Hester Prynne at the stocks, an engraving from an edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter."

Hester Prynne at the stocks, an engraving from an edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter.” Via Wikiemedia Commons

UPDATED: The Catholic high school in Montana that fired an unmarried teacher when she became pregnant is taking a lot of criticism but defends itself saying there was really no choice: the mother-to-be, Shaela Evenson, “made a willful decision to violate the terms of her contract.”

That contract requires her to follow Catholic teachings in both her personal and professional life, Superintendent Patrick Haggarty tells the Montana Standard.

Haggarty and the Diocese of Helena continued to cite their legal contractual obligations when it was pointed out that Pope Francis has taken a different path in preaching mercy and support for unmarried women and their children, and blasting church officials who shun them.

“… I think that the connection between what the Holy Father has done, which is an incredible act of kindness, is not the same as what we face with a contractual obligation with our teachers,” Haggarty says.

Um, maybe not.

Catholic law and theology professor Cathleen Kaveny — recently at Notre Dame but now at Boston College in yet another coup for the Jesuits — argues at Commonweal magazine’s blog that under traditional Catholic teaching on law the school had no obligation to fire Evenson:

“Everyone knows that St. Thomas Aquinas says that an unjust law is no law at all, but rather an act of violence (actually, Aquinas’s reasoning is much more subtle on this question, but that is for another day). But he also says something that gets far less attention: a law that imposes a burden unequally upon members of the community is also an act of violence–even if it furthers the common good … “

” … It’s one thing to fire the Spanish and the French teacher, each married to other people, caught canoodling in the broom closet at school. It’s another thing entirely to fire a single teacher, who presumably did not behave inappropriately at school, and whose only evidence of sexual impropriety is her pregnancy–which in our culture, should also be seen as evidence of moral courage. Rather than obtaining an abortion, which would have allowed her to keep her job by hiding evidence of sexual activity, she is going through with the pregnancy.”

So firing Evenson is not only NOT necessary but also undermines the teaching of Catholic moral precepts — which is why Kaveny also says Deacon Greg Kandra’s proposal to blunt the effects of the firing of a single pregnant woman is well-intentioned but falls short.

Kaveny also makes a potent second point: that this kind of firing tends to turn Catholicism into “one more American Christian sect” — more akin to a “Scarlet Letter” Puritanism that looks for reasons to exclude rather than a sacramental Catholicism of “being” that is condemned to keeping you:

“I think the message that firing this teacher conveys to the students is that they, too, are subject to being “fired” from the Catholic community if they misbehave in any way. After all, the little school is probably the main Catholic community they’ve known. For all the talk of love and understanding and forgiveness, in the end, it is a hard and abstract contractual provision–a sign of willing, not being–that counts the most. For all the talk of a rich and humble inner life, it is a wholesome appearance that matters most.”

She concludes by noting that it won’t be lost on young people that these contractual issues are all about sex — which also conveys the message that all the social justice stuff Pope Francis talks about really isn’t that important.

UPDATE: I have to flag this blog post by Mary DeTurris Poust, who puts it right out there:

“Either we’re pro-life or we’re not pro-life, and firing an unwed pregnant Catholic school teacher is not pro-life no matter how you slice it. I don’t care what her contract said. I don’t buy the notion that children will be scandalized. None of it washes.”

Read it all.

UPDATE II: Read Meghan Clark at the Millennial Journal:

“There is great scandal in these events in Helena, Montana but it is not being caused by an unwed pregnant teacher.”


  1. This might help.

    Aquinas identifies further conditions of legislative invalidity: acts “beyond the power committed to the legislator”; burdensome schemes of unjust enrichment, “directed to the cupidity and vainglory of rulers”(I-II, 94,4), and schemes so burdensome as to destroy the common good (e.g., individual expression); and unequal burdens imposed, even for legitimate public aims, upon the community (equal protection under law) (I-II, 95,2). “The like are acts of violence rather than laws” (I-II, 96,4).

  2. Rod Larocque

    Can we have the section quoted on what St Thomas says about sex outside of marriage… how it is mortally sinful and while we are at it, what does he say about public sinners and causing scandal… what does St Thomas have to say about that?
    This woman knew what she signed and should not be surprised by her firing. Perhaps if she would have requested a leave of absence to give birth and give the Child up for adoption, she would not have been fired…
    This is her public disavowel of Catholic moral law… It is her fault, not the schools.

    • Wow, talk about really missing the point.

      St. Thomas would have found fault in your “Judge Dredd’ish” take on the law.
      He was not someone who believed in enforcing laws rigidly and without consequence of their general application. He considered not only what the law said, but how it is used. To use it unequally is to consider the law void on its face using St. Thomas’s reasoning.

      It is obvious that such moral codes of conduct are enforced unequally for men and women. The hypocrisy in how they are used against female employees as compared to males ones in Catholic Schools is well established. Of course a man who impregnates his girlfriend outside of marriage is never fired for such things but a woman who bears the physical evidence of their relationship is the one targeted.

