Kathleen Quinlan of Kettering, who has since delivered twin girls, said in the Dec. 14 lawsuit that her firing for moral reasons was discriminatory because male employees who engage in premarital sex don’t face the same consequences “insomuch as they do not show outward signs of engaging in sexual intercourse (i.e., pregnancy).”The article linked to above goes on to compare this case to other firings involving Catholic school teachers, one married and one single, who used the gravely immoral IVF method to achieve a pregnancy. I don't think the cases are similar at all--but we'll get back to that.
Quinlan was hired on July 25, 2011, and started work on Aug. 11, 2011. She became pregnant that fall, according to the lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
On Dec. 29, 2011, as her pregnancy was becoming apparent, she met with Principal Brett Devitt, told him about her pregnancy and offered to “take a ‘behind the scenes’ role at Ascension until she gave birth,” the lawsuit said. Devitt told her that “Ascension would do everything possible to support her,” the suit said, but that he needed to confer with Ascension Pastor Chris Worland and officials of the 19-county archdiocese, which runs the Catholic school system.
In a second meeting later that day, Worland and Devitt “told Ms. Quinlan that, after relating her pregnancy to the archdiocese, it was decided she could no longer work for Ascension School,” according to the lawsuit. She was told to clean out her classroom within three days, so her replacement could begin on Jan. 3. Her firing was effective Dec. 31, 2011, and she consequently lost her medical insurance in January.
A Dec. 31 termination letter told Quinlan she was fired for violating a section of her employment contract that requires employees to “comply with and act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church,” the lawsuit said. Quinlan’s attorney argued that, “as a non-ministerial employee, (she) was not subject to a ‘morality clause.’”
In looking at this case, I want to start by saying that the school and archdiocese may quite well be in the clear legally. Voluntary employment agreements tend to get held up in courts, and the right of religious employers to require certain standards of conduct of their employees has also been affirmed in the legal system in recent years.
But even if they are in the clear legally, I could not disagree more with how this is being handled, assuming that all pertinent facts have been reported.
Because, let's face it: firing an unwed pregnant teacher who is expecting twins while turning a blind eye to the married employees who are actively using artificial contraception is the antithesis of building up a culture of life. And unless Catholic schools have changed a great deal since the days when my Catholic school teachers openly mocked my parents for not "knowing how" to avoid having nine children, I'd be willing to bet serious cash that at least one married teacher at Ascension School is using artificial birth control, secure in the knowledge that nobody at the school knows or cares whether or not he or she is doing so.
Ms. Quinlan's offer to take a "behind the scenes" role should have been quietly accepted, end of story. Otherwise the pastor and the archdiocese come off as caring more about appearances than actual morality--and given that artificial contraception was still being openly dispensed at Catholic hospitals in that part of Ohio a decade or so ago, I highly doubt that the real problem here was the shocking fact that Ms. Quinlan engaged in the grave sin of fornication while employed at a Catholic school.
Our Lord had a lot of unkind words for the sort of hypocrites who cared more about how things looked than how they actually were. So unless every single teacher at Ascension School would be willing to sign a public document saying that they have not fornicated, contracepted, or otherwise engaged in grave moral evils while employed at Ascension School, we are left with the inescapable conclusion that what is being punished here is not sinful conduct but visible pregnancy.
It is different to fire teachers who are undergoing IVF treatment, especially if they're talking about it in the community or in the classroom--because IVF is itself the sin, and it's not the kind of sin one commits in the heat of the moment or while, say, under the influence of alcohol or something. In other words, it's a grave violation of the dignity of unborn life committed with great deliberation and planning. And it is just as possible to fire a male employee whose wife is undergoing IVF, or who has hired a surrogate, etc. as to fire a female employee for this sin.
Fornication, while also gravely morally evil, isn't exactly the same in terms of planning and deliberation or in terms of people knowing about it. I was on a forum where this case was being discussed, and a commenter kept insisting that sure, a male teacher could be fired for fornication, because "everybody knows" when someone is engaging in that sort of activity. I was tempted to respond by saying that "everybody knows" is just shorthand for gossip, which drags the unholy trio of scandal, calumny, and detraction into the mix. In other words, no, we can't know a man has been fornicating (short of hiring a private investigator) and we can't know a woman has been, either, if she's willing to add the sin of contraception and/or abortion to the sin of fornication. So we can only fire an unmarried woman for showing up to work visibly pregnant, which is going to place a serious burden on her committment to acting in accordance with the Church's pro-life views, isn't it?
I see no way around this dilemma for Catholic employers except to treat unmarried pregnant employees the way Christ treated the woman caught in adultery: to tell her to sin no more, but to refuse to allow the punishment of the law to fall upon her (especially since the woman caught in adultery's partner-in-crime had apparently fled the scene). There are times when mercy speaks louder than justice, after all.