Tuesday, January 8, 2013

When mercy speaks louder than justice

An unmarried Ohio teacher is suing a Catholic school  and the archdiocese for firing her after her unwed pregnancy became apparent:
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).”

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.’”
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.

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.


Rebecca in ID said...

It seems like part of the problem though, in the case of a visibly pregnant unmarried woman, is the scandal to the children. How do you explain to small children why their teacher Miss so-and-so is pregnant even though she's not married? When my children are small, I generally tell them that babies come after marriage and I don't give them details. What do you make of that aspect of it?

Red Cardigan said...

Well, Rebecca, that's where this teacher's offer to take a behind the scenes roll becomes important. She wasn't going to stand in the classroom teaching small children--I'm thinking she might have taken a job in the school office for the duration, perhaps.

But let's say she gracefully accepts the firing. If she's Catholic, must she also change parishes so as not to give scandal to her former students by bringing her babies to Mass on Sundays, having them baptized, etc.? In her new parish does she have to lie and call herself "Mrs. Quinlan" to avoid scandalizing anybody--and isn't that morally problematic as well?

I agree that there are no easy answers here, but again, being pro-life to me means figuring out ways to welcome moms and their babies even when the sin of fornication has led to the conception. Look at it this way: suppose Ms. Quinlan had been raped and was courageously choosing not only to give birth but to raise the children herself--how would the parish have dealt with the situation then?

Alisha De Freitas said...

Erin, I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree with you here. While its an admittedly awkward situation, you're right on how it could and SHOULD have been handled. Mercy, indeed.

Kevin said...

I see a big difference between stoning a woman to death and replacing a teacher with one who is a better role model for the children under the diocese's care.

Has employment at a Catholic school become some kind of entitlement that can't be denied someone?

It's a complete distraction to talk about what hidden sins might be committed by the other teachers. She's not being fired for fornication. She's being fired because her presence causes scandal.

Kevin said...

To come at it another way: Are we going to create make-work jobs with benefits for ALL the single ladies that get pregnant in the diocese? If not, what makes this one special?

freddy said...

Thank you for this. When I first read about this situation, I found it as troubling as you do, and for the same reasons. I still wonder if there is more to the story, as the Archbishop of Cincinnati has seemed to be a very caring and knowledgeable pastor to his flock.
Kevin, I find your attitude troubling. I would think that a mother of twins (or even one baby) without being in a loving marriage would have difficulties enough without losing her livelihood. Knowing a bit about how parish schools work, I doubt anyone would have to “create” a “make-work” job for her – there’s usually plenty to do and she appears already to have some ideas as how to work “behind the scenes.”
Actually, Kevin, I would love for ALL the single ladies who get pregnant in the diocese to be able to support their children with employment. It seems that caring for those at risk, while not in any way compromising her teachings, is in fact the mission of Holy Mother Church.

Kevin said...

Sorry, but this isn't about her.

The parents of the students of this school are paying twice for education -- once through property taxes for the public school system and a second time in tuition to make sure their kids are educated in a Catholic environment. If the school can't even honor that by creating the appearance of commitment to the gospel, it's time to look elsewhere for Catholic education.

Arguments could be made in support of this notion, at great length, but I will not make them, because I didn't arrive at my opinion via lengthy discourse. It is immediately and immanently obvious to me that she should be fired, because the first priority at a Catholic school is the students, not the teachers.

Kevin said...

Out of curiousity, how do you all feel about a priest who knocks up a parishioner? Still fit for duty? Move him to another parish and pretend it didn't happen? Everybody pitch in and help him out financially when he has trouble making his child support payments?

Rebecca in ID said...

