Let Catholic Schools Be Catholic

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Michael Graham made me aware of the case of a Catholic school in Lawrence, Mass., where two teachers were fired after one of them, the unmarried partner of the other, became pregnant. According to media reports, they’re rising to the challenge and getting married. They’re also poised to sue the Archdiocese of Boston.

A problem with these cases is that schools and parishes have both administrative and pastoral responsibilities, and it’s often only the administrative fact of the firing that winds up in the media.

There are issues of integrity here: The school has to be what it says it is, if that means anything to it. That means charity, always, but also doing justice to the mission of the school to teach what it means to live a good Catholic life.

I know very little about the details of this case. We’re all sinners – even when we actually do believe what the Church teaches about sexual morality or anything else we do fall short. As a matter of public witness, we are called to be who we say we are. That will be imperfect. But as a matter of public witness, much is demanded of anyone who takes on any kind of public position that is “Catholic.” Anyone hired as a Catholic school teacher in a very specific sense — and by contract — signs up for this consciously. So many of them are overwhelmingly devoted, loving, self-sacrificial models of sanctified lives in the world, often in the poorest of areas, often with not a ton of support, serving all. While these schools are about educating the whole person, they are open to all, and in some places parents are choosing to send their kids there because they are safer and better, giving kids a shot they wouldn’t otherwise have at academic success and happiness. Lives are saved. 

The school is required to uphold its mission in all its administrative and pastoral aspects. It’s one of the many reasons this religious-liberty fight over the HHS mandate is so important, and as readers here know well, drives me so crazy – that the administration insists on attacking conscience rights like this. Is it really about kids in the poorest, most dangerous wards of D.C. vs. contraceptive coverage? (Cardinal Wuerl of Washington talked to me a little bit about that early in this battle.) Making sure employers cover abortion pills is that important to the Obama administration? The Little Sisters of the Poor have to surrender to the Obama administration on the same if they want to serve the elderly. This is obviously not who we are or want to be. Right?

As for the teachers in Massachusetts, God bless them for having this child and may the sacrament of marriage only bring them closer to God in their love. And thanks be to God we do still have the right to run schools that make propositions about life and demonstrate that they are true and can be lived.

We tend to only hear about the lawsuits (remember the one this year in which a woman who admitted to having never intended to abide by the contract she signed after her own lesbian lifestyle and IVF pregnancy became known?).  

We should hear more about the missionary work of, say, the teachers of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education. They’re changing lives and leading in a renewal of Catholic education. And that’s a good thing. If there are religious folk with a mandate to serve running hospitals and schools, our government can’t pretend to have all the answers to education and health care and anything else bureaucratic hubris and delusion insists it can do best. Whatever anyone thinks of premarital sex or marriage, there’s a public good to a Catholic school being able to be Catholic. Religious freedom is a public good. Protecting it is an obligation as stewards, and for our own good.

(For more on the Alliance for Catholic Education, read my recent interview with founder Fr. Timothy Scully here.)