Is It about a Winning Move?
I came across a news report about two teachers from a Catholic Acadamy in Boston who were fired because they conceived a child out of wedlock. The official statement noted that all the teachers sign an agreement that they would adhere to the teachings and principles of the Catholic Church, which are among "many other criteria essential for employment." Generally speaking, the dismissal of employees for cause rarely makes the evening news except when it happens in a Catholic institution and there is an invocation of a morality clause. Every day there are people dismissed from their places of employment for violating their contract, and it is almost never a newsworthy event.
With regard to this particular report and the slant by which it was reported, some could make an argument for religious bias against the Church or yet another infringment against religious freedom. For others, this situation could raise the question about what constitutes "Catholic Identity", particularly in institutions such as Catholic Schools. In fact, when such situations occur, there could be healthy dialogue in which the Church presents Her Teachings and expresses concern over the fate of morality in our day. To be honest, it is sad that the private lives of two individuals has to become public fodder and used to make points.
That being said, it is not the fact that it happened that caught my attention or even the media bias that disturbed me. In reading comments made on Facebook and other Catholic sources, I find the reactions of most people rather distressing. It seems there are two main camps in this debate. The first camp would claim that the Catholic response should have been more compassionate in supporting this couple, who admittedly are seeking to do the right thing and get married in 2015. In a sense, those in this camp would mostly believe the institution should look the other way. The drive in this argument is that the threat of losing a job would force Catholic school teachers to seek abortions in order to save their jobs. In this camp, you get a general sense of the "mean Church" caricature and claims that they did not act as Pope Francis has been indicating.
The second camp are those who defend the process and believe that there must be consequences for our actions. This couple is merely suffering the consequences for engaging in relations out of wedlock. The drive in this argument is to support Catholic Teaching and Identity. The caricature in this approach is that the teachers are living illicit lifestyles and deserve punishment for what they have done. It is not the Church's fault that their sin has become public, nor is it the Church's fault they are in the predicament in which they find themselves.
In reading the back and forth comments made by Catholic sources, at one extreme the Church is portrayed as uncaring because it fired them, which left them without insurance at a time when they will be needing it most. At the other extreme, there are those who are happy the Church is finally taking a stand and purging the immoral from Her institutions. Even those who are tempered in their approach do not conclude that there is a right way to go in this situation. In the end, an astute person will realize that there is probably much more to this story than is found in the report itself, but at this point we can only discuss what is public knowledge.
After seeing the report and reading the comments, the scene from the movie War Games came to mind when the computer, Joshua, played a game of futility and concluded the only winning move was not to play at all. If the Church were to allow public debate and opinion to guide Her, this would be a logical conclusion. If the only options are to look the other way in order to be compassionate or to force such people underground in our institutions, then there is no "winning" move.
If it were about "winning" the publicity game, then the Church should get out of education, hospitals, and other institutions because She would always live under this veil of futility. However, based only on the information available, there may be a solution not considered, one that would never make the news. In this possibility, we should recall that the Church is about reconciliation and mercy. This is what is behind the comments Pope Francis has been making. What if the couple were truly sorry for the sin committed? What if their agreement to Marry were a sign of such repentence? What if they were to agree to express the repentance to the school community?
Yes, the Church is the guardian of morality and right living. Yes, Her Teachings are important and should be clearly reflected in Her institutions and the lives of those who represent those institutions. Yes, there are times when those who work for the Church have committed a sin that became public and required a public response. In this Season of Advent, we proclaim repentance of sins and ask the followers of Jesus to make straight the path. When someone sins, it is more important that he or she repents and makes right than to suffer punishment. Yes, we will always suffer the effects of Sin but that does not mean forgiveness is not possible or that a sinner is unable to change.
Thus, one possibility could have been for the school officials to ask the couple to make a public statement of repentance. They could have held a meeting to let the parents and children know that the situation happened and that the couple made a sinful choice. Rather than waiting for everyone to notice this unwed woman was expecting and causing scandal, they could get in front of it by explaining what happened and what the Church Teaches, especially with regard to repentance and God's mercy. At the meeting, it could be made clear that a sin was committed and the couple have repented.
Yes, they made a mistake and yes, they are doing something to correct it. It is not that sins happen, but how we react in light of the sins we commit. For Church leaders, the only time someone needs to be chatised is when the person remains unrepentant and obstinately mired in his or her sin (e.g., see 1 Corinthians 5). I believe that if such had been followed I would not be writing this post because news of the situation would never have left the halls of the building.
In this light, it is not about winners and losers. It is about Salvation in Christ. If anyone really wants to understand Pope Francis, this is what he is talking about, not just about being compassionate but being compassionate with an end in mind. For Pope Francis, or for any pope, it is about salvation of souls. And when it comes to the salvation of souls, we are not playing games.