realize that they too aren't perfect, a highly important lesson to learn on the way to Heaven.

I'm old-fashioned enough to think that risking pregnancy without a husband is indeed a very serious sin (and that goes for the possible father too), so I agree with the administration on that score.  But to  fire someone who was weak or mistaken about the morality and who became pregnant without a husband merely compounds the problems for the unborn child.   Yes, that child has a right to life.  It also has a right to a mother with a job. 

Yes, Mark. It is ironic, considering the source. But if priests who molested children had begun "showing" in some way -- maybe, say, hair grew on their hands, as we were once warned about -- we would not be in the position we are in today.

Btw, does anyone know if the identity of the father in that Montana case has turned up? I mean, could he possibly have been, and still be, on the faculty of the same school?

Additional takeaway---be ready to be fired from your Catholic job.

John Borst - good to see you commenting here again.  


Firing someone over a morality clause is exactly the kind of thing that makes people hate the church.

I don't know that I object to a school setting a standard for moral behavior.  I think one of the things that Cathleen is doing is bringing forth an alternative set of considerations, fully consonant with the Catholic faith and tradition, that could be the basis for a different "morality clause".

I suspect that the traditional way that the church in the US has thought about a teacher pregnant out of wedlock is not that much different than the way that US civil society traditionally has thought about it.  Clearly, there has been a tremendous shift, both in civil society and within the church, in no small part because so many of us have seen women who are in our families or are close to us experience unmarried pregnancies.  I would think that mercy, love, tolerance and life, and taking people where they are, seem more important values to most of us at this particular moment than the risk of shame or tarnishing the good name of the church.


I was indeed lucky in my situation. In 1979, when I discovered I was pregnant, I was working for 2 Catholic churches and a Catholic school. The pricipal of the school told me she was happy I had chosen to have the baby and that she and the other sisters would support me in any way possible. She also said that if any parents gave me trouble, I should send them to her. As for the 2 churches that I played piano for, the pastor of one said there would be no problems for me from him. The other church had a senile pastor with major memory pronlems. The associate pastor said, "Don't worry. You could have the baby in the middle of mass, and he'd never notice."

Hi Jim, thanks for the welcome.

In my previous analysis, I have not referred to authority but rather ability to teach. Although there is an interrelationship they are not the same thing.

Here are a couple of examples which are at least a couple of decades old.

Here is an actual case where a public school teacher was actually fired from a public school board because the actions of her husband undermined her authority to teach and hence there was an assumption that her ability to transmit knowledge and skill to students was compromised. It also caused scandal to the community. The husband in the privacy of their home took nude photographs of his wife and without her knowledge sent them to I believe Penthouse magazine and they got published. When they became public to the community she was fired and her union appealed the action on the grounds that she was a victim and not a partner in this case. The courts upheld the decision as just as a teacher must maintain a standard above the norm of the community. 

In another public school case a teacher/coach borrowed a video camera, tape cassette and stand to preview some kind of move he wanted to instill in his football players. While having the equipment home he could not resist making a video of himself and his wife during intercourse. When he returned the equipment, you guessed it, he put the wrong cassette back onto the shelf. And yes the whole football team got to see it in private. The students aware of what this meant to the teacher's career attempted to destroy the tape, but then took the destroyed tape to the principal. 

The teacher/coach was immediately relieved of his duties. At the subequent board meeting  the board lawyer after reviewing case law encouraged the trustees not to summarily fire him but to determine if he was capable of continuing to teach. Each football player who saw the video was interviewed, and then after a three day suspension without pay, the teacher was brought back and the administration monitored his teaching and ability to interact with the students. In other words could he be an effective teacher under this cloud. The answer was yes and he went on to have a distinguished career in education. 

As an aside to this story, as you might expect the board of trustees were very split between those who wanted his immediate dismissal and those who were prepared to follow the lawyer and superintendent''s advice. It was a locally renowned Catholic woman and a professional nurse who resolved the split, when she looked across the table and said to the men who wanted to hang the teacher: "Which one of you in your wildest dreams haven't thought of doing the same thing? And after the laughted subsided, the trustees voted to follow the superintendent's & lawyer's advice.

An unwed mother's pregnancy seems small potatoes in comparison.

I'm old-fashioned enough to think that risking pregnancy without a husband is indeed a very serious sin (and that goes for the possible father too).

I have a friend who, reaching the age when the fertility rate starts dropping without having met a life mate, got pregnant on purpose in order to become a single parent. She was met with mixed reactions. Choosing to bring a child to life with the advance knowledge that he or she would grow up without a father is an unusual decision... She told me once that it was "the best decision she ever made". It's not clear to me why it is a "very serious sin".


John Borst - see this column by Michael Sean Winters - this is what I am talking about:


Check out paragraph 4

She told me once that it was "the best decision she ever made". It's not clear to me why it is a "very serious sin".

