Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is the unwed fornicator my neighbor?

I'm sure that my regular readers are getting tired of the topic of how a Catholic school should handle a situation in which an unmarried teacher discloses to them that she is pregnant.  I have written several posts on the topic myself, while Zippy Catholic has continued the conversation with these posts (though I realize that it's becoming rather a strain to refer to what's going on at his blog as a "conversation").  At this point I intend for this post to be my last word on the subject for the present time (though, of course, I reserve the right to re-engage should the diocese, say, settle out of court, or should we learn some important details of the lawsuit that haven't yet been made public, and so forth).  I am not commenting any further in Zippy's comment boxes because there is simply no point in doing so; he and his commenters are always welcome to comment here, but one of my blog rules requires commenters to attempt, at least, to be civil to each other, which may not be a comfortable style of conversing for many of his commenters by all appearances.

The reason I want to say anything further at all is that I think that something has gotten lost in all the shouting, which is this: I think we're arguing about two entirely different things.

If you were to frame what we're arguing about in debate-style terms, Zippy's terms would probably go something like this (and he's welcome to correct me if I'm wrong): A Catholic school has the right to require lay teachers to live up to Catholic teaching and has the right to fire them for failing to do so; further, the school exercises this right at their discretion such that no scandal whatsoever is created by allowing married contraceptors (for example) to work openly at the school but by immediately firing any and all unwed pregnant employees.  It is, in fact, morally laudable for a Catholic school to fire an unwed pregnant teacher for the sin of fornication and the fact of visible pregnancy, and the fact that she loses her ability to support her children, her health insurance in the middle of her pregnancy, etc. is her own damned (literally) fault.

But my argument all along has been about this: A Catholic school is not acting in the wisest, kindest, most merciful, or most loving way when they fire an unwed pregnant teacher and cut her off of her health insurance for the sin of fornication as revealed by visible pregnancy.  While they may have the right to do so (and as far as the secular legal right--well, that's what the lawsuit is about, and given the conflict between laws forbidding firing a woman because she is pregnant and laws permitting a ministerial exemption to some civil employment laws in regard to some religious employees, I doubt whether any non-lawyers have really valuable opinions to offer!), that does not make it the right thing to do.

I realize that some people will object here that whatever we have the moral right to do is by definition the right thing to do, but that's not really true.  Joseph, as some people have pointed out in the conversation so far, had the moral right to expose Mary to the law (as the Bible puts it) which in fact would mean handing her over as an adulteress to be stoned.  But the Bible also tells us that Joseph, an upright man, was unwilling to do this.  Instead, he planned to divorce her quietly.  This would quite likely have made him look rather bad, because to divorce her while saying nothing about the child would lead some people to believe that Joseph had simply gotten cold feet about the whole marriage/child thing, and had decided to shirk any responsibility for a child that would be presumed to be his (because if the child weren't his, he would have exposed her to the law, right?--at least, that's what all the virtuous people would say).  But Joseph was apparently willing to put up with wagging tongues and a loss of reputation rather than hand Mary over to the law, an abundance of mercy which was probably as rare in their times as it is in ours.  When the angel made all clear to this dear saint, he welcomed the Blessed Mother into his home without delay, and probably with a mixture of joy and fear at the great role God was calling him to play.

Or, to consider a modern totally fictional hypothetical situation, suppose that I am shopping in a local big-box grocery 'n everything store, and I set my purse on the floor for a moment to try on a sweater, and a thief runs off with my purse.  I raise the hue and cry, the thief is immediately caught, I get my purse back intact, and the thief goes off to the police station--but then I get a call, and I go there, and I find out that if I press theft charges against this man it will trigger one of those "three strikes" laws and he'll go to jail for at least five years.  He's been trying to get his life back together.  He hasn't been arrested in a decade.  He's married, and his wife just gave birth to twins--and he was laid off from his job a week after they were born.  Desperation and the temptation of old habits led him to grab my unguarded bag.

