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Pregnant Montana teacher deserves to keep her job

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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. Let’s face facts. We are all sinners. Some of us, unfortunately, sin in ways that are much more public than others, and so we are called out while everyone else slides by with their private sins rolling merrily along.

Let’s look at one single aspect of this case: Okay, a single woman becomes pregnant, tells her superiors at her Catholic school that she plans to keep her baby, and is subsequently fired by “higher ups” in the Diocese of Helena after officials receive an anonymous letter, according to news reports. What do you think happens the next time a single Catholic school teacher finds herself pregnant with no husband? Yeah, abortion might be the obvious choice if she thinks she might lose her job otherwise. So much for that pro-life thing.

I’ve heard about the “right way” this could have gone down — a kinder, gentler firing of sorts, but the bottom line is that there is no scenario where firing this woman is right. It would have been nice if, instead, the school, the local parish, maybe even the larger diocese  rallied around her and gave her the extra help she might need — babysitting, dinners cooked, some diapers, whatever — to make her life a little easier once her baby is born. And I’m guessing there are individual people from that school or parish who are doing just that anyway because people are kinder and more understanding than the rules allow. Because most of us recognize that there but for the grace of God…

I am dumbfounded that the local Church would fire a pregnant woman no matter what her at-home circumstances. I think back to my life as a student and, to be honest, I couldn’t even begin to tell you about the personal lives of my teachers. It never would have fazed me if my teacher had been pregnant. I didn’t know their husbands, or if they had husbands. I just loved my teachers, plain and simple, exactly as they were — married, single, pregnant, not, young, old, man, woman. Little kids don’t really get into morality, and older kids, well, again, what are we teaching them about choosing life over abortion? Not a lot if they’re seeing their teacher fired for being pregnant and unmarried. That will do more to sway their future actions, I’m sure, than anything else they might have taken from their teacher’s situation.

If we want people to have their babies rather than abort them, we’d better be able to walk the walk, and firing a single woman who has the courage to bring her baby to term on her own in spite of the trouble she had to know she’d face at her job, isn’t walking the walk. It’s walking in the opposite direction. I keep trying to look at this from all sides, but I can’t see any side of this that makes firing the best answer. Did she violate a contract that said she had to uphold Catholic teaching? Yeah. Then let’s go through the lives of every other teacher and see where they did or did not live up to Catholic standards. My guess is they’d be firing the entire staff. We are all sinners. Everyone violates Catholic teaching in one way or another. Why should only the obvious sinners pay the price?

I believe Jesus said it best, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

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33 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kari #

    This makes my blood boil, particularly when I think back to the child sex abuse committed by priests who were simply relocated as punishment for their crimes.

    February 6, 2014
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Yeah, I didn’t even get into THAT part of the argument, but it’s there. The elephant in the room.

      February 6, 2014
  2. Ed Mechmann #

    The contract is not the key point — the key question is what kind of public witness the teacher and the school are giving.

    If she is adamant that she did nothing wrong (as in the case of recent same-sex union teachers or “pro-choice” teachers), then the school should discharge her because her message is contradictory to the teaching of the school.

    But if she is repentant, then the situation is very different. Perhaps she would be willing to publicly comment about her remorse for the sin, her reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, her commitment to lead a chaste life in the future, and a desire to give talks to the kids about the virtues of chastity and the perils of non-marital sexual activity. That would be a very different teachable moment — one that gave the children a good lesson in being pro-life, but also in how we are to turn to God for forgiveness, and how the Church responds to the truly repentant sinner.

    February 6, 2014
    • Kathleen #

      A lot of uncharitable comments, and yes, they look to be mostly from men. The teacher was outed by an anonymous letter. Now she doesn’t have a job to support her baby, and these guys are counting her sins. THAT’s why so many have left the church. My kids would have been scandalized by all of this unkindness.

      February 7, 2014
  3. Frank Hannon #

    As a child of the ’60′s, I’ve pretty much had a front row seat of the basic family unit’s race to ruin over the past five decades. I don’t know, call me a dummy, but it’s my very strong sense that BY FAR the most efficient and effective incubator of faith transmission and formation is the traditional family, the “Church domestic”, and that that in fact is by God’s very design.

