Monday, November 28, 2005

Catholic teacher fired for being pregnant

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Los Angeles Times had a story on an unmarried Catholic school teacher named Michelle McCusker who was fired after she told her employers that she was pregnant.

McCusker had been teaching pre-kindergarten at St. Rose of Lima. After losing her $30,000-a-year job, she began working as a substitute teacher in New York City public schools. She is living with her parents on Long Island and has declined to comment further.

The Brooklyn Archdiocese issued a brief statement this week, saying: "This is a difficult situation for every person involved, but the school had no choice but to follow the principles contained in the teachers' personnel handbook."

The handbook states that "a teacher is required to convey the teachings of the Catholic faith by his or her words and actions, demonstrating an acceptance of Gospel values and the Christian tradition."

The archdiocese's right to teach these values in its schools, and to expect teachers to uphold them in their personal lives, is inviolate, said Kiera McCaffrey, communications director for the Catholic League, a national group.

I can see how the school would want to uphold the principles of the school regarding pre-marital sex but I don't think firing Ms. McCusker is the best way of going about it.

"It's not like we're saying that she is a sinner and can't be a role model," McCaffrey said. "But there's a visible sign. She's pregnant. To have children looking at that, and say it's OK, is not the example the church wants to set."

But what kind of example are they setting instead? They obviously don't want their teachers to have sex outside of wedlock but doesn't firing an unmarried pregnant teacher send a clear message to other unmarried teachers who might be engaged in premarital sex or might even be pregnant? They're trying to say "Don't have sex outside of marriage" but it comes off as "You can't be pregnant outside of marriage and work here" since pregnancy is often the only physical sign that informs others that an individual has had sex outside of marriage. If I was an unmarried pregnant woman, losing my job due to the discovery of pregnancy could be one of the deciding factors leading to an abortion.

I'm also not sure that allowing Ms. McCusker to keep her job means that the school is saying McCusker's behavior is "OK." The ongoing pregnancy doesn't tell us if McCusker is still having premarital sex (neither does the LA Times article). The pregnancy is a sign that in the past McCusker has engaged in a behavior that is against the school's principles.

But what about women who've had abortions in the past? What about women who gave birth to a child out-of-wedlock earlier in their lives? Could they then not be allowed to teach at St. Rose of Lima because they've previously engaged in behavior that is against the school's principles?

In a recent post, the Pro-Woman Pro-Lifer pointed out to one of her pregnant clients "how hypocritical it is for the church (Catholic or Protestant) to teach that abortion is murder and then shun women who decide not to have one."

Couldn't McCusker's response to her pregnancy been used as a valuable teaching tool instead of as a reason for firing her?

In other words from the Pro-Woman Pro-Lifer, couldn't the school have used McCusker's pregnancy to "(t)each (their) kids that sex before marriage is wrong, but an abortion doesn't make it right again. Teach them that they don't need to have an abortion to avoid embarrassment within the church. The main focus should be to show them how helping pregnant women remain pregnant makes you feel good and does the work of Christ. That way, should she become pregnant, she'll know you won't ostracize her or judge her (or fire her). Preach the Gospel, and when necessary, use words. Teach them that children are a blessing that can be brought out of a bad decision, but abortion is a bad decision brought out of another bad decision."

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:56 AM

    I have to admit that not only was I angered but saddened when I heard about Ms. McCusker's firing from St. Rose of Lima. The way in which they have chosen to handle this woman is a prime example of the Catholic Church's inability to distinguish an opportunity to express in a real world setting the virtues that they say they follow. I ask you what would Jesus do in this situation? My gut tells me He wouldn't have made the same decision. The New Testament does not deal with such contemporary issues as how to make having a child out of wedlock even more difficult. It does speak of forgiveness. Perhaps Jesus would have said " Let the one of you that is without sin cast the first stone"