Yes, I can see how the behind-the-scenes offer would help with that problem. I'm really not sure how I'd respond to your question about how to solve the ongoing problem of scandal. In previous times, the mother would have given up her children for adoption and I can understand why that would be; on the other hand I am glad women do not feel constrained to this as the only choice. But it seems like we're having to deal with giving our children more info than they need, so much earlier, and that is difficult. It is now considered no big deal that families take all different shapes, including no dad or two dads, and young kids are expected to become very accustomed to that at an early age. My dh has a nephew my children don't even know about, and I'm going to have to find some way to tell them sooner or later. I do agree with you that the unconcern about the use of birth control, etc., is disturbing, and also to think that after this precedent, a woman in this position might be tempted to get an abortion to maintain job security...it does seem like Catholics should be doing everything they possibly can to support pregnant women.

Red Cardigan said...

Thanks for commenting so far, all! I hope to reply to comments later today, but just got home from a funeral for a parishioner (more on that later, if I can).

In the meantime, I'd like to share with you a comment that was emailed to me with a request that it might be posted without identifying the commenter given the sensitivity of the subject. I'm always happy to do that! My reader's comment follows below:


For what it's worth, I'm female (Catholic) and have taught under a similar contract to the one in the Ohio case, although the clause in my contract cited "moral turpitude" as grounds for termination. The school I worked at was very small, the surrounding community also very small, and I believe that particular wording was intended to cover cohabitation and any other morally problematic practices, not limited to fornication.

I share the concern about scandal to the young (i.e. the students), especially in the current secular culture, that prompts such clauses in teaching contracts, and I suppose in the past some of the danger of scandal was avoided by employing religious as teachers.

That said, I do think that these contracts are really only enforceable for unmarried women.That is highly problematic, in my opinion, because in the current culture, sexual morality and respect for life are not simply under attack from the "female aspect" (it's not simply that a ton of women are choosing to engage in sexual relations and raise children out of wedlock.)

Respect for life and sexual morality are just as much under attack from the "male aspect" (and have been for a much longer period of time, in my opinion) as well; there is little consequence in today's society for a man (even a Catholic) who conceives a child out of wedlock and abandons the mother and the child. And of course, sexual morality and respect for life are most deeply under attack from a secular culture in which the consequences are turned from the morally responsible adults (both men and women) to the innocent unborn child.

In my opinion a contract which, in practice, addresses only one aspect of the disorder creates it's own separate source of scandal - that of placing the full consequences of extra-marital sex on the woman - as in this case in Ohio.

One last word on scandal: I wholehearted believe that children whose moral foundations are not yet complete or solid should be protected from scandalizing events; in any case, a visibly pregnant unmarried teacher should not remain in the classroom.

However, from my own upbringing, I think that a policy of never allowing children to know that *Catholics* (even friends and family) sin and sin seriously, can really backfire and produce yet another source of scandal as children grow (one that I've definitely experienced): the belief that some measure of hypocrisy is a part of being a "real" Catholic and a real lack of knowledge of how to handle serious failings among friends and family in a truly Catholic (no sugar-coating sin or denying the truth) and charitable (no abandoning relationships and obligations) manner.


(End of reader's comment.)

freddy said...

So, Kevin, if a woman were pregnant as the result of a rape, a Catholic school should fire her, in order to protect the children.


And if the woman had used birth control, that would apparently be just dandy with you (as long as she didn't talk about it) because that, too, would protect the children.

That really is your logic. And it's not particularly Catholic.

beadgirl said...

Kevin, you say she needed to be fired so the school could continue to demonstrated "the appearance of commitment to the gospel," but isn't forgiveness part of the gospel? Giving people second chances? Acknowledging that we all sin and make mistakes, and we pick ourselves up and try again?

Should teachers be fired for any sin at all they commit, or just the sexual ones, or just the sins you yourself are able to avoid? How far should school administrators go towards determining who has sinned and who hasn't? Or is it ok to only target pregnant unmarried women? What if a single woman is raped and gets pregnant -- how much proof of the rape do you think she needs to show to the school administrators so she can keep her job?

What about the students -- if they sin, in a big way or a small way, should they be kicked out to show the other students the school's commitment to appearances? Is this the message we want to give our children -- you screw up, we kick you out, because appearances matter more than charity or forgiveness?