    The point is that, while, yes, the diocese has opened itself up to fair criticism in this matter, your outraged tone is misplaced and unhelpful, and your flat suggestion that the adolescents under the teacher’s watch aren’t scandalized is specious besides. Can you give the administration some begrudging credit at least for assuming a position in defense of faith and family that it undoubtedly knew was countercultural and would cause outrage in the popular culture?

    There are two legitimate sides to this matter; how about acknowledging both, and leaving the apoplexy to the mainstream??

    February 6, 2014
  4. robert #

    Im sorry, but to argue that the Church should continue to employ people who willfully violate their one main purpose for being at a Catholic school teacher – to transmit the faith- simply so they do not have an abortion is a non sequitur. An immediate firing with no care for the child is cold hearted and she should be given some care for herself and her baby. But it does not follow that she should continue to be employed as a teacher simply because shes a” knocked up” unwed mother. The mission of the Catholic school is not just to teach the 3 Rs. Its more important mission is to teach the faith. And while it appears the school failed to teach compassion it does not follow that it must then teach acceptance of fornication. This case is similar to the firings of gay teachers who “marry”. These teachers were not fired because they committed sin. They are being fired because they willfully teach, by the example of their lives, in direct opposition to the very morality of Christ! He forgives the Samaritan woman at the well, but he required that she go back to her husband and sin no more. These teachers not only have fallen, they insist on continuing in their sin. In the case of the homosexual teachers they insist that “marriage” is their right. Fine, but you wont teach that at a Catholic school. In, this case, she will NOT marry the father of her child. What do you expect? The elephant in the room would be this teacher being allowed to teach a school of impressionable children that fornication and perfectly acceptable and that you will even be rewarded. Nonsense. Yes, she should have been cared for financially in other ways! Mercy and compassion were not taught , but we dont know all the facts regarding her separation. But we do know that when grown men and women cant live chaste Christian lives, they should not become Catholic school teachers. The public schools will pay more and even celebrate ones ?diversity? of lifestyle. But has society so corrupted our own sense of Christian living that we dont even know what the proper role model is for children any more?

    February 6, 2014
    • Colin #

      The one thing I see in the Catholic schools in my area is children who are sent there not because it is a Catholic school, but because it is a “private school” in many parents’ views. I see more children at mass on Sunday who are going to the public schools than the children who are going to the Catholic schools. In talking to my confirmation students (some attending the Catholic High School) I asked how many kids actually attend mass, and there comment was less than 10 percent. Isn’t that one of the churches teaches that you should be attending Sunday mass. Case in point, one of my daughters (going to public school) was talking to a boy going to the Catholic High School asked him what parish he belonged to, and his comment was “oh we don’t go to church”. Hello? If we are concerned about Catholic Schools being Catholic, when let’s hold up ALL the aspects of the Catholic faith.

      February 7, 2014
    • Tony #

      Robert,

      In a secular nation there is no place for schools that place religous beliefs over societal rights. None. Simple answer, if private schools can’t work within that framework then no private schools. Seems to work brilliantly in Scandanavia. The perpetration of whatever superstitions you have should be kept to your own time. If Faith is the most important thing in a Catholic school then it fails as a school and should cease to exist as such.

      Your presumption that values of society have their basis in Christianity is misplaced. They all existed before the cobbled collection of chinese whispers that is the Bible. Most were co-opted from existing Greek and Roman precursors to fit the rapidly expanding mythology that came with the first growth spurts of the early Church. They’re sound, not because they were the mystical words a sky god, but because they had worked for centuries before Christ wandered the Earth.

      The best role models are those that don’t judge, that abide by the basic principles of understanding and love for their fellow humans. Qualities that Pope Francis is trying to re introduce to the utterly venal organisation that is the Catholic Church.

      There is a mote in the eye, alright, but the eye does not belong to the teacher.

      February 16, 2014
  5. Brad Miner #

    I wish this teacher had not been fired. But I have to say that this phrase gives me pause: “I don’t care what her contract said.” True, a contract is not one of the Seven Sacraments, but I do think Christians ought to honor the contracts they sign.

    February 6, 2014
  6. Dante #

    AMEN!!!! I was thinking exactly that. How the hell can putting a woman in a position to chose occupation oever the baby in anyway be considered Catholic let alone pro-life? By doing so the Diocese of Helena is contributing to the culture of death, and adding to the financial social pressures on the pregnant woman. Isn’t that obvious???