      • Laurence Ringo

        Laying aside the hypocrisy inherent within this school”law,I myself wouldn’t look to Aquinas as some sort of arbiter of what’s”moral”, since he advocated the murder of those the roman catholic church deemed heretics. In my opinion, there was NEVER a legitimate reason for them to take the lives of those who disagreed with their tenets, so…a pox on what Aquinas considered moral.

    • Would you have the same moral judgment against a Catholic man who impregnates an unmarried woman or Catholic priests who molest children (and who are re-assigned to other diocese to hide their “sins”)?

    • Rod

      Does Catholic teaching require unwed mothers to give up their babies for adoption?I dont mean this sarcastically, it’s a serious question.


    • Denise Conway

      I cannot believe what you said. What is your problem??? Did Christ not say, “He who is not guilty to throw the first stone?”If you recall, everyone walked away!!! You are one of the reasons we are loosing our youth. I give her credit for keeping this baby and addressing the comments made by pompous people like you. What do you think our Pope would say to you and others like you??

      We as Catholics must put our faith into action, for words mean nothing if not supported by action.

    • When you scold a teacher for having premarital relations, you are, in fact, condoning the thing you stand for: no abortion. Situations occur, especially if the church isn’t condoning even barrier method birth control. The teacher is setting a good example as she could have chosen abortion, but she chose LIFE. Many of my Christian friends had abortions as it would not be accepted by their “Christian parents.” This scenario further reminds me of when I was fifteen and joined a nondenominational group in high school (this was prior to these types of groups not being allowed at public schools). My friend who was Catholic invited me to the group. I really respected her and looked up to her strong Faith. She and her bf ended up getting pregnant senior year and she was ostracized from the Christian group. My Faith was really shaken. It wasn’t shaken that my friend who was in a long-term relationship became pregnant, but the group informed her she couldn’t attend the meetings as it was a bad example to the group. I was so upset that they did this to her, that I stopped attending and took a break from religion. I, eventually, returned to the Catholic Church because of its view on Justice and supposed acceptance of all people into the Church as Jesus did. Aquinas College erred and owes this teacher an apology as well as an explanation to the students of the school’s SIN.

    • You are ignorant! I want to know how many times you’ve, personally, put your seed out there. And have you looked lustfully at any person? According to the bible this is an equal sin if you look lustfully on another or masterbate. If you want to be rigid with the law, I bet you’ve broken your “verbal” contact with The Lord. How dare you judge someone. Too bad others cannot see you in your bedroom and shame your sinfulness.

  3. The principles of Balance, Justice, Respect, and Peace and Harmony, are encapsulated in my Word, Character and Symbol picture-puzzle work of love are now freely available to those who sincerely seek, through my .tk website, or by taking a look at my blog at http://wound-wisdom-poetry.blogspot.com, or the links shown there.

    When we are caught on the horns of a dilemma, it is good first to refer to my “Peace and Harmony” picture-puzzle, examine the “keys” to understand it, and read the “inspiration” which sprang from it: “The Universal ‘Man’ of No Clan, for All Clans”.

    When we have done so, and put ourselves into the shoes of the “other”, we will then be enabled to make the “right”, the “loving” decision, which helps, encourages, and comforts – all parties seeking resolution. We will not then do to another that which we would hate for ourselves.

    This is the “Good News Gospel” given artistic and poetic vent, and is in deed the “Intricate Weaving of Something Beautiful”: May God’s grace be with you – ALL.

  4. Oops ! The frailty of this mere man is evident. Here is that blog again: http://wound-wisdom-poetry.blogspot.com . I hope that the link will now work for you. You may reach my “.tk” website by clicking on my name.

  5. A basic moral awareness that flows from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the first of the major documents adopted by Vatican II, 22/11/1963, is that the moral wellspring (“fons” – section 10) for the church and, therefore, for all who fully and actively participate in the Sacred Liturgy, is the Christ who permeates us and gives us a share in His Life in Word and New Paschal Meal. Thus, it is disjutive, appearing to be objectively sacrigious, for purported co-participants in this Life to say that they are bound by contract to inflict punishment. One of the most persistent witnesses of Jesus in the Gospels is His repeated and consistent condemnations of the purported religious authorities seeking to enforce laws rather than seeking life, being open to Life. Jesus Is consistently unrelenting and clear on this, and most strikingly when established men turn on women. Jesus unravels that every time he encounters it – whether it being those who self-righteously exclude and stone a woman or those who sit at a self-righteous table and go tut-tut at a woman who touches Jesus. Jesus, as reported in the Gospel and, therefore, as permeating all those who truly make themselves available for the Eucaristic meal, is precisely on
    point. The result of this analysis is to make the reliance on contract, the declaration that we are bound by contract to exclude a woman, true objective sacrilege if done by those who purport to be Church, by those who purport to be the consequence of the Sacred Liturgy.

    • Laurence Ringo

      Is there any chance that we are, oh, I don’t know, bound by The Saviour NOT to be fornicators David Albert? According to His own Words in Mark 7:20-23, we are.So there Is that–Yes?

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