Cuddly baby and a court case

What could be more adorable at Christmastime than the precious smile of a baby?

Granted, the photo that ran with a front-page Cincinnati Enquirer story this week wasn’t as compelling as the one accompanying this post. That’s mainly because the mother featured in the article declined to let her daughter’s face be photographed.

Still, the writer paints a warm-and-fuzzy picture of the little one way up high:

WITHAMSVILLE — Sitting on her mom’s lap, the 10-month-old toothless girl with twinkling blue eyes and chubby cheeks sports a wide smile as she gums a jingle bell Christmas tree ornament.

Ahhhhhhh, how sweet!

How, one might wonder, could such a cuddly subject inspire a reader who shared the link with GetReligion to declare it “a seriously loaded” piece of journalism?

Well, keep reading, and the “loaded” part arrives quickly enough:

The infant is Christa Dias’ greatest gift – and the reason she was fired from teaching jobs at two Cincinnati Catholic schools.

“I’ve always wanted to have a baby,” said Dias as she held her wish-come-true in her arms in their Withamsville home. “I’ve always known that. That’s why I became a teacher, because I love kids.

“I didn’t think it would be a problem.”

But it was for her employers, Holy Family and St. Lawrence schools in East Price Hill, who fired Dias in October 2010 because the single woman was 5½ months pregnant and wanted to discuss maternity leave. She is still unemployed.

So, it seems, the story has two sides: The loving mother and the villainous Catholic school officials.

The piece — part of a year-end series by the Enquirer revisiting local newsmakers of 2011 — recounts that the teacher was fired for being pregnant not by premarital sex, but as a result of artificial insemination.

Interestingly enough given the tone of the article itself — and to the newspaper’s credit —  these sidebar notes appeared on Page A1 beside the opening paragraphs:

CONTRACT CLAUSE DIAS AGREED TO WHEN HIRED

The teacher will “comply with and act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the policies and directives of the School and the Archdiocese.”

CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, SECTION 2376 

“The gift of a child”

“Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple – donation of a sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus – are gravely immoral. These techniques – heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization – infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ ‘right to become a father and a mother only through each other.’ ”

Case closed? Apparently not.

The story notes that the discrimination lawsuit the teacher filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati is on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considers a similar case. However, the paper fails to provide any background at all on that case. I’m assuming it’s the one involving a Lutheran school teacher that Mollie highlighted back in October.

Some background on the Supreme Court case would have improved the Enquirer story. Analysis by third-party legal experts on the key issues — both in the local case and the one before the high court — would have helped even more. Instead, the story quotes only the parties involved.

Meanwhile, readers learn:

Dias, 32, a Michigan native, isn’t Catholic but is Christian and attended Notre Dame College, a Catholic school in South Euclid, Ohio, on a volleyball scholarship.

Dias is Christian.

Unfortunately, that’s the full extent of the background given on her faith. Would anyone besides me like to know what kind of Christian she is? Does she attend church? If so, where? What does she believe concerning artificial insemination? Was she aware of the Catholic Church’s position before deciding to get pregnant?

Late in the story, the Enquirer abruptly introduces past allegations against the priest who fired the teacher:

Dias was fired by the Rev. James Kiffmeyer, who was suspended in 2002 after being accused of sexual misconduct with two male students at Fenwick High School, where Kiffmeyer was a teacher.

There was no criminal investigation because the men were 18 and adults at the time of the incidents in 1986 and 1990. The Archdiocese made a financial settlement with one accuser. The Vatican reviewed the cases but handed down no discipline.

Kiffmeyer, who denied the allegations, was reinstated in 2006 and then became pastor at Holy Family church.

“I would think Father Kiffmeyer would be more empathetic because of the judgment that he’s received from his past,” Dias said.

Is that background on Kiffmeyer relevant in this particular story? My first reaction is that it is not. It seems out of place and unrelated to the employment question in this story. But maybe I’m missing something.

The story, of course, ends the way it begins — warm and fuzzy:

Despite the fight, Dias is convinced she made the right decision.

“She’s such a gift,” Dias said of her daughter. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I am very happy. She’s an amazing gift from God. She’s amazing and wonderful. I would do it all over again for her.”

Baby photo via Shutterstock

Print Friendly

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Martha

    I am interested to note that, whether it was simply not mentioned at all or that the reporter didn’t understand it, the notion of “giving scandal” was not mentioned in this context.

    That’s the reason Ms. Dias was fired from the schools; not simply because she violated her employment contract, but because of the (admittedly old-fashioned) idea of giving or causing scandal:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

    2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing.

    And that is why, as a teacher, it isn’t about whether her job had anything to do with teaching religion; it’s about being a person in a position of authority over youth and giving them bad example. If the school teaches, in accordance with Catholic doctrine, that sex outside of marriage is a sin and that pregnancy by artificial means is not licit, yet they keep on as a teacher a woman who deliberately chose not to marry and to become pregnant by artificial insemination, they are undermining their teaching and showing young people by example that there is no consequence or responisibilty for sin.

  • http://srabatine@gmail.com Susan

    Very well said, Martha. I cannot quote Lutheran doctrine on this without more research but it has no appreciable difference from those definitions of “scandal” from the Catholic catechism. We hear and use the phrase “gross and manifest sins” which bears the same definition.

    Sadly today the government appears to be establishing an orthodoxy through litigation.

  • http://GetReligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Martha,

    How do you know that scandal was a reason for the firing? Can you provide a link to that fact?

  • Susan

    I am not Martha but I believe that what she meant is that the contract clause in question

    The teacher will “comply with and act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the policies and directives of the School and the Archdiocese.”

    is, in large part, based on the definition of “scandal” and the prevention of it.