One of the most common arguments pro-choicers make against pro-lifers is that we care nothing about the woman in question, or the baby once it is born. Firing a pregnant woman and depriving her of her health insurance just serves to confirm this.

I have little kids. They have no idea that it is possible to have kids outside of marriage. But if they had a pregnant, single teacher, I would have no problem telling them that she made a mistake, that we need to help people when they make mistakes, that raising a child without a daddy is very hard, and most importantly that children (no matter how they come about) are a very good thing.

Muscovite said...

I agree with Kevin. My parish is a hybrid Newman Center/regular parish, and the pastor says the number one problem of college students here is sexual sin, and that many students will minimize its seriousness. While it might seem harsh to hold this woman accountable for her actions, the social cost of de-stigmatizing fornication has had devastating social consequences.

We have heard many times from the bishops and others that abortion is sinful. When was the last time you have heard or seen the word "fornication" used? Fornication is still grave matter and (with the usual caveats) a mortal sin, is it not? Do we care so little for eternal souls that we never speak of this to young men and women at the risk of offending never-married mothers?

It may be unfortunate that a single woman's pregnancy makes her sin public, and this isn't true with men; what of it? Shall we then be forced to pretend that it wasn't really a sin? If married women at the same school let it be known publicly that they contracept, then they, too, should be fired. But the Church doesn't demand that people make their private sins public, and doesn't presume sin is present, even if statistically, the odds are in favor of it.

Somehow the pro-life movement often gives the impression that since a single mother hasn't killed her children in the womb she has somehow been virtuous. But she has still brought a child into the world and deprived him of his right to a mother and a father. This is a serious sin as well. If the school had allowed her to keep her job, it would be taking from the children the only parent they have. Who then will raise the children?

Kevin said...

freddy and beadgirl,

It is obvious to me that there's a huge categorical difference between a rape victim and a single woman who gets pregnant from sleeping around. However, rather than point that out, I will make a deal with you. I will only answer your hypothetical if you answer mine, which no one has commented on. To repeat:

"Out of curiousity, how do you all feel about a priest who knocks up a parishioner? Still fit for duty? Move him to another parish and pretend it didn't happen? Everybody pitch in and help him out financially when he has trouble making his child support payments?"

Anonymous said...


It's true that fornication has been de-stigmatized in secular society, but the consequences of fornication still fall heavily on those whose actions can become public, women, while men escape consequences almost entirely. In our society, the stigma of extra-marital sex has been transferred to unwed pregnancy and birth control is considered to be a women's responsibility.

As a result, we have rampant abortion and fatherlessness. And no decrease in fornication.

I don't see how Catholics mimicking the responses of secular society (and letting the brunt of the stigma as well as the consequences fall on women to exclusion of men) will decrease fornication and save souls.

For the record, the last time I heard the word "fornication" in a sermon was September of this past year.

(It's hard to forget this sermon given by a very new priest - I've heard more skillful sermons from him since - that managed to strongly imply that the entire congregation was guilty of fornication at that very moment. Highly uncomfortable rather than "convicting.")

beadgirl said...

Kevin, I of course assumed you saw the huge difference between the two scenarios, but what does that have to do with your concern over appearances, unless the rape survivor is to carry a sign around explaining how she got pregnant?

As for your hypothetical, I did not answer it then because I wanted to talk with my brother, who is an actual priest. He is very busy right now, and the Canon law rules he pointed me at are very general, suggesting (as I had assumed) that how such priests should be handled will depend on the particular circumstances.

So my answer:

1) Being a priest in a parish is very different than being a layperson teacher at a school. Yes, both have authority, but the priest's is greater. And fairly or not, we expect more from priests, in part because of their authority, and their vows, and their standing in personae Christi. So I don't think your analogy is a particularly good one, because the circumstances are too different.

