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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

I think if a parent sends their child to a Catholic school there is the overt, or implied, understanding that the school will both in religious teaching and example of the staff reinforce the moral teachings of the Church. There doesn't seem to be enough detail about how and why this pregnancy (ie., sex outside of marriage) occured (rape, incest, co-habiting, just a deisre to have a child, ????), in clear violation of Catholic moral teaching (however ignored in society today), should be reacted to by the administration of this Catholic school. However, they cannot simply ignore it. A better reaction would be to suspend the teacher (with pay) and help her, if needed, through the months of pregnancy and thereafter. There could then be dialogue with the school administrators, the local pastor and the woman, with a final resolution of the situation delayed until after these outreaches.



I have heard the argument made, and there is certainly some truth to it, that a combination of cultural and technilogical if that is the correct term, changes have created a world were we simply need to look at sex and sexual morality and marriage in a whole new light. Just to highlight some, in the early Middle Ages, life expectancy was 30 or so, though that number would be higher accounting for those who survived past childhood.  Childhood mortality was exceptionally high.  Women married essentially at puberty. Even until the mid-20th Centruy it was only around 60. Further, until pretty recently, effective birth control was virtually unknown.  Now people live until almost 80, birth control is readily available and very effective. Twelve year olds don't marry these days, at least in the west.  Heck, in my group of friends from college, roughly half married within a year of graduation.  Among my daughter's group of friends, exactly 2 have married 5 years after graduation and they married each other.  Given these and other social and medical science changes, one could make a case that the whole basis for traditional sexual morality is no longer applicable.  What made sense when people began engaging in sexual activity at 14 or 16 or 18, might not apply when the average age of marriage is 27 for women and 28 for men. Is demanding celibacy for an additional 5-10 years really a reasonable expectation? And given that effective contraception is now available, it is possible to separate sexual activity from both marriage and procreation.  Life expectancy changes also come into play.  Given the great increases in life expectency, it is at least reasonable to ask whether life long marriage is still a logical concept.  In 1900, when life expectancy was 46 for men and 48 for women, if you married at 21 or 22 (slightly later than average), the typical couple would barely survive until their 25th anniversary.  I think these are the kind of factors that are really underlying the current life style changes we see in the real world.  It might be time to look at how we look at these things in a religious context and look to rethink what constitutes morality. 

Claire --

The course of evolution does have its wisdom.  Children need both mother and father, so the child has a right to both.  To choose ahead of time that my child would not have a father would be to deprive it of one of life's greatest goods.  And that is very, very wrong.  

Claire- I feel the same way you do, I think I would have to take my children out of a school that did this.

But in cases like this,  I hear a lot of strong comments about what is the wrong thing to do- its wrong to fire the teacher.   Ok, so that's what not to do'; then what to do? I don't think it works to say the school is wrong to have these values, or to claim that the people who send their children to the school don't really embrace these values. I think we need to figure out a way to respect everyone involved and the difficulties they're presented with - the teacher, the school administrator, the parents, and most of all, as John Borst's comments emphasized, the children.


Given these and other social and medical science changes, one could make a case that the whole basis for traditional sexual morality is no longer applicable

Or that there is more than ever a need for the sanity and holiness of traditional sexual morality.

What made sense when people began engaging in sexual activity at 14 or 16 or 18, might not apply when the average age of marriage is 27 for women and 28 for men. Is demanding celibacy for an additional 5-10 years really a reasonable expectation? 

It's a hard demand, but I doubt it's harder for us or our children than it was for our grandparents.  For us as for them, if we don't get a 100 on the exam, as is the case in so many areas of our lives, forgiveness is abundantly available.  This seems to me a better approach to living than to settle for promiscuity as a norm.  

That's what I'm trying to teach my children.  Pretty sure I'm not alone. 


And I agree with Jim Dunn, we need to re-examine our standards of sexual morality.

