Thursday, January 24, 2013

In which I disagree with Zippy Catholic

I have long admired many of the writings of the anonymous Catholic blogger who goes by the name "Zippy Catholic."  His writings on torture, for instance, helped to convince me that torture really is evil and there's just no other way of viewing the matter.

But I have disagreed with him on other important issues, such as his view of women's suffrage, which seems to me to be rather extreme.  Today's disagreement stems from this post, which he kindly linked to in the comment boxes of our ongoing discussion on this blog as to whether or not a Catholic school should fire an unwed pregnant teacher for the sin of being visibly pregnant:
To make a long story short, a Catholic school hired an unwed first grade teacher.  The unwed teacher became pregnant, in violation of her contract which has a morals clause prohibiting fornication.  The school let her go – really she let herself go – in compliance with her contract terms.

I’m with the school on this one.

I know all the arguments – we’ve argued about similar situations before. But I can’t get to where the right choice is to condone manifest grave sin and scandal around children because there are hostages involved. And to offer her a different, low profile, “back office” job for which she was not hired, so the school now has to figure out how to carry an extra salary for someone they don’t need and didn’t hire and go hire another teacher, is just capitulation to extortion because there is a hostage – her unborn child – involved.

Giving an unmarried pregnant woman a make-work job is not appropriate and likely not financially feasible.  Referring her to a crisis pregnancy center is the right, merciful, and just response. Would the school’s detractors suggest that the diocese hire all the unmarried pregnant women in the diocese?
Zippy then goes on to suggest that it would be really merciful (though above and beyond the call of duty) for the school to let the woman interview for a back-office job only if there happened to be one available, and if she knew she might not get hired anyway and had the right attitude about it all. Mercy, in this context, seems to be akin to dangling the carrot of hope attached to the stick of shame and derision, which I must confess seems like a novel use of the term to me; in fact, if the school let her interview for the job while having no real intention of hiring her ("I'm sorry, but you don't seem to meet our requirement that candidates must not be guilty of visible mortal sin," etc.) there might be an element of intrinsically evil deceit in such a ruse.

I asked a question of Zippy in his comment box, and I would like to reformulate that question here to throw it out for general discussion:

If it is consistent with Catholic values for Catholic employers to fire unwed women who become pregnant (while still unmarried) during their employment, how far does this right and duty go?

Should only Catholic parishes and Catholic schools get to fire unwed pregnant employees?

Should Catholic hospitals get to fire unwed pregnant employees?

Should private Catholic-owned businesses (e.g., restaurants, Catholic bookstores, etc.) get to fire unwed pregnant employees?

Should any or all of these businesses make it a practice to fire Catholic men who have abandoned their families via divorce (esp. in situations where the wife is clearly the innocent party)?  Isn't it better to send the right moral message that men who have sinned by divorcing their wives are not worthy of working at Catholic schools, etc. than to worry that by depriving these men of income they are hurting the children who will not receive their justly-owed child support?

Or are men exempt from being held accountable by their employers for their visible mortal sins?  Or would Zippy, or anyone else, say that unwed pregnancy is really the only truly visible mortal sin, and thus it's okay to hold single women to a standard no other person is ever held to?

I'll be especially interested to hear the answers to these questions from those who participated in the original discussion here.

13 comments:

zippycatholic said...

Thanks for the kind words.

such as his view of women's suffrage, which seems to me to be rather extreme

FWIW, this post states my position better than those two earlier ones.

if the school let her interview for the job while having no real intention of hiring her ("I'm sorry, but you don't seem to meet our requirement that candidates must not be guilty of visible mortal sin," etc.) there might be an element of intrinsically evil deceit in such a ruse.

Agreed. It would have to be a legitimate interview for a legitimate job, with some expectation that she could get the offer.

To your following "Should" questions, I answer "yes". Not that those actions should be required in some mindless way, mind you, but that depending (as always) on circumstances they can be morally good actions -- as I am convinced is true, or certainly very defensible, in this particular case.

Or are men exempt from being held accountable by their employers for their visible mortal sins?

Not at all. See here.

