Two million dollars is the cost of respecting life.
Call me rogue if you will, but from my perspective it’s worth every penny. Let me explain.
Just before Christmas, a US District Court ordered a $1.9 million judgment against the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for enforcing a pro-life clause in an employment contract.
Emily Herx, a married Catholic who taught in St. Vincent de Paul Elementary School, had signed an employment contract in which she agreed “to conduct herself at all times, professionally and personally, in accordance with the episcopal teaching authority, law and governance of the Church in this Diocese.”
It’s the sort of language every Catholic pro-lifer agrees should be in the contract of every teacher in every Catholic school and college if the Church is ever going to be effective at rebuilding a culture of life.
Alas, such quality control is a novelty in Catholic education, even concerning life Issues.
When Mrs. Herx asked for time off for her first round of IVF treatments in 2010, the school principal registered no objection. But when she asked for time off for another round of treatments in 2011, the principal told Herx she needed to talk with the school’s pastor.
What had changed?
In the intervening year, the principal herself had learned about the Church’s teaching against IVF: the Catholic Church teaches that in vitro fertilization is wrong because, in separating the procreative and unitive aspects of the sexual act, it violates human dignity.
As Herx wrote in an article for the Indiana ACLU (which filed an amicus brief in the case):
That meeting was the first indication I received that my use of IVF might be contrary to church teachings. Shocked as I was to learn this . . . I was even more horrified to be called a grave, immoral sinner by the Monsignor.
In the words of Monsignor John Kuzmich, then-pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Herx “refused to express any remorse for going against the teachings of the Church.” Because of this her contract was not renewed for the 2011-12 school year. She then sued the diocese for gender discrimination.
But the Catholic school teachers (male, by the way) with whom I have chatted go ballistic at the next part of the story.
It seems during approximately the same time frame, some male teachers from St. Vincent’s had been tossed out of a strip bar for harassing one of the performers. But they didn’t get fired for violating Church teaching. All that happened was a copy of the morals clause in their contract was put in their mailboxes.
Should guys who misbehave at strip bars be role models of the Catholic faith to children? After all, simply frequenting such establishments violates the dignity of the human person.
The discrepancy in response to each of these situations, however, made it easy for the court to find that the school had discriminated against Emily Herx on the basis of her gender.
A representative of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend testified at the trial that the diocese had assets of $30 million. The award decreed on December 20 amounts to almost 7% of its financial net worth.
It’s a steep price to pay for having failed to catechize several generations.
Of course, I hope the Diocese will appeal to the Supreme Court. And certainly I will pray the Court will understand that the First Amendment protects the right of a church to decide who can represent it in a classroom . . . even if the church is playing catch-up with its own team members.
But from the pro-life perspective, if it takes the federal courts to cause a lethargic church to clean up its act, well . . . what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Exactly, in this case.
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Connie Marshner has been a pro-life, pro-family researcher, grassroots trainer, organizer, and lobbyist; manager; writer; homeschooler; editor; campaign adviser; coalition leader; fundraiser; and political strategist. She is absolutely thrilled now to be a blogger for Human Life Review.