2) Assuming that the child is otherwise taken care of (I don't know what specific obligations the priest would have to his child, and again circumstances would vary, I simply don't have enough information to address this completely), and the priest is appropriately repentant and obedient and is taking seriously the directive to sin no more, and he has done everything his superiors and canon law require, then yes, I do think he is fit for duty (maybe that duty changes a little, like, say, taking on an administrative, behind the scenes role!). I don't think he should be defrocked and kicked to the curb. Because, again, all priests sin, one way or another, all people sin, and the point is for each of us to help each other to sin no more, not to shun those who have the misfortune to have their sins see the light of day.

Finally, I'd like to point out that even if the school was right in its judgment that she could no longer be an employee, there are better ways they could have accomplished that -- put her on administrative leave until she finds another job, put her on sick leave until the babies are born, fire her but allow her to keep the health insurance out of compassion for her and her babies, offer her a stellar recommendation letter so she can get another job more easily and support her children, etc.

This sort of scenario -- a woman losing her only means of support because she gets pregnant -- is exactly the sort of situation that gives rise to the idea that abortions are necessary. I expect better from a Catholic institution.

Oh, and Muscovite, I'm a little confused about your last paragraph. Are you saying it is better that she lost her job, because she can stay home with her children? But then how does she pay for food and housing?

Tony said...

The problem here is not sin, but scandal. Contracepting married people cause no scandal unless they are public and vocal about it, and in that case they should immediately be stripped of any ministerial duties in the church and if they teach children in a Catholic school, they should be fired.

We have too long tolerated sexual immorality in this society, and I see no reason to tolerate it in our church, or Catholic school. Mercy in this case (while being good in most cases) sends the wrong message. And unfair or not, biology dictates that women carry the brunt of an unplanned pregnancy, and as such are required to more carefully guard their virtue than men.

I'm sorry if this sounds cold.

In the case of other sins, were they publicly persistent in violation of any of the other commandments, they should be treated the same. (A Catholic school teacher convicted of stealing, or assault, or purjury, etc should be fired.)

I'm an equal opportunity hard-liner.

freddy said...

Kevin: I’m not as nice as Beadgirl: I assumed you were trying to be snarky but coming off as silly. The two scenarios are very different, for one thing; for another, the couple of times your scenario has happened recently the priest in question has either voluntarily requested laicization and then married the woman in question, or entered an order in which men live in community. Dioceses have been known to pay child support on behalf of priests. Never heard of a priest suing to keep his job, though. As Beadgirl correctly points out, the priesthood is a very different responsibility from that of a lay teacher.
Now, how do I “feel” about it? Well, it would depend on the priest in question, and if I had authority over him as his bishop. Is he truly repentant? Can I trust him to live chastely? Should he be laicized for the sake of his own soul, that of the woman in question and that of the child – who does deserve to have a father, after all. These questions would weigh heavily on me and I would pray for the wisdom to make the best decision for all involved -- *starting with the child.*

Red Cardigan said...

Gosh, I can't help but wonder whether or not Kevin et. al. would have been lining up with rocks in their pockets for the woman caught in adultery. Guess it's a good thing Our Lord wasn't such a hardliner, eh?

Let's look at the priest question seriously: the priesthood is a vocation. A priest who gets a woman pregnant is guilty not only of fornication and scandal but also of violating his vocation. Whether or not he gets to remain active as a priest (he will always be a priest, of course) is going to depend on lots of other things.

Being a teacher in a Catholic school isn't a vocation--it's a job. Firing teachers for egregious violations of moral conduct such as nude photos or porn on the Internet, public intoxication in front of the children, theft or embezzlement, etc. is just fine, as far as I'm concerned.

Firing an unmarried woman NOT for the presumed but private sin of fornication but for the scandal of showing up pregnant is not, because it's effectively saying to the woman: "You slut. It was your job to say 'no' to your boyfriend, or at least to add contraception to your sin, and because you didn't, you deserve to starve in the street and give birth without health insurance etc. like the whore you are. The least you could have done was go get a quiet abortion and then go to confession afterward, so we wouldn't have to deal with your moral mess."

