Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On the Firing of Pregnant and Unmarried Teachers in Catholic Schools: My Take

In case any reader of Bilgrimage wonders, it goes without saying that I oppose the recent firing of Shaela Evenson by Butte Central Catholic school in Montana because she is pregnant and unmarried just as much as I oppose the firing of Mark Zmuda by Eastside Catholic school in Seattle because he married his same-sex partner. My theological warrants for opposing firings of this sort have much to do with the biblical concept of mercy, to which Pope Francis has repeatedly sought to draw the attention of Catholics.

Mercy doesn't place people in untenable situations as they pass through major life passages that are already stressful--situations like loss of a monthly salary as bills pile up, loss of medical coverage, loss of a social venue in which to share one's talents. Because my partner Steve and I have lived through seriously traumatic events like this as a same-sex couple fired by a Catholic university while we were providing care for my aging mother as she suffered from dementia, I know the heavy toll this lack of mercy can take on a body. And a mind. And a soul.

I'm also opposed to this kind of behavior on the part of Catholic institutions because these institutions typically justify their firing of an unmarried employee who has become pregnant or a gay employee who comes out of the closet and/or marries her partner by claiming that they can't possibly have anyone working for the institution who violates Catholic moral principles. But as far as I can determine, that principle is applied so selectively in Catholic institutions as to be mendacious, when it's suddenly dragged out to justify the firing of gay employees or unmarried and pregnant ones.

In my experience, Catholic institutions seldom do anything at all to inquire about contraceptive use on the part of their married employees. I've worked in Catholic schools in which people espoused openly racist views. One of these was a Catholic school that had no African-American students because the neighborhood in which the school was located had a covenant forbidding anyone to sell a house to a black person. When the pastor of this parish in which the school was located preached about the immorality of racism, people--including most of the teachers in the parish school--protested by dropping chocolate babies into the collection basket instead of money. I discovered all of this only after having taken a job at the school.

Almost all of the teachers in that school vocally opposed a requirement of the archbishop that all teachers in Catholic schools attend workshops on the evil of abortion--because these teachers welcomed Roe v. Wade and did not welcome what they saw as the intrusion of the magisterium into the private lives of women seeking abortions.

It has not escaped my notice that many Catholic universities routinely hire people who openly oppose Catholic teaching about matters of socioeconomic justice. Catholic institutions not uncommonly employ people (e.g., business consultants, attorneys, other sorts of advisors) whose ethical practices very clearly do not meet the standard set by Catholic social teaching. Some of those people sit on the boards of Catholic universities. Some of them make huge donations to the business schools of Catholic universities.

I've taught in Catholic universities in which colleagues freely spread among their students astonishing toxic lies about fellow human beings who are gay, or freely defended war-mongering. Nary a peep on the part of these universities about the discrepancy between attacking vulnerable minority groups or promoting war and Catholic teaching . . . . 

Because I've seen with my own eyes for many years now that hardly any Catholic institution anywhere goes after employees who violate church teaching about matters of social justice, or contraceptive use, or any number of other issues, I cannot fail to wonder why Catholic institutions suddenly make a point of punishing employees who violate church teaching regarding selected issues of sexual morality--notably, homosexuality, and now, because Catholic institutions have painted themselves into a corner with their ongoing attacks on gay employees and these schools are beginning to fire pregnant and unmarried ones, the teaching about sexual activity only within the bounds of marriage.

As I say, I oppose the firing of Shaela Evenson by Butte Central Catholic school just as I oppose the firing of Mark Zmuda at Eastside Catholic school. But even as I apply the preceding moral analysis to oppose both discriminatory firings, I ask myself why some of my fellow Catholics who play important roles in the Catholic academy or the Catholic media are so vocal about opposing the former firing (Evenson), while they remain absolutely silent about the latter one (Zmuda).

And while they never speak out about the rights of their fellow human beings who are gay, and maintain total silence about the issue of human rights for gay people as they themselves work in Catholic institutions that clearly do not respect gay rights . . . .

There seems to be a curious double standard at work here. I wonder what it is and why it's there. Any thoughts from any readers: why do some Catholics find it possible to speak out strongly when a teacher who is unmarried and pregnant is fired by a Catholic school, but seem to find it impossible to speak out as teachers who are gay and come out of the closet and/or marry a same-sex partner are fired?

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