Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Letter to Loretto Girl

Over at Catholic and Enjoying It I came across the story of a faithful Catholic girl and her faithful mother who've precipitated the firing of a Catholic-school teacher for encouraging mothers going inside abortion clinics. As Mark notes, there's some heat being directed at the ladies, a lot of it vile and silly. Here are some examples:
"I feel sorry for you girl, your mom is a whack job."

"[W]e don't need this bullshit coming from your family right now."

"I hope you transfer, not only to a different school, but into a different religion. Catholicism isn't a hate-based belief system, and we don't need your kind."
There are others that read as though the words were cut out of magazines and then glued onto the side of a paper bag.

Of course not all the comments are appallingly shallow and atavistic. There's a spectrum that runs from the above-quoted posts through the higher realms occupied, variously, by the School of Boldly-Outraged Libertarians ("how dare you enforce your morality on others"), the College of Faint Hearts ("abortion might be wrong except the girls are in trouble and it's a tough choice so there"), up to the Do-It-Yourself Senate of True Catholicism ("all the theologians I know say to leave this medieval divisiveness behind and march onward to the sunny uplands of something else!").[1] On they go until, finally, we get to Loretto Girl.

I take it that Loretto Girl is a student at the school. That must be a good school, because her calm dissection of the issues is a pretty rare sight. Most of her points are already addressed by others in the comments box, but I thought I'd offer my own perspective on things because, well, I'm a blowhard and I have a blog. Here it goes -- Loretto Girl's comments are in blue, mine in black.

I don't [think] it's right to go into a teacher's life like that.

Why not? Seriously, I mean just about every comment on the thread that disagrees with Loretto's decision appeals to pedophilia among Catholic priests as something the Church ought to "deal with" before it can even start thinking about firing Ms. Bain. Fair enough, but doesn't investigating pedophilia "go into a teacher's life like that" -- it can involve following the teacher, taking photos, listening to rumors and anonymous accusations, asking the teacher about his or her sex life, etc. If it's right for the Church to investigate pedophilia among priests this way, why shouldn't the Church investigate the morals of her other educators and leaders?

Usually, what I've heard is that there's a difference because the sex-abusing priests are actually hurting people, whereas those who have or support abortions aren't hurting anyone. That makes sense, as long as you believe unborn children don't deserve to be looked on as human beings, that they're just not "people" who can be hurt by abortion. Born people can believe that, if they like. But they can't claim to be Catholics, or to be even generally agreeable to Catholicism. And that leads us to the big issue here. I agree that Ms. Bain shouldn't be fired "just because" she approves of abortion. But can she be fired because Loretto has a duty to be what it claims to be -- a Catholic school modeling Catholic teaching? I think Loretto can't really perform that duty and have Ms. Bain on its staff; either Loretto has to change totally into something else or Ms. Bain would have to, if they were going to keep on together. I don't think Loretto ought to change into something else, and I don't think Ms. Bain ought to put on a "happy Catholic mask" either. So it's best they part ways.

Ms. Bain was not trying to force girls into her views. No one even knew she was pro choice!

I hate to keep bringing it up, but none of the pedophile priests went to the pulpit and told the parish it was right for them to have sex with children, either. And because of a lot of wicked or incompetent bishops, most people never knew who the pedophiles were, either. Why does unobtrusiveness make a difference to Ms. Bain's case? Is that a good analogy? It's not a good analogy at all -- if you think that pedophilia hurts children, but that abortion doesn't hurt anybody because unborn children aren't human beings. See above.

I just don't think it's right to fire a teacher over her beliefs.

I know you mean there's lots more behind what you've written, but still "just" thinking something doesn't make it right or true. Would you think it's fine to have a teacher who thought it was okay to use the word "nigger" to refer to her African-American students, a teacher who said things like "Kids, I believe in diversity. So I don't want all the nigger children on one team. Make sure each of your lab teams has got its own nigger"?

What if the teacher never used the word in class, or anywhere on school grounds, or around anyone connected with the school? What if she only called black people "niggers" among her own friends, and only attended Klan rallies on her own time? Do you think that teacher really ought to be teaching in school? People have the right to believe what they believe, up to a point. In our country people are free to join the Klan and hate African-Americans, or to join Planned Parenthood and help kill unborn children -- up to a point. Where is that point?