I agree with Claire  - it does especially bother me that the Catholic church teaches this stuff because it's my religion.  If it was some other religion, I'd probably find it quaint.  But it's not just that - it's also that the Catholic church also seems bent on pushing its beliefs on everuone else as well.  How would we feel, for instance, if Jehovah's Witnesses ran a quarter of the countries hospitals and the rest of us couldn't get blood transfusions?

Children need loving parents.  If that's a mother and father: good.  If it's a mother and mother:  good.  If a father and father:  good.  If a mother or father only:  it depends on the situation and access to other support.

But what the children need is being raised in a healthy and loving environment, not just by a man and a woman.  With the success rate of traditional marriages (about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce, and the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher ..., the incidences of child and spousal abuse, alcoholism, drug use, ad nauseum, having a mother and a father is no guarantee of being raised any better or healthier than in healthier and more supportive alternative situations.

A situation like this is made more difficult in that it involves a civil "contract" and the church and how it treats sinners, which everyone is. Yes, there is a contract but in civil society there are things than can affect the performance of the contract's provisions, unanticipated at the time of signing. To make matters harder, this is the CHURCH putting a pregnant women out on the street--no job, no income (and the difficulty of finding other employment while pregnant) and very likely no health insurance. As many commenters have said, would we want her to have an abortion in order to keep her job?

And let's face it, this discriminates against women, who carry the visible pregnancy, and protects the father because he is able to keep having impregnated a woman private.

I don't have the perfect solution.

Jim Pawels,

I don't think "promiscuity needs to be the norm."  I'm suggesting though that we need to re-examine the whole ethic and see where it fits given the massive changes in how we live.  A different sexual ethic, somewhere between celebacy until married and promiscuity seems to me to be worth examining.  My sense is that it is what is now emerging, whether we like it or not. 

And while I agree with you that the demands are just as hard between our grandparents and our children, the differences are that many, too.  My grandparents were married 20 and 18, and 21 and 19.  Before they married none of them lived outside their parents homes.  My daughter is 26 and lives on her own 6 states away. By the time they reached her age, both sets of grandparents had been married for almost a decade and had multiple children.   And safe, effective birth control was simply not an option for my grandparents.  Wasn't just not available.  It didn't exist.  Hadn't been invented.  For the first ime in history, it is possible to separate sex from procreation.  That might be a gamechanger.  I would argue that it certainly changes the way you analyze the problem.  I don't know if you come to a different end result, but I think it is a discussion worth having.  Now it is just happening. 

The course of evolution does have its wisdom.  Children need both mother and father, so the child has a right to both.  To choose ahead of time that my child would not have a father would be to deprive it of one of life's greatest goods.  And that is very, very wrong.

So I take it, Ann, that you do not think same-sex couple should have children?

Jim P

I don't know what the answer is, for what it is worth. But I have given this a lot of thought and it is pretty clear to me that the existing moral code is not longer applicable.  I think we need to look at a new sexual ethic that works in a very different world. 

Has any commentator or authority of note (or soemthing akin to note) come forward to say that they support the firing and its terms? Normally, there is side rejecting the outrage, but I just haven't seen it here.

And, though I'm no big city lawyer, isn't the school going to get wrecked in any civil suit?

then what to do?

There are plenty of natural negative consequences for the teacher, which the school or parents could point out to the students: She'll have less money (think about the cost of daycare). She'll have more constraints (no more going out on the spur of the moment). She'll be less desirable for dates (who wants to date a woman with a little kid in tow?). She'll be spending a lot of her time off work taking the child to the playground, to playdates, to birthday parties. She'll have to spend a lot less time reading, sleeping, exercising, or whatever else she likes to do for herself. In short, she'll be parenting, sacrificing part of her life for her child's well-being. Because of the absence of another adult in charge of parenting, she won't have any time off from it. The responsibility will be entirely hers: she won't be able to be sick, for example. She may have to turn down job opportunities, if they conflict with her child's schedule, and she won't have the flexibility that comes from sharing the parenting. Being a single parent is no picnic, and it shouldn't be hard to show that to the students. I'm not sure why additional action is needed to drive the point home.

