In past years on my old blog, I occasionally covered stories involving Catholic schools that fired unmarried pregnant female teachers. My general feeling about these incidents is simple: if the teacher is being fired merely for the fact of the pregnancy--that is, if the pregnancy was the result of a regrettable sinful action but the teacher has no plans to continue committing those kinds of sins--there should be leniency, and as much mercy as possible. The entanglement of health care with employment at this stage of our nation's history is a factor, here: if a woman admits to having committed the sin of fornication which resulted in pregnancy, but she is not living in sin and fully intends to practice chastity from this point on, it seems wrong to punish the developing child by ending the woman's health insurance right at this moment. The Church's own views as to the sacredness of unborn human life should help to guide these kinds of decisions.
However, there are situations where things are not so clear. For instance, when a partnered lesbian teacher at a Catholic school had an IVF embryo implanted in her womb, the school was right to fire her, not only because of the grave immorality of the situation, but also because the woman was clearly violating and intending to continue violating the code of conduct she had signed as a condition of employment.
And this new case in Pennsylvania is also the kind of case that should be carefully considered:
COAL TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania - Naiad Reich and boyfriend Matt Graboski are expecting their first child next summer. It's supposed to be a happy time for the couple who live near Shamokin, Pennsylvania. Instead, Reich was fired from her teaching job at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School because the couple is not married.
"I'm extremely excited," Graboski told WNEP. "It's one of the most rewarding things you can possibly go through."
Recently, that excitement has been overshadowed. For the past two years, Reich was a high school teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes.
Last week, she told the principal she was pregnant.
"It was very apparent that she was not happy with the circumstances. Of course, her problem was Catholic morals," said Reich.
She said the principal's concern was that the couple are not married. The Diocese of Harrisburg had questions.
"If there's no eventual plan in the near future to get married, it was either that or I had to be let go," Reich said.From the news reports on this situation it would appear that Ms. Reich understands that she is in violation of the school's code of conduct which she signed at the time of employment, and that the violation is not the mere fact of the pregnancy, but that she is living with her boyfriend (the child's father) and has not made any marriage plans. Whether she might have been permitted to keep teaching if she was actively planning to marry is not clear, but one can understand that the diocese might be prepared to be lenient in those circumstances.
This is not a case of a woman alone facing a crisis pregnancy; this is a case involving a couple who is living together without being married, and now there is a child on the way. From the school's perspective, condoning this situation might create confusion among students as to the importance of Church teaching on the sanctity of marriage and the rights of a child to be born to parents who have already committed their lives to each other. In these circumstances, I think the diocese has done the right thing.
Already in the United States, more than 40% of children are born to unmarried parents. Social scientists know that the biggest positive difference that can be measured in a child's life is that the child is raised by her own parents in a stable marriage. Every other type of family structure produces poorer outcomes for children. Sometimes, as in the cases where a spouse has died, the absence of that two-married-parent stability is no one's fault. But other situations involve poor choices by adults, and the further demand, in many instances, by those adults for the children to put up with the many instabilities and difficulties stemming from their non-traditional upbringing.
It boggles the mind how people who cannot commit enough to each other to enter a valid marriage together think they will be able to commit fully and equally as co-parents to a child. Some do grow up in a hurry once the child arrives and will indeed marry; others will walk away from the new responsibilities and limits on their personal freedoms. Many who walk away are men, leaving more and more single women heading households and trying to be both father and mother to a child or children.
Children need both fathers and mothers. The Church may occasionally be on the "wrong" side of the culture in her insistence on this truth, but she is not wrong to stand up for it.