Yet again a Catholic school, this one in Helena, Montana, is in the news because it has dismissed a teacher for moral reasons. Shaela Evenson who has taught literature and PE to middle schoolers at Butte Central Catholic Schools for the last nine years has been fired because she became pregnant out of wedlock (a violation of the morals clause in her contract with the diocese) and an anonymous letter writer alerted the diocese to the situation. The diocese says that the policy applies to men and women who violate Church moral teaching, but acknowledge that they don't proactively investigate their employees lives and Ms. Evenson's situation is "much more evident" than a similar transgression by a man would be.
These cases are always thorny. I would hope that diocese and schools use some discretion in applying their policies, making some sort of good faith effort to understand whether they're dealing with a teacher who genuinely reject's Catholic teaching or is living with the consequences of an acknowledge lapse. People's natural assumptions start to come out in a situation like this. One group of writers seem inevitably to frame any such story as "vindictive authorities punish faithful teacher for her one moral lapse" while another group frame it as "school finally gets rid of teacher who doesn't accept Church teaching." Sometimes it may be clear whether Church teaching is accepted from the actions or statements involved, but other times it seems to be more a matter of people pouring their dispositions into a situation. It seems clear that, in the real world of real people, in some cases this will turn out to be a teacher who accepts Church teaching but failed to live by it (or was the victim of an assault) while in other cases it's a teacher who really does reject Church teaching and probably does a pretty bad job of trying to pretend when teaching it.
Be that as it may, there's one line of argument that seems to me completely off base. Voices of indignation often frame these stories as "teacher fired for being pro-life". The theory behind this is that if the teacher had had an abortion, no one would have been the wise. Thus, if a teacher is fired for having a sexual relationship outside of marriage which is discovered via her becoming pregnant, then implicitly she is being fired for not having an abortion.
While it's true that the teacher's transgression wouldn't have become known had she had an abortion, I think this approach is flawed, in that it implicitly moves abortion into the range of potentially acceptable actions.
Imagine the following case: A young man comes forward and accuses the priest who was his pastor when he was young of having sexually abused him. The priest is removed from ministry. Is there anyone who would mount the defense, "Sure, the priest sexually abused the young boy. But we should be very thankful that the priest did not then kill him and hide the body. If he had done so, we would never know of the crime, and the priest would still have his job. We're punishing the priest for choosing life!"
No. Indeed, the argument is on the face of it offensive and suggests that the abuse victim's life is somehow forfeit and that it's only by the generosity of his abuse that her retains it.
Similarly, arguing that the teacher is being punished "for choosing life" both assumes that the initial transgression is inevitable rather than being itself a moral choice, and also gives in to the idea that abortion is a "normal" response to being pregnant when you don't want to be.
I think one could make a pragmatic argument about incentives on somewhat similar grounds: that given the prevalence of abortion in our current society that it's important to try to avoid creating situations in which people face a consequence for giving birth to a child which they do not face for having an abortion.
But I think that it's unacceptable from a pro-life point of view to see this kind of situation in terms of "punishing someone for choosing life". If we take the pro-life point of view seriously, "choosing life" is a given.
Evening Note for Monday, April 24
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