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“Ask a Priest: Where’s the Mercy for a Pregnant Teacher?”
Q: A friend of mine became pregnant outside of marriage some months ago. She is a practicing Catholic. She is also a teacher at a Catholic school (K-8). Her and the baby’s father are engaged. He is a non-Catholic Christian who agrees in raising baby Catholic and attends Mass. They plan to get married in the Church after the baby is born. They are not living together. While the school is aware that she is engaged, they do not know that she is pregnant. However, it is becoming harder to “hide” it. She is worried about being a bad role model for her students (she does not want them to think that getting pregnant outside of marriage is OK). A week ago, she got civilly “married” for the sake of insurance only; she knows this is not marriage (as it is not a sacrament). She talked to our parish priest and I have become distraught at their conversation for a few reasons. 1) He told her that she will most likely be fired because of a “morality clause.” I find this as discrimination in many forms. People sin, the Church (and Catholics) understand this, which is why it is such an amazing religion because we believe in forgiveness and offer penance. The only difference between my friend’s sin and everyone else is that hers is now wearable. It is aggravating that the Church would turn a woman away from working at a Catholic institution for keeping her child. This does not seem very pro-life to me. Additionally, I think it is interesting because if my friend were a man, he would indeed not be fired. He would not even have to tell anyone if he chose not to. 2) The priest told her that she would not be able to have a wedding Mass because she got civilly married. I do not understand this. Civil marriage is literally just a piece of paper. It is not a marriage. It seems against logic to deny a couple a Catholic Mass at their wedding because they signed a piece of paper that literally means nothing. It is a secular piece of paper that allowed her to get insurance throughout her pregnancy, that is all. 3) The priest said that my friend is not allowed to receive Communion until she is married in the Church. How is this considered right? My friend has gone to confession and is in the state of grace. Why would the priest deny her the right to received Jesus? My friend was already upset at being pregnant before marriage, and now the Church is telling her that she cannot receive Jesus for at least six months even though she has gone to confession. – B.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Your concern for your friend is understandable. And it is commendable that your friend intends to keep the baby, a true pro-life statement.
Given her obvious good intentions, there is certainly a way forward for her and her partner and the baby.
The situation, however, poses its own problems in the short term. Let me try to address your questions.
As for question 1: You mention that your friend “is worried about being a bad role model for her students.” That is a concern that is shared by the school, which is why it had a “morality clause” built into its contract.
K-8 students are highly impressionable and look up to their teachers for guidance. Trying to explain the out-of-wedlock pregnancy of a teacher – even a repentant one – would touch on topics that are beyond the ability of young students to understand.
This is not a matter of discrimination, since your friend was presumably aware of the policy and freely agreed to it when she began working at the school. Moreover, a man in this situation, if it were made known, could be fired for the same reason.
This isn’t to say that a teacher’s getting pregnant out of wedlock is the worst sin. It isn’t. Any teacher who engaged in behavior that gravely and openly contradicted God’s commandments would likely be asked to leave the school. Moreover, your friend’s invalid, civil marriage adds to the public scandal.
So, while your friend sought out absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation (a good thing), that wouldn’t give her the right to remain at the school and scandalize the students. For that could be a grave sin in itself.
Lest the Church seem harsh in this case, it is helpful to recall what our loving Lord said about those who cause scandal: “It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2).
This isn’t a summons to pull out a millstone, of course. It is simply a reminder of how seriously Jesus views those who ruin the innocence of little ones.
As for question 2, regarding the wedding Mass: The ideal would have been for your friend to discreetly reveal her situation to the school and to voluntarily step back from her job. She and her friend could have sat down with her pastor and discussed the chance of having a Church wedding – after the birth of the baby.
There is still a chance for your friend to have a wedding recognized by the Church, though it might be a low-key event.
As for question 3, regarding reception of Communion: The fact that your friend remains in the civil marriage might be one reason why the priest dissuaded her from receiving Communion.
It’s one thing to be privately absolved of sin. It’s another thing to remain in a civil marriage, an ongoing public testimony against the faith. Your friend needs to take the public steps of resolving the irregular marital situation and working with the pastor and chancery to get married “in the Church.”
To repeat: a resolution of the marital situation is possible. The Church is certainly here to help your friend and her partner and the baby, but in a way that avoids scandal and that has their best interests at heart.
Remember, too, that your friend needs to trust in God’s providence. He loves her and her baby. He will provide for them.
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The lack of compassion towards a pregnant woman is truly unbelievable.
This is a very trying situation, but I agree with Father McIlmail’s response. The expectant couple involved needs compassionate yet sensible counsel and assistance with working towards getting married. At the same time, the students must be protected from being scandalized. Exposure to bad example is corrupting.