Turmarion said...

If it is consistent with Catholic values for Catholic employers to fire unwed women who become pregnant (while still unmarried) during their employment, how far does this right and duty go?

I'd say it's consistent with Catholic values only to the extent that it's a case of scandal--teacher got pregnant by student, or by priest, or something spectacular like that. If there's no law broken (e.g. underage person involved, etc.), I'd say it's preferable to keep the person on, if possible; and if there are reasons not to (once more, scandal), then the Church should try to help the person find other employment and perhaps help them with expenses in the meantime.

Should only Catholic parishes and Catholic schools get to fire unwed pregnant employees?

Broadly, yes--if the Catholic identity is more remote than that, the organization doesn't get a pass, though there are gray areas.

Should Catholic hospitals get to fire unwed pregnant employees?

As I said over on Rod's blog, Catholic hospitals have hardly any Catholic identity any more, so I'd say no. If they became more closely affiliated to the Church and more clearly Catholic in practice, then that might be different; but as it is now, I'd say no.

Should private Catholic-owned businesses (e.g., restaurants, Catholic bookstores, etc.) get to fire unwed pregnant employees?

A Catholic bookstore is a gray area, but for secular businesses in general, I'd say absolutely no. If you've got a grocery store or a restaurant or some such, you don't get to let your religious sensibilities enter into the mix. If you can't reconcile your conscience, then you need to find another line of work where the issue doesn't come up.

Should any or all of these businesses make it a practice to fire Catholic men who have abandoned their families via divorce (esp. in situations where the wife is clearly the innocent party)?

If they're going to fire the single mother, then yes, they ought to be consistent. In the real world, not making this up, we had a priest and a deacon in our diocese who'd been married and divorced, and then later accepted for ordination. No leg to stand on there.

Isn't it better to send the right moral message that men who have sinned by divorcing their wives are not worthy of working at Catholic schools, etc. than to worry that by depriving these men of income they are hurting the children who will not receive their justly-owed child support?

If they're going to be consistent, yes. Now of course, I'd say that mercy should be shown all around; but in every Catholic parish I've ever been in, there are divorced and remarried people in good standing all over the place. Also, in my diocese, no lie, we have two active priests in good standing, one of whom is a parish priest, who were caught in a park exposing themselves publicly. With things like the pregnant single teacher, though, people get all upset.

Or would Zippy, or anyone else, say that unwed pregnancy is really the only truly visible mortal sin, and thus it's okay to hold single women to a standard no other person is ever held to?

I'm with you on this, Erin, but unfortunately there is a distressing number who hold views like Zippy's out there.

BTW, counterexample: In one church in my diocese, the director of religious education divorced her husband and got pregnant by the man she left him for (with whom she'd been having an affair already). I'm not sure if the pregnancy was before or after she civilly married the new beau. Anyway, she left the parish after several months and moved to a different town, but the parish didn't fire her. I don't know all the details, but I think they let her stay on at the parish until she got her affairs (no pun intended) settled and moved on to a new (non-church related) job. Years later I heard that she'd left the Church and become Orthodox. Go figure.

freddy said...

I, too have generally a great deal of respect for Zippy, and found myself scratching my head over his response.

In particular, I found his use of the word "hostages" to be odd. It seems as though he is implying that making any decisions based on what may be best for the unborn children would be improper -- that as "hostages" they must be ignored and the woman held to her contract -period.

In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya "I don't think that word means what you think it means."

In law enforcement, for example, hostage situations are treated very differently than regular infractions of the law; with special negotiators and procedures. Every effort is made to keep the hostages safe and unharmed.

The answer, then, is yes, if the Church is truly pro-life, then every effort should be made to care for the unborn "hostages," even if it means special treatment for a woman "taken in sin."

Kevin said...

It's obvious to me that a Catholic school teacher should be held to a higher moral standard with respect to the visible manifestations of grave sin, because of their role shaping & interacting young souls. I don't see a particular need to fire someone whose job description involves mostly interacting with adults. Any Catholic employer would be within their rights to fire someone for that reason, but it does not appear necessary, at least to me.