It depends on who's setting the point -- government or private society. As a government official, like a law-enforcement officer, I may have to tolerate a hundred people screaming racist hate at the top of their lungs for hours on the courthouse steps. I had to do that, once, because our police department was doing its duty by providing security at a Klan rally, making sure the Klansmen had the right to free speech. But the local merchants and shopkeepers did something that only private society can do. They organized a kind of boycott of the rally. All the stores closed, so there was no reason to go downtown on that Saturday. Nobody could so much as buy a cup of coffee that Saturday, and the local paper ran free ads telling everyone not to go downtown, that all the stores would be closed. Government can't do that, but private people can do it. And they should be able to do it, because otherwise they wouldn't be free either.

Loretto is a private school, which doesn't mean that it's posh, or filled with rich kids. Lots of private schools have nothing but poor students, students who have families which work just as hard, and have just as much trouble making ends meet, as the families whose kids go to public schools. The difference is that a "private" school isn't a government school. It's like the downtown merchants and the local paper I wrote about -- it can do what it wants to do to express its own values, its own beliefs. It should be able to do that, otherwise nobody at Loretto would be free, either. If that means firing Ms. Bain, just like the shopkeepers decided not to sell anything to anybody on that Saturday, then that's what it means.

(And yes, there's a difference, so long as you think that calling black people "niggers" actually hurts and demeans them, whereas aborting unborn babies doesn't "hurt anyone" because they aren't human beings like black people are. In that case, see above).

I disagree with the church on a lot of issues. Does that mean I should get expelled?

I can't speak for Loretto, but if I were running a Catholic school then I'd say, "It depends." If I thought your disagreements were the result of being young, insufficiently educated in life or the faith, the product of wrong-headed influences at home or among friends, and that your disagreements were the curious, open-minded sort that might be healed with patience and lots of clear answers, then I wouldn't expel you.

But if I thought that your disagreements were held on very serious matters, owned past all persuasion, proudly worn by you as a badge of "independence," indulged (on-campus or off) at every opportunity, and that you believed you ought to help other people have the same disagreements with Church teaching, then I'd do the best I knew how to give you one last chance to change -- even if all you did was change your disagreements into the tolerable kind --- and, if you didn't, I wouldn't expel you.

What I would do is have a meeting with you and your parents (they deserve to be told this too, and I deserve to have to look you all in the eye when it got said), and explain that you won't be enrolling at the school in the next term. I'd try and do that with enough time for you to find another school, and offer (if you and your parents wanted it) to make it very clear to the new school that the reason for your changing schools had nothing to do with bad academics, poor student discipline, etc., and that it had to do with a conscientious disagreement between you and my school about religious issues.

(I don't know if a similar thing happened with Ms. Bain. I think the decent thing to do would be to explain to her, with as much notice as practicable, that she would not be teaching at Loretto in the coming term and that she could remain employed until then, provided she made no more trips to an abortion clinic. Hopefully, the school would be in a position to offer her some sort of severance pay to partially tide her over in case she couldn't find a job right away. As in your case, I'd offer to make it very clear -- provided that Ms. Bain met my conditions for remaining until the end of the term -- to any new school that the reason for Ms. Bain changing employers had nothing to do with bad teaching skills, etc., that it had to do with a conscientious disagreement between her and my school about religious issues. My lawyers would tell me not to do any of that, because it would help Ms. Bain sue us, but I'd do it anyway).

I'd tell you (or Ms. Bain) that the reason for this is that a Catholic school should act like it has a specific mission and expect everyone to get on board with that mission for the same reason the Church should act like it has a specific mission and expect everyone to get on board with it -- the Church does have a specific mission handed to her by God Himself and if people don't get on board with it they're going to be very unhappy either in this life or (God forbid) in the next.

Neither I or anyone else can say for sure whether God is going to be personally angry at a particular person who disagrees with the Catholic Church. But I can say whether a particular person is hurting everyone else because, on an objective level, what they want isn't what God wants. I think it's absolutely true that everybody in the entire world is on a journey to the Catholic Church, and that Jesus Christ is constantly inviting and encouraging us to become Catholics and, once Catholic, become the best Catholics we can be. But that doesn't mean we can't take notice of where people are in their journeys, or that we can't make decisions about whether we can travel together at the present time.