    February 6, 2014
  7. Carolyn #

    Ed: Or she could just wear a scarlet letter “A” sewn onto her chest.

    February 6, 2014
    • Ed Mechmann #

      No, I’m not in favor of public shaming or any kind of involuntary auto da fe. But I am all in favor of powerful testimony of the repentant and converted sinner.

      February 6, 2014
  8. Margaret #

    Awfully sad. And you hit the nail on the head- this was a perfect opportunity to help an unwed mother, who has chosen to keep her child rather than abort. It certainly will make abortion seem like a more attractive option to some of those who follow her.

    February 6, 2014
  9. AmyK #

    What if she were not a sinner at all? What if she conceived a child in rape and chose life? She should not have to reveal the rape to anyone if she so chooses, even if her job is at stake or if families at the school run the risk of being scandalized. In the case of rape, two innocent victims (mother and child) should not be punished for the circumstances of conception; the mother’s actions afterwards are the only things that should matter.

    February 6, 2014
  10. Kristi #

    I’m proud to be a NON-Catholic Christian… Catholics never fail to disgust me. I’m a single mom who chose LIFE for my little son too and it’s not easy. I can’t imagine what this teacher is feeling. Everybody sins… Just because you sin in a different way doesn’t make you any better. Basically the school is saying “Pro life, but we won’t be there to support you so good luck… If the priest molests a child, we’ll support him though!” Do Catholics realize how high their abortion rate is? Maybe open your heart and mind and show some compassion and females wouldn’t feel the need to keep aborting their babies to keep from being harassed. Jesus is LOVE.

    February 6, 2014
    • Colin #

      Kristi,

      I can speak from experience that this is NOT the Catholic faith. Here is a link to an article on our Cathedrals website on how to create a pro-life home:

      http://www.stjosephcathedralnh.org/blog/Catholic-News–Perspective/How-to-create-a-prolife-culture-at-home-2

      Also, I have a daughter who had a child while in High School. Was I upset, darn right I was, but I also know that we all make mistakes and I can’t say that my granddaughter is a mistake, my youngest daughter said it well “no baby is a mistake dad, they just might not come at the right time”. But I will say she didn’t commit an additional sin and abort a life. Did she atone for her sin, well that is between her, our priest and God to decide, not me. I will say that she went to confession (on her own) and goes regularly, and you cannot imagine the outpouring of love from the parishioners. Many who had dealt with similar circumstances. I LOVE my Catholic faith, and I LOVE the church I am with. Don’t condemn the faith for a few people. Remember Jesus chose Judas as one of his apostles. Give the Catholic Church a chance; there are many very good people, priests, nuns, etc. in it.

      February 7, 2014
  11. Mary,

    I think you’re spot on in pointing out the indignity of this unwed pregnant woman’s situation. I won’t comment on whether or not she ought to have been dismissed *eventually*, because I don’t know all the facts. I will note, however, that some folks in their comments here have failed to grapple with your apt statement: “Why should only the obvious sinners pay the price?” Why, indeed?

    The Church has been beleaguered from many sides lately, and She has chosen (in the U.S. at least) to expend Her energies primarily in what we might call the Culture of Life front. For many lay Catholics (and, from what I can tell, for the religious, priests, and Bishops) this movement has primarily translated into opposition to abortion. Okay, then, we’re all (I used the term “all” loosely, unfortunately) on board with this mission. And so, when an opportunity presents itself, in which members of the Church can apply their pro-life stance in “real life” (rather than in, let’s face it, mostly fruitless, impersonal rants on the internet and/or endless attempts to change the law in place of changing hearts), what do they do? Their message is essentially: “You can’t be unwed and pregnant at school, so, if you are both of those things, then one of them has to go. But before we give you the chance to fix that situation, either by getting married or, you know, ending your pregnancy, we’ll fire you.” Now, as I wrote above, I don’t know the whole story, and so perhaps the unwed, pregnant woman *could* have gotten married and kept her job. That would’ve been ideal. But seeing as a husband can be harder to procure than an abortion in some circumstances, then her dismissal is tantamount to saying that fornication is a greater evil than abortion, which it is patently not (though I hasten to add that fornication is a mortal sin). As you so rightly wrote: “What do you think happens the next time a single Catholic school teacher finds herself pregnant with no husband? Yeah, abortion might be the obvious choice if she thinks she might lose her job otherwise. So much for that pro-life thing.”