As to what to do, the school might: encourage the teacher to try to get child support from the father; give her a generous maternity leave; give her a favorable teaching schedule as much as possible while the child is a baby. If they do some anti-abortion stuff, they might choose her to represent them at some event. The parents might: give her some of their leftover baby stuff. The students might: offer babysitting services.

Do we have any more details? On the pregnancy? On the 'firing?'

What were the terms of the firing? Was there severance pay? Was there an offer to help her in this vulnerable position?


Abe, without seeing the terms of the contract, it is hard to tell the possible outcome of the civil suit. But,precedent legally is on the school's side. The moral question is less clear cut.

Has any commentator or authority of note (or soemthing akin to note) come forward to say that they support the firing and its terms?


Yesterday, the Superintendent of Catholic Schools defended the decision. Talks about a "contractual obligation with our teachers" as if they had no choice. 


He doesn't convince me


BUTTE – The Diocese of Helena is defending its decision to fire an unwed Butte Central Catholic Schools teacher because she is pregnant....


Shaela Evenson taught sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade literature and physical education at the school for the past nine years. She was dismissed Jan. 10 after the Helena diocese received an anonymous letter about her pregnancy.


Superintendent of Catholic schools Patrick Haggarty defended the decision in a Wednesday interview with the Montana Standard.


“It’s not easy being a Christian or a Catholic in today’s world,” Haggarty said in a phone interview. “Our faith asks us to do things that right now are not popular with society. I’m really OK, I’m not comfortable, but I’m OK with what’s transpired. Being a Christian is this way; we’re asked to do things that are not popular with our society.”

When asked about how Francis has handled cases of unwed mothers:

“The Holy Father certainly understands the sacrament of marriage and certainly is compassionate and understanding, and so is the diocese in Helena,” the superintendent said. “... I think that the connection between what the Holy Father has done, which is an incredible act of kindness, is not the same as what we face with a contractual obligation with our teachers. I’m sure that the woman that he blessed is a wonderful person, as is Shaela, but the woman just didn’t agree to teach in a Catholic school.”



Jim D - I guess my view is that the traditional Christian moral code for unmarrieds always has been an ideal, one that never has been universally abided by.  Traditionally, failing to abide by it - particularly for women - meant taking on two risks, one spiritual, the other social.  The church, concerned with the spiritual aspect, offers sacramental forgiveness as a remedy.  From a spiritual aspect, this dynamic of a difficult ideal, coupled with forgiveness for those who don't abide by it, still seems workable to me.

I agree with you that advances in technology have changed things considerably for the social risk, in that the social penalties for not abiding by the code, particularly for women, are considerably reduced, and so many fewer abide by it now.   Whether women and men also don't fear the spiritual penalties as as much as was the case a few generations ago, is an interesting question to which I don't really know the answer.

I think the church should continue to put forth its traditional moral code for unmarrieds, as one component of a holistic approach to marriage and sex, as an ideal that is achievable (even if not everyone abides by it all the time), and that brings about both spiritual and social goods. Ideally, unmarried people will stay chaste, and there will be no reason for such people who are achieving that ideal to contracept or abort.  Because not everyone will abide by the church's code, even among the church's own disciples, and because technology reduces the social pressures to abide by the code, it's equally important that the church takes people 'as they are'.  My original entry into this discussion was to note that there are a lot of practical, pragmatic benefits both for individuals and for society if young unmarrieds try to abide by the traditional moral code.  Fewer abortions certainly is one.  It's not difficult to think of others.


What Ann Landers and Dear Abby (plagiarizing from each other) used to say: a church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.

Somehow this brings to mind Joseph staying with Mary. He recognized what he thought should be done and did it. And then they got on with their lives. Thankfully.

Wisdom from the blogsite of one of the periodic commenters here:

A general comment about mercy, overlooking certain situations, effects on children, the compassion of pre-Vatican II nuns and how sexual issues are NOT all that defines us. My mother never married in the church, had 4 children whom she sent to Catholic schools at great expense and personal sacrifice. She taught us that being Catholic was more important that anything else, and she did this primarily by example , then by insisting that we follow the tenets of our faith. 