Now, in this totally hypothetical situation, we can take for granted that I don't know for sure that the thief is really repentant.  I don't know if getting off without consequences (or maybe a plea of disorderly conduct and a fine, or something) is really going to help him reform.  I do know that taking him, his potential future income and insurance, etc. away from his wife and their two infants is going to hurt the innocent--but that's not my fault; it's his.  I have the moral right to insist that he be charged with theft.  But is that the wisest, kindest, most merciful, most loving thing to do to this little group of neighbors I never knew?

Getting back to the actual case, Zippy has been making (from what I can decipher) a sort of circular argument: the unwed teacher has proved she wasn't worthy of any mercy by suing the school for not offering her any mercy.  But I can't help but wonder if the lawsuit itself would ever have happened if the school and the parish and the pastor and anybody else in a situation to help would have done something besides kick her out and wash their hands of her?  She asked to be allowed to take a non-classroom position: was there really not one such job in the whole of Ascension School or Ascension Parish (let alone the Archdiocese of Cincinnati) that she could do?  Is there not a single parishioner at Ascension Parish who owns and operates a business who could have offered her a job?  Did anybody suggest a fundraiser to help her pay her medical bills (and the cost for hospital delivery of twins for someone without health insurance will range from $10,000 to about $18,000--and that's for a delivery with no complications and a quick release; add an additional $2,000 for uninsured prenatal care)?  Did anybody--her former colleagues at the school, the parishioners at Ascension, anybody--throw a baby shower to provide some diapers and baby supplies, at the very least?  Maybe all of that and more was done for her, at which point the lawsuit does, indeed, become a head-scratcher, but somehow I think that when this woman implies that she was pretty much abandoned by Ascension School and parish, she means it.

Is the unwed fornicator--to us a term that keeps cropping up on Zippy's blog--not my neighbor?  Does her sin of fornication absolve me of any duty whatsoever, even the common duties of offering mercy, love, dignity and respect I owe to my brothers and sisters?  Are her innocent children justly treated as invisible and unworthy as the right and just consequence of their mother's (and their father's--let us not forget their father's) sin?

The Golden Rule compels me to say that as I would wish to be treated with great love and mercy in a crisis pregnancy situation, so ought I to treat anybody else in that situation, and the rest is just a matter of detail.  If Zippy and his commenters can say with full honesty and truthfulness that they sincerely hope that they would be summarily fired if they were caught committing a grave sin of any kind, regardless of the impact their loss of income would have on their dependents, then they are in the clear to insist that this is how this Catholic school should treat unwed mothers.  If I said any such thing myself, though, I would be lying, because I always hope for mercy beyond my deserts, and try my best to offer it to others.  When I fail it's because I'm a sinner who fails to live up to her principles, not because attempting to offer mercy to my neighbor is ever, in my way of looking at things, the wrong choice for a sincere follower of Christ.

UPDATE:  A reader who is also a family member of mine has sent this link to an article about this case in the Dayton Daily News.  If the newspaper quotes the archdiocesan spokesman correctly, he is saying that Kathleen Quinlan's out-of-wedlock pregnancy (note: not her sin of fornication) was the problem here:
A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati said Thursday it’s “very unfortunate” a pregnant, unwed first-grade teacher at Kettering’s Ascension School lost her job and medical benefits when church officials fired her. But Dan Andriacco said the archdiocese did the right thing because Kathleen Quinlan’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy would set “a horrible example to the children.”

Read the rest here.

I notice in the article that the lawsuit is claimed to be because, according to Miss Quinlan's lawyer, the school takes no steps to make sure that male employees aren't fornicating, which makes the situation run afoul of federal pregnancy discrimination laws.  Zippy and others have characterized this as Miss Quinlan herself claiming that she should get away with sin because others do, but I see this as simply pointing out that federal laws against pregnancy discrimination make it illegal to fire pregnant women for the fact of their pregnancy, and federal laws are not the same thing as moral policies enacted by the Church.  If it is somehow against Church teaching for Catholics to request legal clarification about whether or not federal anti-discrimination laws apply to lay employees in a Church school which employs both Catholics and non-Catholics, this is the first I've ever heard of it.