Strong language? Yes--but it IS what is being said when unmarried women are disproportionately harmed by an employment standard that looks the other way and winks when men sleep around and married couples contracept, and only punishes the visible crime of pregnancy as too horrible for the pure-as-the-driven-snow image of the organization.

It turns the Church's pro-life message into a swamp of hypocrisy, it weakens her pro-purity message as being about appearances more than reality, and it gives a pass to those who think that boys will be boys but women are tarts and deserve to be treated that way by all the "good" people. And somehow I don't think our Lord would approve of any of that.

Kevin said...

I am baffled by this idea that I want to shame women and let men off the hook. Look, if a male teacher knocked up a female teacher, I'd fire them both. I'd also fire a teacher for pursuing a divorce, male or female. I'd fire them for bringing porn to the school, and that includes Fifty Shades of Grey. And I think a little shame would be appropriate. Maybe the real source of disagreement here is that I don't think losing your job is the Worst. Thing. Ever. Sometimes a person is the wrong fit for an organization and they get let go. Guess what? Life goes on. I'm not saying it's fun, but lets keep our sense of perspective.

Now, in the case of a rape, then I could see the argument for putting the teacher on sabbatical, or giving her an office job so she can get her teaching job back, although I'm not sure how that's going to work out because Catholic school teachers probably can't afford day care. The difference is that here, she truly has done nothing wrong. Nevertheless it's important to insulate the students from the topic as much as possible. Most parents probably don't want their kids having to deal with the topic of rape in grade school.

So, what about her benefits? Well surely there is some help the people of the parish can give to a jobless unwed mother. But that doesn't mean we insulate her from the natural consequences of her choices. She has no right to expect to keep her job in that situation. And it's not as if mothers without health insurance give birth in dirty alleyways. Again, let's keep our perspective. She'll have some debts. I'm not proposing anything other than the natural consequences of her choices.

On the other hand, this idea that firing her is the same as calling her dirty names or in essence saying that she is worthless is a fundamental error. Everybody makes mistakes in life, and has to deal with the consequences. If you think that our acknowledgement of her mistake is impugning her worth as a person, that would seem to flow from some underlying assumption that all * ladies * are conceived without original sin or something. Give me a break. When a man makes the same mistake and has to pay child support for 18 years, which is a much bigger financial hardship than simply having to find a new job, he gets no such sympathy. Society says "Whoops! You messed that up, didn't you? Good luck suffering the consequences. Alone." I'm not promoting the idea of protecting men from the consequences of their sins. I'm just saying, maybe women can be expected to rise to the same level of self-accountability. (Does that make me a mean ol chauvinist or a feminist? Ha Ha)

Red Cardigan said...

Kevin, would you fire a teacher whose husband left her, took up with a floozie, and initiated the divorce proceedings against her will, because the "scandal" of her being divorced is just too ugly for a Catholic employee to be involved with? Should the innocent spouse, abandoned to raise the children alone, be as cut off as an unmarried mother who has been abandoned to raise her children alone, or does only the unmarried mother deserve that fate?

What you can't see, what you apparently won't see, is that nobody is getting punished for the private (but serious) sin of fornication here. The woman is being punished for being pregnant and for giving birth. The school, and you, apparently, would not care if she had aborted those twins so long as it was secret and nobody found out about it--she could keep her job and her reputation in the community. Just think about that for a minute, will you? This is why Catholic girls are just as represented at abortion clinics as girls of other faiths, because they have fathers who would throw them out of their homes to raise a baby alone and in poverty--because these dads think that's how you be a "good Catholic father."

As for your glib dismissal of the hardships an unwed mother who has been fired and lost her insurance will face, I'm guessing you don't know much about this topic, or that you're from a socioeconomic level high enough that women don't really suffer economically for long in these situations. It IS a big deal for a woman to have to get work when she's caring for infants. Comparing that to a man having to pay some amount of child support is laughable--does the man come into work exhausted from caring for the babies all night, and does he get fired for leaving early too many nights in a row because the only day care center he can afford is across town and closes promptly at 5:30?