So if you had intolerable disagreements like the ones I described, I wouldn't decline to teach you just because, at this particular place in your journey, you had those disagreements with the Church. No, I'd refuse to teach you because you'd be screwing around with everybody else's part of the journey, handing out false directions and telling them not to trust the map, and however much that might be tolerable in God's plan for your individual life, it's not acceptable in God's plan for what happens in a Catholic school.

When I did that, I wouldn't try to kid you that I'm not judging you. Of course I would be judging you, just as you might be making judgments about me for deciding as I did. It's interesting to me that Jesus never forbade us to make judgments -- He just said that if we do, we're going to be accountable by the same standard we used on others. ("Judge not, lest ye be judged"). But at the very least I'd try and show you that the one thing I'm not judging is your sincerity, your desire to be good even if you don't realize the right standards to use in finding and measuring goodness, and that the standards I was using aren't my own, that they're not my personal invention, but they're from what I believe is true for me as well as you and everybody else. I should hope that our parting would be sad, and not angry, but in the end I'd have a duty to keep my school on a certain path, and I think you'd understand that, however much you didn't agree with it or appreciate the result.

In the comments box, "Ken" wrote, "I think it's pretty funny that you [Katelyn Sills, the daughter of the pair] think it's OK to have non-Catholic teachers, so long as they don't contradict Church teachings. So, would you lobby to have a Jewish teacher fired? I mean, he wouldn't believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, right? His moral identity would be in direct conflict! Ken's right. A Jewish teacher's moral identity would be in direct conflict -- on some things. The question is whether the particular Catholic / Jewish conflict can be tolerated without compromising a Catholic school's core identity.

Let me ask Ken's question a bit differently -- should I, as a Catholic, be hired to teach in a Jewish school? From his comments, I judge that Ken would say that's fine, and that a Jewish school should hire me, all other things being equal. But suppose I understood the Catholic faith as a lot of the commentaries on Katelyn's blog understand it -- as something that depends on my individual conscience, which isn't bound by things like the Catechism or Nostra Aetate. Suppose I thought Jesus cursed the Jews for their evil and wickedness in killing Him. Suppose I said that Jews no longer exist as a chosen people, that they've been replaced by Christians, and that anyone who claims to be a Jew after the Resurrection but who doesn't accept the New Testament is a liar. There are, by the way, plenty of people who answer "What Would Jesus Do" in just that fashion. Is it really proper to say that nobody in the Jewish school's administration should bat an eyelash about having me teach the children there? Would the rabbis who investigated my out-of-school internet writings and on-my-own-time appearances at White Pride rallies really be guilty of all the same nasty, evil, terrible things Katelyn, Lynette, and Loretto are being accused of? No, nor should they be. The conflict in moral identities is direct, irreconcilable, and intolerable. The Jews would have every right to fire me.

But not every conflict in beliefs is so apparent, so dire, or so serious. Suppose I thought that I really did have to believe what the Catholic Church says about the Jews in its official and hierarchical statements. Why then I'd believe that, as Pope Pius XI said, "spiritually, we are all Semites." I'd have to believe that, while Christianity is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, Jews who have not realized this fact are really no different (and usually, far better) than I was before I became a Catholic. I can say with John Paul II that Jews and Christians are waiting for the Messiah, and appreciate everything the Jews have done for my faith and mankind. Yes, my appreciation and perspective are not those of a Jew. But are they directly, irreconcilably, and intolerably contradictory to the purpose and mission of a Jewish school?

That depends, on what the Jewish school sees as its "core identity," its purpose and mission. It may see its identity as capable of tolerating my divergence from moral truth in these areas. It may not. Could I -- or should I -- complain if the school's administrators come to me and say, "Look, we hired you to teach here. We didn't realize you were a Catholic, and that you've written favorably about Pope Pius XII's role during the Holocaust. We can't have that here. Our job is to provide a seamless Jewish identity for our children and, we're sorry to say, thinking well of Pius XII is the same thing as hating Jews. Oh, we know you and a lot of other people don't see it that way. We're glad of that. We'd hate to think you were all intentionally anti-Semitic. But the fact remains that we know what the truth is, we know what our school's for, and it's not a place for anybody who thinks Pius XII was a good man or that the Church he represented is G-d's work."