The good nuns knew my mother was not only married civilly but then divorced. So, for all intent and purposes, in the 1950s she was an unwed mother. 12 years of Catholic school with nuns for my 2 sisters and me and 8 years of nuns and 4 years of Jesuits for my brother and my mother's sex life never came into play. I believe that it's the people at the top that get caught up with sex and its consequences and can't see past that except when it comes to the sex abuse issue. Morals overs more than sex and those other issues can sometimes cause more harm.

Elia:  one does have to wonder about those who obsess about that in which they (theoretically) are not allowed to partake.

Jim Pauwels, the problem with that approach is that it worked for the legendary high school boy who had sex Friday night, confessed on Saturday and received Communion with his family on Sunday - then did it all over the next week.

it doesn't work for people who are cohabiting, remarried without an annument, taking contraceptives daily or who just don't feel they believe what they did was wrong and can express a "firm purpose of amendment". 

I have a friend who says she left the Church years ago because, as she says, she "felt she was going to hell" even though she kept going to retreats. Later she joined an evangelical church that teaches "once saved, always saved" and now she is at peace with herself. 

Maybe we need to think a bit about what is a mortal sin versus a venial sin and be clearer about subjective sin versus objective sin. 

When I first saw this headline yesterday, I went directly to a video of a reporter at the school.  A section of the video included a short portion of a phone interview  with the superintendent of the Catholic Schools for the diocese.  I was so shocked by what he said, I replayed the video several time to "transcribe" exactly what he said.

"We as Catholic School employees have the obligation to teach the moral  and religious teaching of the Catholic Church.

We want all our children to get to heaven, and they've gotta be dog gone smart when they get there.

The reality is that we believe that we get to heaven by following the moral teaching standards of the Catholic Faith."


John Hayes - thanks for the follow up to the link and article quoting the superintendent (of course, assuming that the news report is accurate in terms of his statement)

Here is my two cents again:

Superintendent is operating in the *orthodox* church mode - unilateral power blessed by thinking that God speaks through church laws, bishops, etc. with complete certainty.  Unilateral power is always:

Top Down


Power Over (rather than power with)

Subject to Object

Communicator Supreme

Zero Sum

Contrast this with the gospel narratives and the relational power of Jesus:

Collegial (not top down)


Subject to Subject

Conversation that at its core has listening

IMO, we should be experiencing the power of the gospel - not the power of unilateral control. 

What do we teach children, the local community, parents if the law of the ruler takes precedence over our gospel imperative to treat the other with dignity, love, and mercy.

From Francis:

Key phrases that impact this incident:

"It is important to realize that today many couples live together without getting married and have children, then later marry in a registry office, with some opting for a church marriage, the pope explained. The church must take this way of life seriously and accompany the couples on their way, Francis underlined. His basic message was "Don't judge, but look closely and listen very carefully," Schönborn said."

"For the most part, the church approaches the [family] issue unhistorically," he said. "People have always lived together in various ways. And today, we in the church tacitly live with the fact that the majority of our young people, including those with close ties to the Catholic church, quite naturally live together. The simple fact is that the environment has changed."

"..... real life told a different story, the cardinal said. "The great challenge is to span a bridge between what we long for and what we succeed in achieving." It was a case of bringing truth and mercy together, he said."

Just to let you know, it was a recording.  It was his voice you heard.  Even the attitude came through.

"It is important to realize that today many couples live together without getting married and have children, then later marry in a registry office, with some opting for a church marriage, the pope explained. The church must take this way of life seriously and accompany the couples on their way, Francis underlined.


I'm glad to hear that from the Pope.


"Accompanying people on their way" is what we need to work on. 




Abe --


I think that there is no settled answer yet to the question of homosexual parents because there have been so few examples.  We just don't know what the consequences are likely to be. I suspect that it is better to have a mother and a father because it seems that a people need models of both as they grow.  But who knows, two of the same kind might also have some other advantage to compensate.