    All that is left to say is: “…this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me.” [Isaiah 29:13]

    February 6, 2014
    • Oscar #

      Paula has it exactly right. Fair and balanced. Not assuming things about which she or most other readers of this blog don’t know. Unfortunately, in this case, it seems that the school and Diocese might have weighted more the potential danger of scandal than the commandment to be merciful. It’s not hard to ALWAYS find guidance in Scripture, especially the Gospels, for all our actions in life. Here are some examples that apply to this case: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (S. Luke 6:36-37); “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (S. John 8:7)

      February 8, 2014
  12. Romulus #

    Excuse me Mary, but in what sense can it be said that the fired teacher “deserves” to keep her job? What gives this teacher the right you claim for her, to walk away from her contractual obligations? Mercy I can understand — especially in the context of repentance. Scandal I cannot. Can you explain why it’s OK to teach children that the solemn agreements to which we put our names really have no hold on us as soon as they become inconvenient? Why is it OK to teach children that sin has NO consequences?

    February 6, 2014
  13. I agree with you, Mary. The problem with so many pro-life advocates (not just Catholics), is that they do not want women to have abortions, but they are unwilling to give any kind of support to the single women who find themselves in this position. They are really “theoretically” against abortion, but they don’t want to be involved in actually dealing with the reality of the babies that ARE saved. It is easy to profess religious beliefs; more “messy” to live those beliefs.

    And, I too believe, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.”

    February 6, 2014
    • Shelly #

      How do you know she’s single? Wait for the facts to come out. A lot of people jumping to a lot of conclusions when the media may not have all the facts to report.

      February 7, 2014
      • Oscar #

        Please read the blog before making comments. It clearly states that the fired teacher is an “unwed pregnant … teacher”.

        February 8, 2014
  14. Kim #

    I think that in this case, federal law would kick in and supercede the agreement in the contract. Women in the US do have the right to keep their job even if they’re pregnant. I saw a recent article that implied the woman will be taking legal action.

    As a former Cathlic school student, I find this firing to be in line with things that I saw growing up–keeping gay men in the closet, hiding the addiction and abuse that some priests were struggling with, villianizing women especially if they were unwed and pregnant and treating nuns like indentured servants. Many of the ideas that the religion is based on are lovely (embody acceptance, treat people well, promote goodness, be kind); the policies that have been developed over the last few thousand years that hide behind those teachings are disgusting.

    February 7, 2014
  15. Peg #

    I think that it is interesting that most of the comments about doing penance and agreement in the teacher losing her job are men. Why is that? No seriously, I’m not being sarcastic. Sorry but you guys can’t get pregnant, you can sin and not show the evidence.

    February 7, 2014
    • Colin #

      Peg,

      Yes punishment and atonement for our sins is very much what we should expect, but I do believe and we are taught that we have a merciful God and in turn should be merciful, prudent yes, but merciful to our fellow man. Doesn’t Matthew 6:14-15 say that how can we expect God to forgive us when we can’t forgive others. I’m really not preaching at you so please don’t take it that way.

      I have asked the question on another sight. what punishment the father would receive? I know in my area if a girl becomes pregnant in our Catholic high school she is no longer allowed to attend the school, but the father receives no punishment at all. He is allowed to continue to attend the Catholic High School (this I know from experience). One’s sin is visible and the other is not. In my opinion, he should be expelled also if that is the policy.

      February 7, 2014
  16. From the number of responses which I have read, it would seen that the absolute rulers in this school and diocese, have only accomplished supplying more cannon fodder for those who love to hate our Church. In their haste throw this soon to be mother under the bus of “catholic” political correctness and over-kill, they have only managed to shoot themselves in the foot and possibly lose many who are fence-walking Catholics and/or are weak or searching for a Faith to bring them through this life’s journey to salvation. There seems to be a serious case of Montana brain freeze inflicting those who have made this cowardly decision. This young woman who had the courage to keep her baby and face the posion dipped slings and arrows of the so-called catholic leaders in her diocese, surely showed more personal valor than all of the rest combined. Sure, there is a contract and a contract can be used to a good and also a not so good end. As the father of six and grandfather of 16, I fully understand the concern for the children. In this case I feel that the children are being used as an excuse to fire this woman. I am quite sure that the serious concern for the children and the local parishioners could have been handled in a better way by bringing all concerned parties together in a humble, fervent and sincere spirit of PRAYER, reconciliation and understanding. Why not get the Holy Spirit involved before jumping off the cliff of panic and social chaos. Let the Holy Spirit have a chance to to get a word in edge-wise, as they are making a life-altering decision, which will seriously impact, not just the life of a mother, but also, her child and family. Was it not Jesus who “forgave the woman taken in adultery” John 7:53-8:11? Oh yes, I forgot, she did not have a contract. Give me a break. No wonder our Church is under fire with such obnoxious, selfish and uncharitable decisions like this. Satan’s smoke has surely entered the minds, hearts and brains of those who made this apathetic ruling. We are all sinners, just doing our time and hoping to cross the finsih line with enough of God’s grace and blessings, to get us through. PRAYER IS THE ONLY REAL CONTRACT AND ANSWER, WE HAVE.
    Bob Fallon, Brooklyn, NY

