28 November, 2005

Is firing a sinner the right solution?

God save the Church, starting with me, a sinner myself.

I read in yesterday's newspaper that a Catholic school in New York fired a teacher who became pregnant, and would not marry her boyfriend (possibly ex-boyfriend; I can't recall). Backed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the teacher is taking the school to court for discriminating against a pregnant woman, which is against federal law. The woman made some rather pointed remarks about how she could have aborted the child and kept her job, and no one would have known.

The school and diocese reply that they have certain constitutional rights regarding religious practice. The woman violated the faith of the Catholic Church in a public manner; she would then be teaching in front of students who would have some natural questions about her belly. It's rather difficult for the Church to just say that what she did is okay; after all, one of the major reasons one attends a Catholic school is for the character education, and teachers make a promise to uphold the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. This woman clearly did not uphold them; so, diocesan leaders explain, she ought to be fired by the terms of her contract.

It's amazing how the beauty of an apparent logic can bring intelligent people to such a boneheaded conclusion. It's true that the school can't simply tell the students that the teacher's situation is okay. But this is hardly their only option, and as a faithful Catholic, I find the false dichotomy they present discouraging. They do not have to tell the children that the woman's situation is okay, because it's not. They can tell the children the truth: the woman will have a child without a husband, and that this is a bad situation.

The Church is called to minister to people in bad situations just as her Betrothed does. She is, in fact, supposed to be the presence of Christ in the world. Does no one in the Catholic school system have any imagination? Don't they at least read books and think about them? Making the woman wear a giant, scarlet A on her chest would demonstrate more compassion than firing her, and would send simultaneously the very message to the students that the administrators claim they want to send. It would still be the wrong course of action, but at least it would suggest that someone over there is thinking.

Contrast this, on the other hand, to a different Catholic school. For several years, the students' families had been upping the scale of competition for the largest orgy on prom night. What was their solution, to expel the worst malefactors from the school, and hope the example would send a message? To the contrary, they simply canceled the prom. An utterly commendable course of action.

Character education is not always a matter of punishing people for failing to follow a few simple rules. People sin; all of us have struggled enough with sinfulness. We don't need simple-minded practices that make people think that since the "rules" are impossible, the "rules" must be wrong. We must forgive sinners, or we can't expect forgiveness for ourselves — I'm sure I've heard that in one of Christ's teachings somewhere.

I have no idea whether the woman has any grounds for the case; after all, the firing isn't due to her pregnancy, but to behavior that led to the pregnancy. But there's an irony here. My experience with Catholic clergy strongly leaves me no doubt that the Church's lobbyists fell over themselves to advocate this law, never imagining that someone might use it against them one day.

I am a Catholic; I converted to the Catholic faith, and I believe firmly in the teachings of the Catholic Church. I do not regret this choice, and I never will. If original sin taints all men, it taints the leaders of the Church as well. The repeatedly boneheaded decisions of those who wield authority in the Church don't make me question my faith; rather, they are empirical evidence that confirm it.

Yet I can't help but shake my head at some of the decisions that pass for "compassionate, pastoral" care. The school had no qualms about firing this pregnant teacher. Imagine if she had been a parishioner using artificial birth control, or even abortion, to limit her family size; such a person would not only remain a teacher despite her small family, but likely would serve as "Eucharist minister" and sit on several parish councils, since faithful Catholics with large families tend to be too busy to attend to such things. Imagine if she had been a priest who molested several students! God forbid they go public with such information; compassionate, pastoral clergy such as former Archbishop Rembert Weakland might start calling them "squealers"...

God save the Church, starting with me, a sinner myself.


Brenden said...

At the same time, one is reminded that the Lord chastises those who he loves (Hebrews 12:6). I'm just weighing in on your (and Brandon's) comments regarding the logic (or miscompassion) about the situation of this school teacher.

Without doubt I agree that perhaps it is self-evident in a way that what occured to her was uncompassionate from a certain perspective, however, I disagree with the perspective that states that is the only way to look at it and, moreover, the logical way to look at it.

Grace is a paradox, however, suffering is a paradox too. On the one hand it is to be relieved, on the other hand it is blessed. The saints are saints mainly for two reasons: they have pure caritas and compassion for their neighbors, that is, they give their all to relieve others' sufferings. However, they also love God so much that they accept and offer up their own sufferings heroically and even joyfully. It is at this point where I assert the other half of God's paradoxical logic, viz., Hebrews 12:6.

I have suffered emmensly through this principle. I offer you this simple Christian principle in order to shed light on this situation.

'we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose'

jack perry said...

Thanks for the comment, Brenden. Heads up to your school, by the way.

I didn't mean to say that mine was the "logical" way to look at it; in fact, I believe I argued that the "logical" way to look at it is precisely what the school has done. Of course, I also call it "the beauty of an apparent logic," and imply that someone isn't thinking.

I am more concerned with what would be the "pastoral" judgment. I do not mean "pastoral" in the sense that it is commonly (and falsely) used by certain elements in the Catholic Church today; namely, as a means of ignoring Christ altogether. Rather, I mean it in the sense of the Church's mission to reconcile sinners to Christ. To use a more old-fashioned terminology, I'm saying the school (nor, apparently, the diocese) doesn't seem at all concerned about saving her soul. Nothing in the quotes I've read, nor in the articles I've read, suggests that they even offered her the chance to make a public repentance. As in, what the early Church did before there was a sacrament of confession.

My point is that there's a lot of room for imagination here, while remaining completely orthodox.

Aside from that, I agree with the substance of what you write, although I don't understand exactly how you mean it to refer to the case in question, unless:

(a) you are saying that by firing the woman, God is using the Church to chastise her, with which I must agree as an orthodox Christian, since everything that befalls us comes by God's will, even the things I don't like; and/or

(b) you are saying that the school is showing caritas and compassion, which doesn't seem at all apparent to me, since (I repeat) no attempt was made to reconcile her.

brenden said...

"A.)" would be closest to what I was aiming to convey and as a corollary, being fired doesn't seem so outrageous, since any sin has consequence (how they handled that seems to be the real issue).

My suspicion is (from reading that article) that she isn't even a Catholic (in which case one would ask what is she doing in a catholic school), I would be interested to know for sure. I find catholic schools are so disinterested when it comes to hiring that this would best act as a catalyst to the dilapidated catholic school system. A bit of a blanket statement but I'm sure we are not too far from you guys in the United States.

On a side note: well put with regards to "pastoral judgement", I find that particularly insightful.