UPDATE 2:  I've closed comments on this post.  Since I posted it yesterday, Zippy has posted no less than three posts attempting to tear this post and some of my comments to shreds; my continued "intransigence" on the subject apparently annoys him.   How he can call it "intransigence" is beyond me since we're not arguing about moral principles but about the practical application of things like "love" and "mercy;" we disagree about that, and I respect that Zippy himself and some of his and my commenters (Scott W.) prefer the love and mercy of being fired for a mortal sin and would wish for that for themselves and for their loved ones as the only sort of love and mercy, but I fail to see how that specific practical application of "love" and "mercy" is the only kind available for Catholics to offer each other in all circumstances.

More to the point, I'm tired of being called a man-hater and an evil feminist for thinking that it's sort of a nice idea to treat pregnant women kindly regardless of their marital status, so I'm done with this discussion.  Of course, the fact that I'm retreating from the lists means that his cadre of yes-men and women can now claim victory, which I fully expect they will do.  Silly, really, because arguing about what love and mercy means isn't really the sort of thing about which one claims victory; all I know is that I prefer the kind of love and mercy I've talked about, and wish those who can only imagine or appreciate a sterner, harsher, colder sort of love nothing but the best of what they wish for.


Turmarion said...

What would be interesting to know, and what none of the articles I can find about the case indicate, is the former teacher's exact status. In short, is she still in relationship with (cohabiting with) the father? Or did they break up? Or was it a random fling?

The answer wouldn't change the morality of the situation in that I agree with you that there is an obligation in charity and mercy to a woman with young children, even if she sinned. The relevance is this: If she's in an established long-term relationship with the father that is essentially marriage in all but name, then the harsh attitude of her detractors, and any calumnies hurled against her, are even less called for.

Yes, unmarried cohabiting parenthood is not ideal, shouldn't be encouraged, and marriage is better both morally and practically. However, the thinly-veiled attitude of some of the detractors is to more or less paint her as a scheming slut who deserves nothing. The fact is, we don't know that. To be cohabiting with a child or children is still a state of sin, but it's far from sluttitude.

In fact, such attitudes are counterproductive. My wife has a close relative who cohabited monogamously for over fifteen years, having a child, and then last year finally got married. Sure, it would have been better if they'd got married to begin with; but if people were treating them like scum and pariahs and essentially acting like Zippy & co., the strains might have caused a breakup. How would that have been preferable?

Now of course it may be that the situation in question was the result of a fling, or that it wasn't a fling, but the woman and the man broke up. I don't think that would alter the moral analysis you give, Erin; but the fact that the detractors don't even consider the possibility that she's actually in a quasi-marital relationship, or that such a relationship, imperfect as it may be, ought to be encouraged for the sake of the children and in the hopes of eventual marriage. That speaks even less well for their side in this.

Anonymous said...

If Zippy and his commenters can say with full honesty and truthfulness that they sincerely hope that they would be summarily fired if they were caught committing a grave sin of any kind, regardless of the impact their loss of income would have on their dependents, then they are in the clear to insist that this is how this Catholic school should treat unwed mothers.

I'll go you one better--If I had publicly disgraced the school, I'd offer my resignation and save them the trouble of having to fire me and giving me severance.

JoAnna Wahlund said...

So, I'm curious. Do you think that Catholic organizations should never fire anyone, for any reason, out of charity? Especially if that person has a family to support?

Svar said...

Erin, with a few exceptions, I do not understand what exactly you find questionable about Zippy's behavior. As I remember you were the one calling names and questioning his faith.

Ultimately, the woman signed a contract. Does that not matter? Does God expect us to not keep our word?

Btw, Erin, I do think that you are good woman(unlike some who have been demonizing you and whom I've defended you against)but I do believe that you are in error. Is a school required to so mercy or is that just an indulgence that the school has the option of doing?

Also, I do think that the woman made a mistake and that she can and will be forgiven, but I don't see why the school has any obligation to show mercy to someone who seems unrepentant.

Anonymous said...

Responses here:


and here:


Red Cardigan said...

Romishgraffiti, thanks for your response, but my question really is this: if your present employer came up to you today and said, "You've been caught committing a mortal sin. Buh-bye now," and that was it for your job and your means of supporting your family and paying their medical bills, would you be okay with it? Because that's the standard everyone's applauding the school for upholding, even though they are upholding it with absurd unevenness (again, show me that they're requiring their married employers, especially their non-Catholic married employers, to avoid any and all artificial contraception! I guarantee they're not doing it).