I wonder if "Ken" would think I should sue the school for letting me go in either of these examples, force the school to admit someone whose beliefs are directly contradictory to the school's core identity in ways that are irreconcilable, direct, and intolerable. He probably would. But then, I should ask him, what's the point of being a Jew in America if you can't form and run a Jewish school the way you think it should be formed and run? The way I see it, I'm free to get myself fired and free to find another job where people value my identity, and the Jews who run my hypothetical school are free to fire me and have the kind of school they want. The way Ken sees it, I'm free to demand that the Jews who own and run the school act as though my beliefs are acceptable, and the Jews are free to obey me. Somehow I think Ken's tolerance produces less freedom, not more.

It doesn't matter that the teacher's should set an example for us. Outside of school a certain teacher has a nose piercing, and dresses completely differently. Should we fire that individual for not setting a good example for us by having a piercing that is not very professional?

Doesn't it depend at all on what extra-professional uses of freedom are involved? You talk about nose-piercing, but abortion is about life and death. Shouldn't it make a difference whether a teacher believes some human beings really aren't human beings, and that we can kill them, for any reason at all? Isn't that different from nose-piercing and wearing bell-bottomed pants?

I suppose you can say it isn't really different, that all these decisions are the same. Or you could say that Ms. Bain, because she thinks unborn children aren't human beings, shouldn't be judged by any other standard than that -- as long as she "feels" or "just thinks" she's right, nobody should react to her choices in ways that hurt her.

But that's not a very Catholic, or Christian, or even reasonable way to address these issues. There's no magic bubble called "individual freedom" that surrounds each of us and keeps our choices from affecting other people. If somebody decides to rob a liquor store and shoot the attendant, he's free to believe he ought to be able to do that and get away with it, but his "individual freedom" hasn't kept the store from being robbed or the attendant from bleeding to death behind the counter.

It's the same thing with people who believe in abortion rights. They're free to believe that unborn children aren't humans, that people ought to be able to kill them, but that belief won't keep unborn children from being killed.

I think Catholic schools can fire people who don't set a good example because they help unborn children die. You can disagree, but I'd ask you if it's okay for teachers who represent a Catholic school to tell the world, by their actions, that the Catholic Church is full of crap about something important. I don't like that kind of hypocrisy, whether it's intentional or by accident, and I wouldn't blame Loretto (or Ms. Bain) for not liking it either.

The answer is no! It's freedom of beliefs! That person has a right to dress like that, and Ms. Bain has a right to believe in whatever she wants as long as she doesn't try to force her students to agree with her.

Abortion is all about force. Ms. Bain and the mothers she encourages to have abortions are all about forcing their views on unborn children. Have you ever wondered why American society is so violent? Or why women and children seem to be the victims so often? Have you noticed that people are left to starve on the streets, or forced to kill themselves working three or four jobs just to stay alive? Have you wondered about the racism that causes so much unhappiness and misery? I'm sure you have, and the reason for all that is called the Culture of Death. Pope John Paul preached about it constantly, and its hardest, blackest, and worst manifestation is in abortion -- the killing and exploitation of weak and defenseless people just because they are weak and defenseless. Ms. Bain doesn't realize it, but her abortion-rights activism is feeding all of that, encouraging it to happen, because it tells people that they can decide which weak and defenseless people can be killed or used in medical research, etc.

We don't believe people should force other people to believe certain things. But we do believe that people should be allowed to stand up for what they think is right. There's an old saying, "My right to swing my fist ends at your nose." Finding that balance, finding out where the "nose" is, can be hard. It's especially hard when people like Mother Theresa, who knew all about how wicked abortion is, and Ms. Bain, who doesn't know that abortion is evil, disagree. We settle things, usually, by letting private people express their own points of view and make their own choices about who to associate with.