Ultimately it is the children who end up being punished for their mother's sin, while the father gets to walk away, unless the mother can afford a paternity test and a lawsuit. You shrug and call that appropriate consequences for the children's mother's moral lapse. Meanwhile the father of those kids could be happily employed by the diocesan chancery and nobody would give a damn. It is a double standard, all right, and it's the kind of double standard that makes the Church's stance against abortion look like blatant hypocrisy.

Kevin said...

just a heads up: I didn't read your comment (past the first line) because you apparently didn't read mine.

Rebecca in ID said...

Kevin, I'm curious--why would you fire someone who initiates divorce proceedings? Divorce is permissible in the Catholic Church for a number of reasons. Did you mean to qualify that?

Kevin said...

Rebecca, I'm sure there are some rare exceptions, just like the rape hypothetical is an exception to the case of pregnancy.

freddy said...

Kevin, what are you, 12? Sticking your fingers in your ears and singing la-la-la is, just fyi, not the best way to continue a civil discourse.

By the way, if you'd read past the first few lines of Erin's comment, or even read those first lines with your eyes actually open you'd have noticed that she responds specifically to points you raised.

JoAnna Wahlund said...

Kevin - regarding divorce, you're taking a harder line than even the Church does:

2383 The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law.

If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.


2386 It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage.

Kevin said...

folks, I said "pursing" a divorce. Go back and read what you're responding to.

Red Cardigan said...

Kevin, I direct your attention to my newest post.

Also, an abused woman might be "pursuing" a divorce. Should she be fired?

I think you want there to be hard-and-fast rules where there aren't any.

Turmarion said...

Kevin, your attitude and snark aside, I can actually give you an example of exactly what you mention.

In my diocese, Father S. was ordained in the early 70's. Sometime in the early 80's, he had an affair which resulted in pregnancy. I don't remember if the mother was married or not--I believe so, but I'm not sure. In any case, the diocese kept the matter quiet and paid child support. Father S. remained a priest in good standing.

At the time I met him, he was rector of the diocesan cathedral. He was a dynamic, excellent preacher, and was well-liked by the congregation. I didn't know him well, but I saw him around (I was teaching at the cathedral school at the time), often went to Masses at which he was presiding, and went to confession to him a couple of times. I always found him personable and easy to talk to.

In 2002 Father S. mysteriously missed the Easter Vigil, something very odd for a rector, leaving a message that he was stepping down temporarily because of "burnout". Shortly thereafter it became public knowledge that he had begun an affair with a married woman again (different woman). It began in the context of marital counseling, and resulted in divorce and a lawsuit against the diocese. Father S. was sent to a four-month treatment program, with the possibility of being reinstated. I never saw him at the cathedral or in the diocese again.

I don't know how the suit came out. I did find out what became of Father S. I was doing a web search on him because, for some reason or other, I had thought of him and wondered what happened. Apparently he had left the priesthood (having served for 25 years) and was training to be a massage therapist. A letter had been sent around among some parishioners, apparently very forgiving ones, to raise money to help him pay the expenses for the training.

I am not expressing any opinion on this matter either way. To be honest, I'm rather conflicted in how I feel about it. In any case, I just wanted to accept the challenge and describe the actual reactions to the exact situation you describe. I haven't given names, but if anyone doesn't believe me, I'll be happy to provide links.

Turmarion said...

One thing I think is obvious, but which I didn't say above. The first affair in which Father S. was involved was not known outside the chancery at the time, but became public knowledge after the suit regarding the second affair was made public. That was, in fact, the basis of the suit--that given the past track record, he shouldn't have been allowed to do counseling.

Kevin said...

As long as we keep up this farce that unwed mothers are all innocent victims and unwed fathers are villains and cads, the societal death spiral will continue.

