Late last week, George Leo Thomas, bishop of the Helena, Montana archdiocese, received an unwelcome surprise: a petition calling out the Catholic hierarchy for the callous dismissal of a pregnant schoolteacher. The statement had been signed by 20,000 people and received national attention.
The case centers on Shaela Evenson of Butte Central Elementary-Junior High School, a literature and phys-ed teacher of eight years. An anonymous letter the school received a few months ago charged that Evenson, who isn’t married, was pregnant; when she confirmed it, the Catholic institution felt it had grounds to fire her.
“Firing an unmarried teacher for becoming pregnant is cruel and hypocritical,” said the petition from Faithful America, a social justice group that says it is dedicated to reclaiming Christianity from the religious right. “Give Shaela Evenson her job back, and start taking Pope Francis’ words about love and healing more seriously.”
The firing is especially rich in light of the fact that the Helena Diocese can hardly claim to be a credible arbiter of morality. It filed for bankruptcy protection five weeks ago,
… as part of a proposed $15 million settlement for more than 350 victims who say clergy sexually abused them for decades while the church covered it up.
Evenson’s saga is very much like that of Christa Dias, the unwed Cincinnati teacher who was fired from a Catholic school for becoming pregnant through artificial insemination. In June of last year, a court ordered the Cincinnati school to pay Dias more than $170,000, including a cool 100 grand in punitive damages. The outcome in the Dias case bodes well for Evenson, too.