Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Catholic Church is breaking my heart -again -still

Honest to Pete, when will this end?

A 28-year-old teacher at St. Rose of Lima school in New York has been fired because she's pregnant and not married. From outside the church, looking in, of course that's ridiculous. But internally, the reason that has been given for her firing is that there's a "morals clause" in her contract, requiring her to promise -which she apparently did- to follow the teachings of the Catholic church in her daily life.

Inclusion of these clauses makes conservatives happy but has proven to cause nothing but trouble for the institutional church. The bad publicity is one thing, but as far as I can tell, it makes no theological or even legal sense to include such a clause. Absolutely, we want to encourage people to behave morally, and the church thinks it has a handle on what that would look like. But unless -or until- they are sure that no married teacher in their employ is using artificial birth control, no single man has ever fathered a child out of wedlock, no cafeteria lunch lady (Catholic or not, by the way) has divorced and remarried without an annulment.... then in fact Ms. McCusker is not so much being punished because she sinned, but rather because her "immoral behavior" shows. If she had quietly and invisibly had an abortion, she'd still be working. Would that be better? And if the father of that child works for the diocese and is still employed, I'm going to have a real fit -but I clearly have no evidence that he does. It's just a thought that crossed my mind.

The Church has find minds in it and fine lawyers on retainer. Did they get such terrible advice from them, or did they ignore the rational advice they did get? Because, these clauses are just an open invitation for the aggrieved party to call an army of lawyers and the New York Times -and every blogger they know- and just have a field day. Which of course is what's happened.

The question I think we're left with is when does this become such a fundamental question of justice that we can't participate any more? There's the "stay and advocate for justice, because you clearly have no voice if you're outside the circle" argument. And on the other side, there's the "by staying, you're affiliating yourself with decisions you hate" -and I don't use the word hate lightly. I can make a convincing argument either way.

Here's an interesting little tidbit too. A long time ago, I was at a meeting with the local bishop's representative and the topic at hand was this exact morals clause. I expressed my concern with its inclusion in the contract, and the response was essentially "let's just wait and see if anyone is unjustly fired and then see if we need to get all hot and bothered." I was so stunned and offended I actually said what I was thinking, which was "I think you can safely count on THAT!" Well, here we are.

Thanks to my buddies on the Vatican 2 discussion list for bringing this issue to my attention.

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