I would expect that two parents of any combination would be better for a child than only one, not to mention the difficulties the single parent her/himslef has because of raising a child alone.


I agree with John Hayes that the whole question of sin -- its kinds, degrees, whatever -- needs to be throught through again, particularly sexual morality.  But I don't see any evidence that human nature has changed enough to make us revise our views of what the basic human goals and problems reaching them.  Yes, contexts change, but human nature?  I'll believe it when I see it.



Claire --

You say this isn't about chastity.  We maybe it shouldn't be, but in this Puritan land where The Scarlet Letter reinforces everyone's notion that sex outside of marriage should result in serious shunning, it is for many people exactly about chastity.  Maybe The Scarlet Letter should be banned from the high schools.

Ann Oliver, Apparently The Scarlet Letter is banned pretty often. The National Council of Teachers of English put together a list of books that are often banned, even though they are on the Library of Congress list of "Books that Made America," and The Scarlet Letter appears there in alphabetical order. Said the National Council:

According to many critics, Hawthorne should have been less friendly toward his main character, Hester Prynne (in fairness, so should have minister Arthur Dimmesdale). One isn’t surprised by the moralist outrage the book caused in 1852. But when, one hundred and forty years later, the book is still being banned because it is sinful and conflicts with community values, you have to raise your eyebrows. Parents in one school district called the book “pornographic and obscene” in 1977. Clearly this was before the days of the World Wide Web.

If I repeat what others have said, please excuse the repitition.


It is evident that the teaher in question was following Church teachings on contraception. It is said we teach better by what we do, than by what we say. Words are cheap, actions are final. Her being pregnant at school and taking leave, possibly in the middle of class, to adjourn to the delivery room, would speak in context to the unnecessary nature of abortion, and contraception would be repudiated, not by words, but by deed.


The school, oddly enough, has just encouraged this young woman to get an abortion. Childbirth is not inexpensive, and her income has just tanked. This too is not words of the school, but deed. We do not know what her circumstances are, what other support she may or may not have. But as at least one other has noted, her finding a job while pregnant will be even more difficult than it already is in the present day of high unemployment and few jobs.


We also do not know the circumstances of her getting pregnant, which can range anywhere from another of many one-night stands; through a boyfriend who is a soldier who just died in Afghanistan, ending their plans for a marriage during his next leave; to a forceable rape.


Absent facts, we are left to speculate how severe the consequences for this young woman are. Were she my daughter or granddaugher, she would be welcome in my home. But she is not, nor do we live near each other at all.


I remember the words of our Holy Father respecting another issue: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” 


If a young women is with child arising from to-us unknown circumstances, who are we to judge?

Ann: yes. I meant that my own outrage is not about chastity. I don't get riled up because some people are chaste, and I don't disapprove of chastity. That is one more step in the sex-saturated culture that I'm not willing to take.


Until the Boston Globe blew the lid off the clergy sex-abuse scandal, the Church always managed to find another job for any priest, even one who was known to be a predator, as long as he wanted to stay in ministry.  The typical explanation, culled from various bishops' depositions: the Church is in the business of forgiving sin.

But the Montana teacher is fired, even though for all we know she had sex only once, never took a vow of celibacy, and didn't force herself on a minor.  The double standard is alive and well.  

John Hayes, thank you for sharing the quotes from Superintendent Haggarty. He doesn't convince me either; in fact it is very clear that he is simply hidding behind the contract, one incidently that has not been revealed.

But from an administrative perspective there is much more that smells about this dismissal. Prime among the smelly aspects is the simple fact that the superintendent acted on an anonymous complaint. The standard practice, except in a very narrow range of circumstances,is to take anonymous complaints and simply throw them in the basket. 

A common characteristic of anonymous complaints is that they usually come from third parties. I have not been able to find out if that happened in this case. I make this assumption because sufficient time has passed for the the teacher Shaela Evenson to become visibly pregnant. It is reasonable to assume then that, had the complaintant not come forward, that neither the principal nor the superintendent were planning to take any action. No doubt the principal was well aware of her condition long before the complaint surfaced and either didnot report her to the superintendent and if he did, neither took action.