We might as well rename these so-called morality clauses "Hypocrisy clauses" and have done with it. Because nobody really cares at all whether or not the school teachers are behaving morally in their private lives; they just care about whether or not the school will be embarrassed by proof that they aren't.

Red Cardigan said...

JoAnna, of course I think there can be grounds for a Catholic employer to fire somebody. But, you know, I'm becoming a depraved liberal about all this :) and have started to think that we should mainly fire people for reasons related to job performance, or perhaps for criminal activity outside of work. If we're going to enforce morality clauses, I think we should be pretty careful about them, and what I'd really like to see is a primary bias in favor of helping the person to see their sins and repent of them instead of tossing them out of our purely-pure associations at the first sign of gravely sinful conduct. I like the Church's approach to sin (sincere Confession, repentance, being forgiven etc.) better.

But then again, I also see Catholic schools these days as hoity-toity pricy private school options to help predominantly white Catholics escape the dysfunction of the local public schools, so perhaps that's one reason why I snort a bit at the "morality clause" thing. My 9th grade Catholic "health" teacher taught us how to use contraception, made fun of the Church's teaching against it, mocked the "rhythm method" (she'd never heard of NFP), and told us if we had a problem with what she was saying, we could take it up with our religion teacher; she was teaching "health." The bishop was too busy laying down on railroad tracks to protest nuclear weapons to care, and our religion teacher was a former flower-child nun who believed an inner child (a little blond girl, IIRC) lived inside of her and that she was also psychic, so she didn't much care about our grasp of Catholic moral teaching. I have heard NOTHING in the ensuing decades which tells me anything much has changed; in fact, a teacher I know was fired from her job at the Catholic school for the "mortal sin" of teaching children in her biology class that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder.

So, yes, perhaps I'm jaded about this. Perhaps I see the Catholic school as being more concerned that the wealthy benefactors of the ritzy Kettering suburb would be aghast that a dirty unwed pregnant woman would be allowed in the same building as their precious 1.5 darlings (not teaching them, remember, just under the same roof), or possibly worried about the drain on their health plan that her unfortunate reproductive activity would cause. And perhaps this is unfair of me, but I come by my absolute loathing of diocesan Catholic schools completely honestly.

Red Cardigan said...

Svar, if I directly called Zippy a name, I'll apologize. If I recall, though, I just said that I was trying to come up with a reason for his stance other than chauvinism and would appreciate help seeing it. That's not the same thing as calling him a chauvinist, which I did not do. Since his position is still that it's perfectly fine for a school to enforce a morality clause so selectively that 99% of the time only pregnant women will ever be harmed by it I'm still struggling to understand.

But I do believe he is orthodox. I just think that his orthodoxy includes options whereby unwed pregnant women are stashed away in convents to give birth in secret shame--well, he said so in a comment here, referring to how he would hypothetically treat an unrepentant pregnant daughter of his.

And yes, contracts mean things and so do promises, but from what I understand and have been told the sin of fornication does not always occur under carefully planned and premeditates circumstances such that the people involved coldly think things like, "Hmm. If I do this I'll be voluntarily violating my employment contract..." As sins go it's more like the sin of intoxication (again, from what I've been told--I've never committed either of these particular sins, actually), which *some* people may commit quite deliberately on some occasions, but which happens an awful lot just because the person who is drinking isn't paying enough attention to what's going on until it's too late. (And if you combine drinking with two people in love with each other who are alone together, well...)

And maybe Zippy sincerely thinks that anyone who has ever fornicated or been drunk or committed the "solitary vice" or looked at porn or skipped Mass on Sunday without a good reason or committed any other serious sin is by definition unqualified to teach in a Catholic school, but even if you staffed the school with nuns or priests/brothers you couldn't guarantee that they would meet this standard. So what's wrong with being merciful all around, and working with people to conquer their vices one confession/firm purpose of amendment at a time, the way the Church does overall?

catholic traveller said...

This is typical of the problem as I see it with the Catholic hierarchy today. "Cover your butt." I have been in this situation, though as a volunteer, not an employee. I was shown great mercy and love, and it certainly strengthened my resolve to avoid such sin in the future. That is what Christianity is supposed to be about - LOVE. Not "but what will the neighbors think?"