The extramarital sex was the sin. Sin is not nothing, but the good news is that the church has sacramental remedies for sin.  Keeping the baby seems to me an act of grace*.  As the fellow once said, where sin abounds, grace abounds the more.

What Cathleen wrote above can't be emphasized enough: being a sinner doesn't get me fired from the Catholic church.  It is through the church that I find (or should find, if the church is being the church) forgiveness and healing.  I really think it is incumbent on the church, in its local church community - the school - to model the church's forgiveness, to accept this woman and her baby, to support her, to say, "You're one of us; we're not more virtuous than you; we stand by you".  

* Ironically, there has been a strand of thought at large in our society, for a century or more, that it is somehow sinful to bring a child into the world, particularly if the child is going to be poor, or of an undesirable race or ethnicity, or because the world can't sustain another child.  This emphatically is not the church's point of view.


Jim, what she decided was not to "keep" the baby but to get pregnant in the first place, in spite of not being married. She had (extramarital) sex in order to get pregnant in order to have and raise a child.

When I read about this kind of stories, sometimes I feel like I live on a different planet.

On one side, there is the world of "the Scarlet letter", of the Montana school discussed in this thread, of HV, of how the family I grew up in used to be. On the other side, there is the world I live in, a world of people who struggle with a variety of complex ethical problems; but those problems are so different that it's hard to even understand, for one side, how a single pregnant woman poses a moral problem, and, for the other side, how well-meaning people could land in the kind of situations they get into. Both sides are bewildered by the other side. There's something almost unreal about it. I mean, who in their right mind, in the US in 2014, would think that the morally correct reaction to a single woman getting pregnant is to fire her?? Crazy. Maybe I should stop reading those Catholic websites, or else the craziness might be contagious and I might start believing it. Whatever pretense of rationality people might try to land to this, it's a game, it's just make-believe.

It's like rabbis claiming that the world was created a few thousand years ago and rationalizing the presence of dinosaur bones by saying that God could have chosen to plant dinosaur bones into the ground, that nothing is impossible to God. Listening to them, you'd think they actually believe what they're saying, they're in earnest, they even try to convince you and you can't make them budge in their opinion. If you make a huge effort to listen to them with an open mind, you're taken by a kind of vertigo, like you're going crazy.

It's like the whole hullabaloo in the US about contraception. Nuns suing Obama because they don't want to sign a piece of paper saying they don't want contraception to be covered, or something like that. Crazy. It's an alternate, twisted universe. 

 It's like, in the 20th century, discussing the validity of Galilee's science. It makes no sense.

Usually when I read threads on Catholicism and sex-related questions, I try to suspend disbelief in order to be able to engage the discussion. But when I remember that (unlike the rabbis' explanation of dinosaur bones) it's not an abstract discussion, not a theoretical construct, but about things that have real impact on real people, then the whole thing seems evil or pathological. 

For sanity, I've got to remember to ignore everything the Catholic church institution says about sex. 


WHY NOT BE PRO-LIFE!!! Why not make her the example that Jesus said "Neither do I condemn you!" Really the Catholic Church would walk the talk if they had billboards all over that said, "Pregnant-Come ot the Catholic Church!" If we did there would be less abortions. How can the Catholic Church after the sexual abuse crisis ever condemn and judege someone else. How many priests have made women pregnant and continue to pay child support yet is a "Father" in the church. This is a disgrace. The school probably takes up collections for shelters, unwed mother homes and everything else, but when it comes to being real, the church gives mixed messages. She could  have gotten an abortion really easily and didn't. She choose life. It is a shame that the school did not choose life.

Is it also an issue that some of us might think  that  the religious belief that is being upheld- chastity- is quaint/stupid/harmful?  And if we think the latter, than of course we should object to anyone being sanctioned for not conforming to the expected standard.

I'm not being an apologist for the school; I disagree with the action.  But a lot of us are raising our children accordng to religious principles that others think are bad or ridiculous, whether its discouraging sex outside of marriage, encouraging our adolescent girls to wear headcoverings, circumcising our baby boys or  taking our children out of school after sixth grade to go work on the farm.

Maybe the people who object to these various practices are the ones who are in the right, but what's the line in the sand- at what point is it appropriate to override how other people raise their children, even when it involves deeply held religious beliefs? And who gets to decide that?


Irene, it wouldn't drive me crazy if it were another religion that I don't care about, or if it was some kind of harmless idea. But that people from my own religion somehow argue that it follows from the tenets of my own faith that the correct reaction to an unwed pregnant woman is to fire her, that just drives me nuts. It means doing wrong while claiming righteousness, in the very name of Christianity, that is, of Truth itself! It's evil.

It's not about chastity - I have nothing against chastity. It's what Cathy described in her post. It's about hitting someone when she is in a vulnerable situation, in a setting where only women (not men) are possible victims, and encouraging abortion, and all that in the name of Christianity, for God's sake! It's Satan's way of trying to give the Church a bad name.

It makes me angry.