Contrary to Zippy's view, I wouldn't allow the teacher to interview for the back office job. This is not because an unwed pregnant woman should always be excluded from a back office job, but because in this case the children already know her, so there is a much greater likelihood of scandal.

Since you bring it up, I am happy to see any Catholic teacher fired for frivolously divorcing their spouse. I don't know why you keep bringing us back to this issue. Are you hoping that a straw man will show up and say that men should be immune from the natural consequences of their sins because men are better than women so there?

Your question about who would say that unwed pregnancy deserves special punishment is laughable, preposterous, really. No fair reading of Zippy Catholic or my comments would cause somebody's mind to go there. It seems to me that you desperately want the conversation to go there because that's the only way you can maintain the stance you started the conversation with, that this is somehow an issue of whether there is a double standard. It just isn't. If "Men can't get pregnant" is an unfair double standard, you need to take it up with The Universe, not a school that applies an objective standard like "Don't cause scandal by visibly committing serious sins."

zippycatholic said...

Turmarion quotes Erin's question in the OP:
Or would Zippy, or anyone else, say that unwed pregnancy is really the only truly visible mortal sin, and thus it's okay to hold single women to a standard no other person is ever held to?

And then, ignoring that I had answered in the negative, writes:
I'm with you on this, Erin, but unfortunately there is a distressing number who hold views like Zippy's out there.

In case anyone didn't notice, this is fundamentally dishonest rhetoric: an attempt to cement the impression that I hold the straw man position, even though I expressly explained that I do not.

zippycatholic said...

http://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/double-clutching-the-standard-how-retaining-fornicators-leads-to-more-abortion/

irksome1 said...

The arguments offered here aren't the right way to respond to Zippy. I'm also unimpressed with appeals to the evils others commit and get away with. This is a failure to deal with a case of actual, manifest sin in favor of preventing hypothetical or speculative sins.

Zippy's causes for concern, namely scandal, human dignity and the application of legal consequences, are all legitimate and have yet to be adequately addressed. So, what goes unnoticed is that he appears to apply them selectively and attempts to redefine "mercy" in order to preserve them.

There is a danger of two potential scandals. The first, which is of concern to Zippy, is the potential that others (students, fellow teachers) will be led into fornication if the teacher in question keeps her job. In the second, there is the potential that others (Zippy calls them "nameless," but, in practice, the same students and teachers affected by the first example) will abort if the teacher loses her job. Pointing out the possibility of this second potential scandal is, for Zippy, a failure to treat those individuals as responsible moral agents. He does not explain why his supposed "infantilization" does not apply to those individuals in the first instance and therefore implies a strange moral hierarchy in which fornication is more a cause for moral concern than abortion.

To use human dignity as a basis to deprive a mother and her unborn child of the means to support themselves is strange indeed. Zippy frames this as an instance of hostage taking and the bare fact of this woman's recourse to the courts seems to support this sensibility. Still it seems lacking. He insists that the specific human dignity he's protecting is the woman's (to whom he affixes the ontological label "fornicator" elsewhere in his comments) but if human dignity does not mean the right to support oneself and one's child, then it's hollow. He may object that he means that the woman does not have a right to this particular post at this particular institution (and he'd be right) but if dignity means anything at all, someone, somewhere would be obliged to respect it by providing her an income sufficient to her needs. Logically, the institution that has a preexisting relationship to the woman might be in the best position to give her that or, at least, assist her in securing such an income elsewhere.

The strangest concern of Zippy's is his insistence that this woman be exposed to every legal consequence of her moral lapse and that this is "merciful." It is a strange mercy that costs us nothing and an impotent forgiveness that gives nothing. Moreover, he's inconsistent in the application of brute legality. Strictly speaking, allowing the woman to interview for another position at the same institution is a tease since, under the terms of the law, she's already breached her employment contract and offering her another contract is imprudent, at least, irrespective of her qualifications. The only way around that would be to forgive the previous breach of contract and thus "infantilize" her.