The principal describes Evenson as an "excellent teacher". Now he has to find a new teacher to teach grade 6, 7 & 8.  That is not as easy as it sounds. I learned that lesson as a Grade seven student. In Grade seven, my 'excellent teacher" contracted TB and never came back after Christmas. We then went through 4 teachers in the next 2 months. The one that stuck it out was not a good teacher, just determined that we were not going to defeat her. [I know that because 9 years later I walked into a staff room during recess and a supply/replacement teacher was regaling the staff with this story about how she had had this terrible class and she didn't them defeat I listened I realized she was talking about my class so I interrupted and asked her if such and such a boy was in that class, and then other and an other and everyone clued in] The point I'm making obviously is that the real loosers in this little morality game 9 times out of 10 are the children. 

This also smells because the superintendent had other options open to him which he did not use. He could have arranged for her to take a leave of absence (preferably with pay) for 2 or 3 months to have the baby. The anonymous complainer would have seen her gone and by the time she returned the whole thing would have blown over.

Alternatively, the superintendent could have provided  an alternative assignment, in head office away from public view and achieved the same result. 

You have all provided sound reasons from a Catholic perspective on why this decision failed on Christian grounds. I've simply been trying to show that it has failed on educational and adminsitrative grounds as well. 

[The ideal of the church's moral code] doesn't work for people who are cohabiting, remarried without an annument, taking contraceptives daily or who just don't feel they believe what they did was wrong and can express a "firm purpose of amendment".

People who are cohabiting, remarried without an annulment or taking contraceptives daily are not abiding by the church's moral code.  It's not that the code "doesn't work", it's that they've chosen not to follow it.  To note this isn't to condemn people in these situations; it's just a factual description.

That some, even many, people choose not to follow the ideal of the moral code doesn't mean that the moral code has no validity or is unrealistic for everyone. 

The church must meet such people where they are.  Not condemn them, not set preconditions for membership - it must meet them where they are.  

 The church has life-giving remedies for those situations, to realign those folks with the moral code e.g. get married, stop cohabiting, get an annulment, stop taking contraception.  People get married,  stop cohabiting, get annulments, and stop taking contraception all the time - it is no exaggeration to say that these things happen every day.  There is nothing unrealistic about any of these things.  

However, these things do require that people re-examine their lives, their assumptions, their values.  It requires that they change.  This is, in fact, part and parcel of "accompanying them on their journey" - meeting them where they are, and then inviting them to direct their journey toward deeper discipleship.  In my view, "accompanying them on their journey" doesn't mean " blessing, praising and promoting their sinful choices".


Having followed the comment thread and rereading Greg Kandra's piece cited in the article, I believe Kandra's advice is just right, not just as "public relations," but also as the right Catholic Christian moral approach to this vexing situation. Just "not firing her" is not a viable response. The Catholic moral teaching on sex outside of marriage, at least until when and if it is changed, must be upheld by a Catholic school; so, dismissal is fully justified. However, how that dismissal takes place, with support and compassion for the pregnant woman, is also essential in upholding a total Catholic Christian response: severance pay, continuation of medical benefits, counseling if requested, etc., as Kendra recommends.

In terms of public relations, I think the Church should set up a sort of assembly line of cute kids, animals, and disabled people for the pope to kiss--keep 'em coming, and the good will generated might be able to keep up with the bad stuff.

Thank you, Angela for pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.  

And it seems very likely that there is more hypocrisy going on in this situation besides the unwarranted righteousness of those who continuously give a pass to bishops who protected child molesters. Is there hypocrisy in action in the school itself?  How many of the faculty are breaking the "morals" clause and living as Catholics "should"? Are polygraphs going to become standard operating procedure to weed out all of those staff members who violate the "morals" clause in the contract?