I think you sense the weakness of your argument, because you have begun inventing new details to support it: Evil dads who would abandon their pregnant daughters to poverty, a court system that requires a woman to pay for a paternity test and a lawsuit in order to receive child support, chanceries that happily employ the fathers who are not paying child support. All laughably fantastic.

How about this: a society in which unwed mothers are heroes, but open season is declared on "deadbeat dads", even when they are denied a relationship with their children (sometimes against court orders but who's keeping track), even when their spouses and girlfriends cut them out of their lives against their wishes (probably abusive, right?) even when the court system (which profits from conflict and suffers from reconciliation) sets their support payments so high they are in poverty, despite the mom being supported by a new guy at the same time, and God forbid he should lose his job because these payments are the one and only debt in the American legal system for which we will throw you in jail and then charge you more for not earning money while in jail.

But relax, I recognize there is no common ground when people are fighting over whose mythical narrative is the correct one. (Do you?)

Instead of pushing the men-as-victims myth, which is true as often as Team Woman's opposite tall tale, I am simply advocating holding everyone accountable to an equal degree. When a person's sins "spill over" into their work life at a Catholic school, the children have to come first. If you want to see glib, go into a Catholic forum and complain about a school firing the male janitor for looking at porn on his cell phone while on school grounds. Try saying "But he has a family to support" and seeing how much empathy that stirs up.

Kevin said...


What a terrible story, and shame on that Bishop for not getting rid of him the first time.

Red Cardigan said...

Kevin, you keep missing the point, so I think we're at a standstill.

Firing a janitor for viewing porn while at a Catholic school, regardless of whether he has children to support, is not at all the same thing as firing an unmarried teacher for showing up pregnant. If you want to say that she should be fired for having sex with her boyfriend on school property, fine, if that actually happens. But you can't claim that the school is doing anything else here but punishing her for not having an abortion. She's being fired for keeping the babies and giving birth, not for having had sex out of wedlock. But you refuse to see or acknowledge that.

eulogos said...

Red Cardigan, I think the school is firing her *for* the sin of fornication.

It is true that she could have fornicated and contracepted, or aborted her pregnancy thereby hiding her fornication as men are able to hide theirs.

So the practical result for her of not contracepting (and by the way, if one is going to fornicate, I do not see that contracepting makes it any worse) or aborting her child is that she is fired.

Nevertheless, it is not *for* not doing these things, but for having fornicated, and because this would be obvious to the children and the parents, that she is being fired.

I think we do have to face it that any society that wants to maintain a stigma against fornication is going to expect women to bear more of that stigma than men. I don't see that there is any getting out of it.

I think that the Catholic school should make sure it applies its rules as evenly as possible, which will never be perfectly evenly. They should fire a man who is known to have fathered a child out of wedlock, and the standard should not be a legal level of proof; if the whole community knows it, that's scandal. If a man is seen coming out of a motel late at night with a woman, and this is reported to the principle, he should be fired. If he brags to another teacher about his conquests, he should be fired. But if he is discreet, there is just not going to be any way to apply the rule equally to him.

As for contracepting married couples, the only thing one could do is to ask married people at their employment interview if they are obeying the church's teaching and to let them know they are expected to continue to do so. If they lie, there is really nothing one can do; they could be infertile or really good at NFP.

As for the woman's offering to "fill a background role" what role? If it was a job they needed, wouldn't someone already have been doing it? Do you really think a Catholic school can afford to pay her and a substitute to do her job?

I think the best answer might be to address the issue openly with the children. I committed a sin and acted as if I were married with someone I wasn't married to, so now I am going to have a baby. I am sorry, and I have gone to confession, so God has forgiven me. I don't know how young these children are, but most "Family Life" programs explain the basics of sexual intercourse and that babies result from it, starting around third grade. Even children who don't know the details should be able to accept "I acted as if I were married with someone I wasn't married to-this was wrong, I have gone to confession."

I think that would be the most Christian way to handle this. If a woman refused to say this, then I think it would be acceptable to fire her. Which, yes, does put more burden on women. But as far as I can tell, that is inescapable biology.


