The diocese of Helena, Montana has fired an unmarried teacher for being pregnant, claiming she is in violation of her contract.
The superintendent of Catholic schools for the area, Patrick Haggarty, said the Butte Central teacher, Shaela Evenson, “made a willful decision to violate the terms of her contract.” He added that teachers are required to respect the moral and religious teachings of the Catholic Church, both in their personal and professional lives.
Principal at Butte Central, Kerrie Hellyer told the Montana Standard, Haggarty fired the teacher on Jan 10. She said Evenson “was an excellent teacher.”
Evenson had taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade literature and physical education for over eight years. She has directed all questions about her situation to her attorney. However, it is believed that she will sue the Helena Diocese over the termination.
Dan Bartleson, spokesman for the diocese said they do not investigate the personal lives of their employees. The dioceses said they received an anonymous letter about Evenson’s pregnancy and were forced to fire her.
Superintendent Haggarty defended the diocese’s decision in an interview with the Montana Standard.
He said “It’s not easy being a Christian or a Catholic in today’s world.
“Our faith asks us to do things that right now are not popular with society. I’m really OK, I’m not comfortable, but I’m OK with what’s transpired. Being a Christian is this way; we’re asked to do things that are not popular with our society."
The community has reacted with an active online social media campaign. Supporters are sending out messages on Twitter with the hashtag #JusticeForShaela.
Evenson’s supporters have also set up a petition on the site FaithfulAmerica.org. Their petition which had a goal of 15,000 signatories now has close to 21,000.
Their petition’s call to action states:
“In the Pope Francis era, you'd think that an unmarried woman who becomes pregnant and decides to have the baby, rather than have an abortion, would have the support of her church.”
Last month Pope Francis baptized the child of unwed parents in the Sistine Chapel, in the Vatican. In response to this criticism Haggarty said, “The Holy Father certainly understands the sacrament of marriage and certainly is compassionate and understanding, and so is the diocese in Helena.”
He continued, “I think that the connection between what the Holy Father has done, which is an incredible act of kindness, is not the same as what we face with a contractual obligation with our teachers. I’m sure that the woman that he blessed is a wonderful person, as is Shaela, but the woman just didn’t agree to teach in a Catholic school."
On the topic of marriage he said, “The Catholic moral teaching is that the sacrament of marriage is a holy union between a man and a woman.
“And we certainly believe and we teach our children who attend our schools about the sacrament of marriage. That’s as old as our church. Not only do we teach that to the children kindergarten through 12th grade, but we’re held to that standard as well.”
Evenson’s case comes just one month after Sister Mary Tracy was forced to resign from her position as President of Eastside Catholic School in suburban Seattle following the attempted dismissal of a vice principal who married his same-sex partner. Over 400 students staged a sit-in in support of Vice Principal Mark Zmuda, which escalated into a country wide campaign.