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Distinguishing between actions and status is important

February 6, 2014

I’m a big fan of “morals clauses” in contracts for Catholic school teachers and I certainly hold for the principle that Pacta sunt servanda (agreements once made should be kept), but I am having a hard time seeing my way clear to the firing of a Catholic school teacher for being pregnant outside of wedlock (assuming that’s actually what’s happened here). For a morals clause to focus on actions is one thing; for a morals clause to focus on status is quite another.

Being pregnant is not a moral category, it’s a biological consequence of certain: morally licit actions (conjugal relations); or of morally illicit actions (fornication or adultery or artificial insemination); or of morally indifferent (for the woman) actions (victim of rape/incest). Now, as no one is suggesting that a Catholic school teacher pregnant by her husband or pregnant by crime should be fired, that suggests that “being pregnant” can’t be the real reason for this termination, but rather, how the teacher got pregnant is.

I hold that how one consents to getting pregnant outside of marriage (or how one gets another pregnant outside of marriage) is a morally cognizable act and therefore it can be the object of a morals clause, but even here, where the focus is admittedly on behavior, I’d be careful: the normal Catholic response to sin, per se, is repentance and Confession, not loss of employment. A woman comes to the sacrament and confesses embezzlement. A priest will advise restitution, but he will not say “You must resign your job.” One can be truly repentant of most sins (including, one might surmise, of sins among the oldest in history) without suffering drastic temporal consequences for them. Especially where such consequences might serve as an inducement to avoid them by commiting still greater sins.

To be sure, this case as reported is distinguishable from, say, a single woman who, wanting to have a baby, is impregnated artificially; in such a case, the pregnancy seems to be an on-going statement that the human consortium of sex in marriage is optional and thus the affront offered to Church teaching (indeed, to natural law) would be more serious than that caused by what could have been the nine-month biological result of a fleeting moral weakness; likewise, a teacher in a proclaimed (say by a marriage license or public announcement) homosexual relationship; or for that matter if a single teacher walks into her Catholic grade school class and says “Good morning boys and girls, I’m not married and I got pregnant and I don’t care what those crotchety old men in the Vatican say about it” yaddah yaddah yaddah, yes, those kinds of behaviors warrant a more aggressive response.

But outside of such cases . . . well, I think, the school has a rather harder sell to make.

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