How many have engaged in extra-marital sex, whether married or single? Do any of the men watch or buy porn? Is sex the only "morals" factor that "counts'?  Do they inquire as to whether anyone abuses a family member,  physically or emotionally?  Do they ask if anyone cheats on their income taxes? Do they check to see how many give to charity?   How many drink too much or smoke pot or abuse  prescription painkillers or other substances? Are any members of the faculty obese and perhaps guilty of gluttony, a capital sin? How about those who judge, who throw stones, who paint the scarlet letter on a single pregnant woman?  Any capital sins involved with the judgment and condemnation of another for her "sin"?  Does "pride" come to mind?

Plus ça change...  

Decades ago, when I was a teen-ager in a very small, public school (300 students), one of the young female teachers suddenly vanished.  She was pregnant.  She vanished, but her boyfriend, another young teacher, remained.  This was a public school, she was a Southern Baptist, and the teacher who was the father of her baby was a Catholic, a recent graduate of a Jesuit university in a nearby city. But this was the 60s and even though this was a public school, she was forced to leave (I don't know if it was her own decision or if the school fired her), while he was free to continue his life as always. When the girlfriend of the high school's hero quarterback got pregnant, her father quit his job, the family sold their house, and they moved hundreds of miles away because of the condemnation and judgment they faced for their daughter's "immorality".  The boyfriend continued to be cheered at Friday night games and was honored at the sports banquet.

It's still Hester who pays the price while Dimmesdale gets off. c'est le même chose.

What does "pro-life" actually mean to Catholics who would fire a single pregnant woman?

Are they going to continue to pay her?  Will her health care benefit continue to be susidized?  I really would like to know the answers to these questions, because it is important knowing how to "judge" the decision of the Judges in this case.

What a "teaching moment"!  What will the young students remember down the road in 4-6 years? Will some be frightened away from pre-marital sex because of what happened to their teacher? Probably some will, especially while still in high school. But, govt data indicates that at least 95% will become sexually active within about 2 years after high school. Perhaps, remembering this teacher, most will use reliable birth control.  

But what of those some who do slip up and get pregnant? Will any young woman who finds herself pregnant and single, remembering what happened to her teacher when she was in middle school,  decide that she may have little choice but to keep quiet and have an abortion?  Will she think that an abortion is the only option because she would not then have to face judgment and condemnation within her Catholic community, risk becoming an outcast, and perhaps also have to deal with derailing her education, her job, her life. Will she  be be able to support herself or will she be looking at a lifetime of poverty for herself and her child?

So, one lesson may have been learned by the students in the school and community  - if you're going to have sex while single, make sure you are using reliable birth control every single time!  And if you get pregnant while single, don't expect any compassion, support or help from the Catholic community - there is a better chance that these will be found in the secular world instead.

What other lessons are being internalized?  In a few more years, even the 6th graders will be out of high school.  How many will become "nones'?  Studies of the skyrocketing numbers of "nones" and "spiritual but not religious"  have discovered that while most do believe in God, and in "morality", they refuse to have anything to do with what they see as the institutionalized hypocrisy of organized religion.  How many future "nones" have been created by this decision?  Young people's understanding of 'morality" has less to do with sexual behavior than with how one treats other human beings.  These students will always remember how the Catholic authorities treated this young woman.

A Christ-like response would have been to find a way to preserve the woman's livelihood, ensure her health and welfare as well as that of her coming child, and model true compassion. A couple of people suggested that she begin maternity leave now, with full pay and benefits.  A good idea.  And maybe the school could also throw her a shower.


Abe: ... and pregant women! See picture number 10 on


Anne C, good response except for this little onesided view. "Do any of the men watch or buy porn?" In this era I think it fair to ask Do any of the men or women watch or buy porn? 

I have another question for this group? Do you think the same complaint would have occurred if the person had been the school secretary or custodian? Hmmmm.....I doubt it. 

Hypocrisy abounds. The land of the 'nones' looks awfully inviting.

John B, you are right - I stand corrected. From what I have read in the press, about 30% of those who use  porn are women.

