To the editor:
St. Matthew’s Christmas narrative mentions how Joseph, an upright and decent man, decides to divorce Mary quietly, so as not to expose her to a law that would have condemned her severely for having conceived before finalizing their marriage.
Everyone knows how the story continues, not just the joyful Christmas portion, but with the life of one who championed love and forgiveness. Jesus would go on to run afoul of religious authorities in pursuit of his love for those who sometimes fall short of the rules. He did not condone their actions but praised their humility and desire to make things right. What he DID condemn was hypocrisy on the part of religious authorities.
While a religion, a company, or other institution has a right to ask its members to adhere to its values, exercising that right may not always be a wise action. Indeed, it may even kill the spirit of those very values. Lawrence Catholic Academy had its teachers sign a contract which has not (at this time) been made public, but one can imagine there is a reference to keeping marital activity marital.
Humans being humans, teachers Natalie Ferland and Sean Houlihan did not. They are making the best of the resulting situation, planning ahead to get married and give the child a loving home. Lawrence Christian Academy does have the right to terminate them, but in doing so they are missing a great chance to follow the example of the one they claim to love. Jesus took in adulterers and exhorted them to change their ways. Here are two people who want to do the right thing (even if they had slipped, according to Catholic moral teaching). This would have been a great teaching moment for all.
Instead, we have a bull-headed reaction that benefits no one. The principal and priest are declining comment (like a certain departing local politician!), referring the matter to the higher-ups of an archdiocese well-known for its commitment to do the best for its students. The archdiocese in turn, has released a verbose statement throwing the matter back into the laps of the local school authorities.
It may be Advent, but this scenario is more reminiscent of Herod and Pilate shuffling Jesus back and forth in the wee hours of Good Friday. Meanwhile, the children are heartbroken (most too young to understand any of this), parents angry and the pre-born child and his or her parents in difficulty. If keeping these teachers was too much of a morals conflict, at least they could have let them resign rather than be fired.
Yes, the Ferland-Houlihans did fail to keep a part of their contract, but they are trying to make things right. According to the contract, the school and the Archdiocese have a right to be harsh, much the way authorities in Jesus’ time claimed the right to inflict capital penalties on those who transgressed certain commandments. But rather than picking up stones, these people should watch as the one they claim to worship writes all of this in the sand (John 8:6).