So that's where we are, really -- it's Ms. Bain's right to express her own point of view (that abortion is okay) and make her own choices about who to associate with (Planned Parenthood), against Loretto's right to express its own point of view (that abortion is wrong) and make its own choices about who to associate with (the Catholic Church). If some girl you really wanted to be friends with, and who wanted to be friends with you, had personality trait of XYZ, you shouldn't have the right to demand that she give up XYZ just so she could be your friend. And she shouldn't have the right to demand that you approve of XYZ just so she could be your friend. The best we can do is arrange things so that you and she can choose what's important to each of you and, if you decide that XYZ is such a big thing that it should stand in the way of your friendship, or influence the kind of friendship you should have, let you choose who to be friends with or not.

The same thing goes for groups. Loretto doesn't have the right to demand that Ms. Bain think differently just so it can have her teach there. Ms. Bain doesn't have the right to demand that Loretto change its beliefs or mission in the world just so she can teach there. Each of them have to decide what's really important, and then make choices based on that. If that means Ms. Bain can't teach at Loretto, then Ms. Bain has to accept that. If it means that Loretto loses someone who's an outstanding teacher in every way other than her personal beliefs on abortion, then Loretto has to accept that, too. The only other way is to make everybody act as though the disagreement didn't matter at all, whether they believed it did or not. That means people would have to be forbidden from living according to their beliefs. It means that by arguing for Ms. Bain to stay in the name of freedom, you're actually arguing that nobody ought to be so free as to live what they believe. I don't see that working very well.

Everyone has different morals and values.

But that's not really true, is it? I mean, people disagree on some things, and sometimes they disagree on many things, but usually there are morals and values everybody shares. Nobody thinks it's fine to steal from poor people. Nobody thinks it's good to lie. People couldn't live together if each of us had completely different morals and values on everything. Shared morals and values are the glue that holds relationships together; without them, relationships blow up.

Suppose you had a boyfriend who said he was only dating you, but actually he was dating a lot of other girls too. Suppose he thought it was good to lie about it, if it kept you from seeing anyone else and let him do what he wanted. The two of you certainly would have different morals and values, yes? But just noting that fact and saying that the two of you have the right to live your lives as you choose won't keep your relationship alive. It only describes the problem -- he values one way, and you value another, and neither of you value the other's choice.

I point that out because it's not enough to say that people are going to disagree on morals and values, throw up your hands, and pretend that "individual freedom" will keep those disagreements from making any difference. There are always going to be times when people disagree on which morals and values they ought to share so that they can live (or teach) together, but that doesn't mean people shouldn't insist on sharing values they think are important in order to continue living or working together.

Harrassing others with signs and hurtful remarks does not solve anything, and will not change them to believe differently.

Probably not, although if my wife were two-timing me and hitting me when I complained, I'd make a few remarks which she might find hurtful. Would that be wrong? Should I just accept what she does because "everybody's got different morals and values" and my wife's "individual freedom" to define what is, and what is not, the kind of marriage she wants means that I'm not suffering from it, that our marriage isn't breaking down, that our daughter might get hurt if we have a divorce? Of course I shouldn't, that won't solve the problem. The problem isn't that she's decided to use her individual freedom to define marriage in such-and-such a way. The problem is that her way is hurting me, and we can't keep going on like that, her hurting me all the time, and so something will have to be done about it.

If it's like any Catholic school I've ever known, Loretto gets a certain amount of "umph" and credibility because it's a Catholic school. Catholic schools are renowned for providing good educations. They're considered to be places where children are not going to be experimented on by goofballs eager to try out the latest educational fads. They're thought of as schools where you can send your kids and expect them to cherish the same morals and values you have and get them ready for college at the same time. Catholicism and the Catholic Church are part of those schools' core identities, the things that make them different and set them apart; Loretto chose that identity long ago, and lives with it, just as I chose my wife long ago, and live with her. They're identities, and if they're worth having, then they're going to cost us some pain and suffering.

What Ms. Bain was doing was hurting Loretto's core identity. Directly, because she tries to keep society organized around some things which God says are harmful and produce misery, and indirectly, because nobody can take a group seriously if they say one thing about themselves and let their members do the exact opposite. Something had to be done about it. And it was. I'm sorry it's hurting Ms. Bain. I'm sorry it's going to hurt Loretto. But it would be cheap and silly for both of them to have gone on as though nothing important was happening, just as it would be cheap and silly for me to go on as though my wife's two-timing and her beating me weren't a big deal.[2]

In the end, who was the better Catholic? The one who reached out to those who needed someone, or the one who protested against them and shunned them away?