Red Cardigan said...

Over on his blog, Zippy is chiding me for not commenting on a case involving a single male teacher who was fired when he got caught sleeping over at his girlfriend's house (caught by his students, apparently; I haven't read the news article). This puts me in a slight dilemma, since I'm not writing any more right now about the Quinlan case in terms of blog posts and will not reenter his comment boxes on the grounds that to do so would tend to exasperate me. ;)

So I'll comment here.

This is supposed to be a "gotcha" moment. You see, if I say the school in question was right to fire the male fornicator, then I'm clearly biased in favor of women! But if I say that they were wrong, then I clearly hate the Church, or morality clauses, or something!

Let me put it this way: if this man's girlfriend were expecting twins as a result of their illicit night together, and firing him would remove the main financial means of support and health insurance for those twins and their mother, then I would be *exactly* as opposed to his firing as I am to hers.

If, on the other hand, their illicit sex act did not result in pregnancy, then the cases are not the same.

Heck, if Kathleen Quinlan had simply been caught coming out of a boyfriend's house and had NOT become pregnant as a result of their illicit sex act, I'd have less of a problem with the school firing her (though I think the next step is to go after all those married contraceptors--does anyone believe any Catholic school would do that, though?).

Does this mean that I think that pregnant women and infants or people taking care of pregnant women and infants should sometimes get a pass? Yep. And I truly don't care if people think that's somehow an invalid emotional response. We let pregnant women get temporary handicapped stickers for their cars, men used to be taught to open doors for them and give up their seats on a bus or train for them (though nowadays men don't have to be chivalrous because they might inadvertently be chivalrous to fornicators or feminists, and we can't have that!), and in general I think life is nicer and society is better when we don't add to the very real burdens of pregnant women or new moms by treating them as though their condition is automatically obscene and their baby bumps and eventual infants ought to be invisible.

Even if they're not married. And even if they work for a Catholic school.

Zippy can be all coldly logical and orthodox about this, and that's fine. But as someone whose pregnancies were a bit difficult, I can't help but wonder if voluntarily strapping an eight-pound bowling ball to his midsection and then trying to do all of his normal activities for a month might give Zippy some insight as to why I'm so darned obstinate about being nice to pregnant women--yes, even wicked fornicators. He'd never do it, of course, but I smile at the mental image.

vera said...

Seems to me that it all depends on whether she has repented, or continues to sin unrepentantly (by, say, is known to be continuing to sleep with her boyfriend). I am all for human mercy for repentant sinners. The other category is problematic.

Still though, if the school had severance for such cases, the mercy toward the unborn life would be visible, rather than the ostensible meanness of the school (vis a vis the baby).

Anonymous said...

Romishgraffiti, thanks for your response, but my question really is this: if your present employer came up to you today and said, "You've been caught committing a mortal sin. Buh-bye now," and that was it for your job and your means of supporting your family and paying their medical bills, would you be okay with it?

Yes. Of course it would be unpleasant, embarrassing, disruptive and I wouldn't like it, but I should have thought of that before committing the mortal sin and bringing disgrace to myself, the school, and the children. But since I've answered in the affirmative twice now, can I assume that I am "in the clear" now and that I am really willing to subject myself to the same consequences I expect others to receive?

Scott W.

Amy said...

What a wonderful, valuable discussion!!! It would need the wisdom of Solomon, though, to get it completely right.

To err (if indeed it is error) on the side of mercy and health insurance for this unwed mother's prenatal care is all I can think of, myself...

Visiting you from Such a Pretty Bubble, by the way!

Red Cardigan said...

Well, folks, I'm going to close this comment thread now, not because anybody here is misbehaving, but because Zippy continues to pull my comments and feature them in posts on his blog so he can sneer at me and so that his commenters can decide that I'm a secret feminist who will be pro-abortion any minute now (apparently because I think that pregnant women deserve some kindness and consideration now and then--dear heavens, what an evil feminist position to take!).

I have nothing further to say to Zippy, and hope he will find some other heretic to pursue for her intransigence, as I am quite tired of him.