    February 9, 2014
    • Peg #

      Thank you Bob for the constructive use of prayer as the answer.

      February 10, 2014
  17. Christine #

    All I’d like to add is that when I stand before God in judgment I would rather err on the side of mercy.

    February 11, 2014
  18. I don’t think I can “take sides” on this particular event because I don’t know all the facts. Having said that, I am sympathetic to the woman given what I know thus far, taking into account that problems are inevitably more complicated than they appear from the outside.

    I am frankly bemused by some of these comments that propose to assign this poor woman public penance for a sin that I (at least) know nothing about in terms of her degree of culpability or whether she was even willing at all. Scandal? Sex outside of marriage is objectively a grave sin. That is true. Perhaps Montana is different, but where I live the whole environment is a scandal against purity and modesty, and if don’t help my kids see how the truth about sexuality is rooted in the redeeming love of Jesus, they don’t stand a chance to deal constructively with the scandal that assaults them from every direction. If we really catechize our children, they will still have difficulty but they will have an awareness–even if they sin–that the culture is a lie, but also that love, forgiveness and healing are possible because Jesus is present for them in the Church. We need to catechize our children with clear teaching, and also with a family life that helps them to discover the beauty of Christ (and dare I say a parish community life, or a group of friends, or even one other family to help us live Christian communion in a concrete way). A single mother who has fallen and repented should not be a scandal if we are raising our children to participate in the new evangelization.

    And in the reality of what has long been the post-Christian “Western world,” the new evangelization is the way the Church is present in our social environment. Our parishes should be field hospitals, and our children should be learning to be doctors and medics and nurses in the trenches, along with us. Because the trenches are everywhere.

    February 11, 2014
  19. Trish #

    It seems the Catholic Church–diocese by diocese–has gone back to the actions of the Irish nuns and some orphanages here in the States prior to 1950′s. But too these priests and most nuns then and now had no experience with sexuality, childbearing etc So how can they understand what it is like. We have enough trouble with secular men not understanding some of the odd ideas and actions done by pregnant women or often their dismissal of children under the age of 4. My son has been with his wife and new child since the minute he was born and I think it has opened his mind–along with some activities as a kid. Maybe priests as they prepare for the priesthood should spend some time and activities with pregnant women and newborn babies. It may open some of their eyes.

    It’s good to remember Aquinas was not damning to newborns but one can’t say the same for Thomas More and his dismissive attitude toward his wife and all but one daughter and all those women of Henry’s England that were claimed “witches.” I have never understood how he justified their being burned at the stake.

    February 11, 2014
  20. Don Miller #

    What if we change the scenario, as a morality case study?

    Let’s say I happen to steal some money and it looks like I won’t get away with it because there is a witness. What are my options? I can come clean, admit that I made a mistake, give back the money and even sacrifice and pay the money back tenfold. Or I could bribe the witness, or blackmail, or “silence” the witness. If I choose to do the right thing, should I expect to keep my job? If word gets around that you really can get fired for stealing, then the next time a person finds himself with stolen money will he resort to murder to cover up the first sin? Is my employer wrong to fire me even if they are vocal in their pro-honesty, pro-forgiveness stance?

    Is this an unfair comparison? The difference with pregnancy is the lifelong consequence of a choice and the “legal” life and death power of the chooser. Maybe a better scenario would be drinking and driving. We used to think that it was no big deal until MAD mothers taught us to think before we drink and drive.

    February 16, 2014

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