I don't know if Ms. Bain's a Catholic, but assuming she is then it all depends. If a teacher is reaching out to pregnant mothers and helping them kill their children, then that teacher's not a better Catholic than other teachers who protest against that and decide not to let it go on in their school. That may or may not be your perception of the matter, I don't know. But it doesn't matter; whether it's Ms. Bain being "worse" by accepting abortion, or Loretto being "worse" by getting all judgmental about it , we're still back to the problem of what to do when peoples' different values require them to do things that make it impossible for them to stay together.

Besides, I think you'll find that Ms. Bain comes out of this with a certain popularity and cachet that will make it relatively easy for her to obtain a new teaching position. That won't change even if Ms. Bain sues the school and takes a money judgment against it to repay her for her trouble. Whether she does or doesn't sue, or win, there are still plenty of people who don't like the Catholic Church and what she teaches about the Culture of Death. They'll be happy to help Ms. Bain. A few years ago there was a Catholic priest named Charles Curran. He was fired from Catholic Univeristy for saying things that are a lot like what Ms. Bain and you are saying. He ended up at Southern Methodist University and the whole thing made him quite popular. According to SMU's press reports:
When The New York Times or the ABC News program "Nightline" needs an expert to discuss the latest news coming out of the Vatican in Rome, they often turn to SMU, home of America's best-known dissenting Catholic theologian, Charles Curran.[3]
I'm not saying that Ms. Bain's going to be on "Nightline" all the time and get a job at a prestigious university like SMU. She may just land another job, perhaps even one that's worse in terms of pay and benefits. If that's the case, all I can say is that you choose your identity and then you pay for it. That happens to everyone who has courage[4] sooner or later. It's happened to me, it's happening to Ms. Bain, and someday (I hope) it will happen to you, too, if you have principles and stick to them. It's not the willingness to stick to principles that's a problem, ever -- it's only what the principles are.

That's when you should ask yourself the question, "What Would Jesus Do", not "What does the church say about this".

I'm wondering what personal authority you have to tell me how to live my life, or to make judgments about Loretto or anyone else on how they decide to follow God. Even if you haven't made a judgment (and it's pretty clear you have), you've certainly suggested that a judgment is possible. How? Well, in order to make a judgment there have to be values and morals that apply, even if Loretto or Ms. Bain or me or anybody else think differently -- these values and morals have to trump our "individual choice," otherwise you wouldn't be saying that there are "better" or "worse" Catholics in this situation. So, you see, saying "individual freedom" and "right to believe" is never enough, it's only a description of the problem to be dealt with.

As to the question you ask, that's the problem, too. What would Jesus do? Would He protect Ms. Bain from being fired, as He protected the woman caught in adultery? Or would He make Himself a whip and lash at her until she ran out of the school, as He did with the moneylenders at the Temple? There are lots of people running around asking "What Would Jesus Do" when, in fact, all they're really saying is "I'm just as good as Jesus and here's what I want to do." There are lots of people running around saying "follow the Catholic Church" when, in fact, they're all really saying the same thing as the first bunch. How can we tell what they really mean? And even if they mean what they say in a good way, how do we know they're right anyhow?

It would be nice if God set up a place that can always show us how to find the true answer to these questions. Catholics think God did that when He made the Catholic Church. It doesn't mean that everybody who's Catholic is always right or always perfect. It does mean that we've got more than ourselves to rely on when it comes to finding out what Jesus wants us to do. I guess you don't think that. I hope you change your mind someday.

[1] These aren't actual quotes, of course, but they convey the gist well enough.

[2] Just in case my wife pops in, I want to say that she is not two-timing me. She has never two-timed me. She does not beat me. She has never hit me. It was just a hypothetical, and my wife is too good for me and I should obey her every wish.


[4] "Courage," by the way, is what Catholicism calls a "natural" virtue. It's something kept in human nature even though sin cuts us off from the "supernatural" virtues, good qualities only grace can restore to us. So anybody, godly or not, can have and show courage. The SS had it, and showed it on a thousand battlefields. That doesn't make the SS a good thing. John Paul had it, and showed it throughout his pontificate. That didn't make John Paul's pontificate a good thing, either. Something else made the difference, and that something else was the loving grace of Jesus Christ.


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