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.”