Zippy protests that he does not require that people "get everything they deserve" but seems blind to the reality that this is seems to be the substance of his "merciful" ethic. If every consequence required by the law must be applied or risk offending dignity, the result is that dignity can only be completely respected in Hell since every remittance of the consequences of sin would "infantilize" man.

To be sure, true mercy would require that the person guilty of an offense both acknowledge guilt and be prepared and willing to shoulder the consequences. If these are lacking, leniency could be interpreted as an excuse. Also, a law that is never enforced isn't a law at all and this "mercy" would indeed be fraudulent. Maybe this is what Zippy meant but, if so, he said it poorly.

Tony said...

This case is based (and will be won) on the strength of a promise. This lady signed a contract with a morality clause. She had to know, as she was illicitly "boinking" that if she got pregnant she could lose her job.

So she got pregnant. And she lost her job. Action. Consequence. The children are learning two things. Their teacher did something wrong, and now she has to pay for it.

If a man violated his morality clause, he should be fired also. If someone is in any other business, Catholic or otherwise, and they sign a morality clause and violate it, they should be fired too.

We can pray for her soul. If she went to confession, her sin has been wiped clean. But there's still temporal punishment that has to be satisfied. This is the whole concept of purgatory.

There is not only her to consider. It is the souls of the little ones who might be led astray should they not be taught properly.

Kirt Higdon said...

Someone on Mark's blog raised the interesting point that this sort of situation arises more frequently and more personally with families. To use the exact same sin (although the same could be asked of many other sins) would you kick a pregnant single daughter out of the house lest nurturing her with support and shelter set a bad example for other younger kids?

zippycatholic said...

Irksome1:
To be sure, true mercy would require that the person guilty of an offense both acknowledge guilt and be prepared and willing to shoulder the consequences. If these are lacking, leniency could be interpreted as an excuse. Also, a law that is never enforced isn't a law at all and this "mercy" would indeed be fraudulent.

Her lawsuit and public comments are a hint here. This specific case is not about naive conceptions of mercy, and pretending that it is, is harmful to the common good. In my most recent post on the incident I explain why capitulation to her demands puts fuel on the fire for the very same forces that drive legalized abortion.

Kirt Higdon:
would you kick a pregnant single daughter out of the house lest nurturing her with support and shelter set a bad example for other younger kids?

That depends. Is she genuinely repentant, or does she insist on a right for her boyfriend to sleep over and threaten a lawsuit if you don't comply? Does the structure of the law mean that she is 'bargaining in the shadow of the law' when she makes her demands? Does she threaten to abort her child if you don't do as she says? These kinds of considerations make genuine mercy trickier than the school's detractors in this case seem willing to even consider.

I would definitely consider exile to a nunnery for an unrepentant pregnant daughter. It would be disrespectful of the daughter herself to capitulate to her demands on some naive, false conception of 'mercy'.

Pat said...

I'm still thinking. But your phrase, "the carrot of hope attached to the stick of shame and derision" deserves applause.

You have my admiration as awriter.

Pat said...

It causes me to wonder if our civil laws should include pregnant women as a protected class? That is, if I can't fire you because you are black, or because you are handicapped, or because you are Jewish, should I be able to fire you because you are pregnant? I'm not sure. I hired someone the other day and later found out that his political views are diametrically opposed to mine and my other employee. In a very small office, this will likely cause some unnecessary anxiety. I don't want that drama at the office. that's why God gave me the internet. I won't do it, but I believe I can fire him. His political affiliation is not a protected class - and it shouldn't be. Shouldn't a pregnant woman be a protected class?

Kirt Higdon said...

Zippy,

Your idea of mercy strikes me as pretty harsh. Clearly a parent should not abet fornication and I the threat of a lawsuit to let a boyfriend sleep over is quite fanciful, though the imagination of lawyers is never to be underestimated. But outsourcing your parental mercy (and responsibility) to the local convent? C'mon. I think the best thing to do is pray for your kids, keep in contact, support them with physical necessities when necessary, and occasionally remind them gently of their duties to the Lord. As St. Ambrose put it to St. Monica, "Speak less to
Augustine about God and more to God about Augustine."