Kevin said...

Susan, I would be very upset if a teacher offered that kind of explanation to my kids. How dare she introduce such an adult topic! That is the kind of thing you say to kids when it is inevitable that they find out what happened. In this case, there is nothing inevitable about it, providing she leaves the school.

If she had an appropriate level of shame, she would have resigned and saved the school the trouble of firing her.

Melissa said...

Whoa, Kevin. I had been seeing your point up to that last comment. What is this woman supposed to do from here on in? Stay inside her house until she gives birth? Never take her children out in public? Stop going to church, for fear that her ex students might see her there?

If there is any kind of community at all in that church-school community, if there is any carryover between the school and the community that supports it, it IS inevitable that the students will know that Miss X conceived out of wedlock. Once one student knows it, they all will.

You simply cannot shield your children from the fact that people sin. If you don't want your children to know that sometimes children are born outside wedlock, you need to homeschool them and never take them outside. Unless you chase all the sinners out of town, (which is definitely not a very Catholic thing to do) they are going to pick up at a very young age that not everyone has an ideal family situation.

The reality of the world is that we ALL sin. What I teach my children is that that need to avoid sin as much as possible, and when they do sin, they ought to apologize, and do what they can to put the situation right. (Putting the situation right includes confession.)

This woman could have had an abortion as an attempt to put the situation right. Had she done so she would never have been fired. But she chose the harder path of choosing to have her children. In my humble opinion, being removed from her classroom for the duration of her pregnancy is enough reparation for the sin of fornication.

Kevin said...

Look, I'm not saying she should throw herself off of a cliff or something. Is there _no_ middle ground between being an employee of the diocese and being run out of town on a rail? Are those our only two options? Why can't there be a middle ground, where we affirm the person and offer mercy, but the very sensitive professional position still has to be terminated?

We may not be able to shield our children from the realities of life, but that doesn't mean we can't have high standards for teachers in Catholic schools.

Abortion would be a horrible choice, but I don't agree with the perspective that every single woman that gives birth deserves a parade and the key to the city. Fatherlessness is one of the worst things that can happen to a child after being murdered in the womb, and I believe it is the source of many, many problems in our society. You know what would make me consider giving her her job back after the pregnancy? If, upon finding out she was pregnant, she immediately and quietly got married.

If the father couldn't be talked in to it, adoption would make a good second option.

Red Cardigan said...

You know, Kevin, the Church doesn't usually permit quick weddings when a woman is pregnant, because of the strong possibility that she is not making the decision to marry free of any coercion (such as the pressure to save face and keep a job). That lack of freedom may make the marriage invalid, you know.

And adoption is a wonderful thing, but the reality is that she may not be able to insist on a Catholic home, married parents, or even opposite-sex parents these days, which complicates things for women in crisis pregnancies.

Anonymous said...

FYI: http://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/how-not-to-handle-a-hostage-crisis/

Kevin said...

It's going to take her 9 months or more to have the baby and recover. She can't get married in that timeframe?

Wine in the Water said...


There was a middle ground all along. She could have stepped into another role. I actually agree with you that we need to be better about linking people's actions to consequences. And we need to be better about avoiding scandal. But that must be tempered with mercy.

I think that the teacher should have absolutely been removed from the classroom. This decreases the risk of scandal - which is real, and which we should not discount so readily - and introduces accountability. But just because she is removed from the classroom does not mean that she has to be fired. I think mercy demands that the school/parish/diocese find a solution that does not require that a woman with a crisis pregnancy lose her job. There are many creative solutions that could have given her another role somewhere during her pregnancy. The school might even keep her out of the classroom permanently and just provide the other role until she can find a position somewhere else.

And there is one thing that you have to acknowledge here. The firing of this teaching is causing scandal. It is causing far more scandal than an unwed teacher at a Catholic school ever would. *Not* finding a more merciful solution is itself a scandal that should have been avoided.