As far as becoming a "none" or SBNR goes, why would anyone be surprised that this is becoming the spirituality of choice for so many, especially for the young who have grown up with no escape from the assaults of the culture wars"?  I am a woman in my 60s and I'm so turned off by the culture wars, especially those within the Catholic church and also outside of it, promulgated mostly by the bishops , that I can barely stay "churched".  I finally sought a (perhaps temporary, perhaps permanent) haven in the Episcopal church because I could no longer live with my conscience in supporting the Catholic church in so many things, but especially because of this - it is a church whose top leadership has STILL refused to hold a single bishop accountable for enabling the sexual abuse of young people. It is a church whose top leadership STILL permits Bishop Finn to retain his position, and still has failed to honor the request of the Dominican Republic to extradite the Papal Nuncio to face charges there of procuring boys for sex - hiding behind the Vatican's "diplomatic immunity".  

But, there is no outrage about this among Catholics in everyday life it seems, nor among those in postitions of "leadership".  Instead, they fire teachers who are pregnant while single, who marry their gay partners, who dare express an opinion not in conformity with the "magisterium" such as the notion that women are fully made in God's image and to deny them a sacrament because of gender is a sin.  Daring to speak out about this and similar matters means risking one's job. But if you are a bishop and you hid the crimes of your priests by transferring them from parish to parish and school to school, it's just fine.  The job is secure for bishops UNLESS they too dare suggest that women should have access to the sacrament of Holy Orders. Then they may be gone - just ask Bishop Morris of Australia.

But I'm getting off subject - except that all of these situations - firing the teacher, firing the Bishop in Australia, and failing to hold accountable bishops who facilitated sexual abuse -  have one thing in common - they are unchristian examples of sheer hypocrisy.

it really is too bad that teachers in Catholic schools in the U.S. have not organized themselves into a National Catholic Teachers' Union. Then maybe Superintendent's would think twice about  taking such action. 

And Wayne Sheridan, as most here understand firing was NOT the ONLY option. It is only in the mind of those who see the world in black and white terms. 

Anne, we are birds of a feather, or should I say Catholic birds of a feather! 

I agree with clare free.  Why not be pro-life?  Show support for this teacher by keeping her in her current poistion and send the students a message.  Not only would the young women and men hear that staetment, but they would have a very real example of difficulties of pregnancy and of single household parenting.  The younger students may also get to experience some of the joy one receives by caring for infants and toddlers with mother and child close by.

Jim Pauwels wrote, quoting me, [The ideal of the church's moral code] doesn't work for....


Jim, I'm sorry I wasn't clear and you misunderstood what I wrote, but the bit you added in brackets isn't what I was referring to. 


What I was trying to get across is that saying that confession is always available doesn't work for people who are in situations that they feel unable to change.


My sense of Francis statement was that we should accompany those people on their way and welcome them rather than pushing them away.


i can see from your post that you are doing that accompanying, 


i do worry about the attitude that we should set very high goals that we know you will often not be able to meet - and will commit you to Hell when you do - but it's OK because you can always go to confession. 


That's what I was trying to say doesn't work for everyone


That's why I said "Maybe we need to think a bit about what is [objectively] a mortal sin versus a venial sin and be clearer about subjective sin versus objective sin."







"it is a church whose top leadership has STILL refused to hold a single bishop accountable for enabling the sexual abuse of young people. It is a church whose top leadership STILL permits Bishop Finn to retain his position,"

The bishop should retain his position, the teacher should not.

Complexity . . .

I have another question for this group? Do you think the same complaint would have occurred if the person had been the school secretary or custodian? Hmmmm.....I doubt it. 


Fontbonne Academy (Catholic girls school), in Boston, has had a discrimination complaint filed against it because they hired a new food services manager after several interviews, and then fired him (or "withdrew the job offer") two days later, when he listed his husband as his emergency contact. 

“She said the Catholic religion doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, and that was her excuse. She said, ‘We cannot hire you,’ ” Barrett said in an interview in the Boston offices of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which is representing him.

Ann O said  "Complexity . . ."

You did mean hypocrisy, didn't you?  Or clerical privilige, or "good old boy network" self-protection, or any number of other terms.