  • R9

    The woman knewshould have known what rules she was signing up for. But that doesn’t mean those rules shouldn’t be criticised.

    I’d agree the past allegations against Kiffmeyer aren’t really relevant here.

  • Stan

    Inasmuch as the past allegations against Kiffmeyer shows the variable responses to causing “scandal” in the Church, they are relevant. If the Church is comfortable in having as head of the school a priest who has been accused of pedophilia–and accused credibly enough to result in a cash settlement with at least one accuser–then it is hard to take seriously the notion that they fired a teacher because she scandalously had a child through artificial insemination. So surely the allegations against Kiffmeyer are quite relevant journalistically and may even be relevant in the court case if the argument is that the Church arbitrarily and capriciously enforces the “anti-scandal” contract.

  • Dave

    The story says the teacher sued for “pregnancy discrimination.” It would have been very interesting to dig into that a bit: Is there such a doctrine in law? If so, what is its weight? In the sense that some acts of discrimination are more seriously suspect under the law than others.

    If “pregnancy discrimination” is real, then this is a replay of Religious Liberty vs Gay Rights.

  • Susan

    except that for better or worse the priest does not have a written legal contract with the church.

    I do find it disingenuous at best and scandalous at worst that this priest should be the one to enforce this clause. I don’t believe that it is pertinent in a legal sense but it certainly appears scandalously hypocritical.

    Unfortunately for this young woman, not being a Catholic “religious”, she did have a contract.

  • R9

    Stan: fair enough!

  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com J Hood

    Stan

    I actually did the research on s the Priest angle of this story last night. One problem with this story is it sort of throws that out there without giving what’s perhaps an interesting inside story. It appears in 2002 he was suspended ( basically fired) when the allegation came up. He denied the allegations and as you can see the Vatican said reinstate him. I am not sure how happy the Archdiocese was about that. For instance see this Priest blogger with an rather important postion in the Archdiocese

    http://fatherschnippel.blogspot.com/2006/12/priest-reinstated.html

    But regardless what’s interesting was there was a major push by this local parish to get this this PRIEST ASSIGNED to their Parish and school . See here

    http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.com/2008/05/promoted-priest-previously-suspended.html

    Now 92 percent wanted him there despite the allegations. Which sort of puts how the teacher phrased the wording about this episode interesting. Do people think he was innocent . Do people think he was railroaded? Who knows. But I am willing to bet that most people have the immediate response you have when reading that. Which is one reason for fairness if it’s going to be included in story I suspect they know will go viral should include more background

    Aside that I agree that the like of any real legal reporting and background here is frustrating

  • Martha

    Bobby, we’ve had similar cases in Ireland and that was the reason.

    On the face of it, if we take the story at face value, we have (as you say) ‘lovely cuddly baby versus mean old Church’. How can anyone hate a lovely cuddly baby? The mother herself even thinks it’s because the mean old Church hates joy and life!

    “For Dias, the case is about what she believes is a rigid religious institution that refuses to adapt to modern life punishing her for celebrating life with birth.”

    Punishment for celebration of life.

    But what does the mean old Church – through the school in question – say? Well, it’s all about contract law and nothing else:

    “For the schools that hired and fired Dias, the issue is less about her beliefs and more about Dias keeping her legal promise.”

    Oh, yeah? The schools, presumably with a Catholic ethos, don’t hate lovely cuddly babies and don’t mind one bit if she’s single, or living with six paramours, or a Martian water-brother a la Heinlein’s “Church of All Worlds” in his “Stranger in a Strange Land”, but it’s all down to that pesky employment contract and the legal language.

    Hmmmm. Whyever would that legal language be inserted into an employment contract if it wasn’t about beliefs? I think the reason the lawyers are emphasising the contract clause is because, as they say, “any argument other than violation of her contract “will unavoidably put (Catholic) doctrine itself on trial,”” and they must feel that they have a better chance of winning a case based on breach of contract rather than the rather recondite notion of “giving scandal”.

  • Martha

    Stan, the priest wasn’t accused of paedophilia – the alleged events involved young adults of 18 years old, who were legally able to give consent to sexual contact.

    He claims to be innocent and the cases never went to court, and since we don’t know the details of the financial settlement, we don’t know if it was for psychological counselling or what.

    The cases would only be the same if the priest admitted to breaking his vow of celibacy by engaging in homosexual activities with two young adult males, and that this was a celebration of his God-given sexuality and he had done nothing wrong; all parties being legally adult, all activities consensual, and no duress or undue influence having been applied.

    Ms. Dias signed her contract saying she would be bound by Catholic teachings. If she didn’t know what they were, that’s one thing. However, if it was pointed out to her and she went ahead and did it with no other justification than “It’s my right to have a baby, however I want to do it”, then yes, she comes into conflict with the doctrine of the Church.

    If it was merely a case of single woman becomes pregnant, it wouldn’t necessarily result in her being fired (because people do make mistakes, accidents happen, and a woman who chose to go ahead with the pregnancy despite being abandoned by a boyfriend, rather than have an abortion, would be supported). It’s the deliberate choice of artificial methods and the deliberate choice not to have a father involved that is the root of the trouble here.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    I can’t decide if bringing up the priest’s history is relevant or merely the obligatory pervo-priest reference that must accompany every story about the Catholic Church.

    Putting this so far us in the story strikes me as disingenuous:

    …because the single woman was 5½ months pregnant and wanted to discuss maternity leave.

    This sort of suggests that she was fired because she wanted time off, and that the Church is so family-unfriendly that it didn’t want to let her have it.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    Four problems not covered:

    One: the story notes that she is “still unemployed”. Isn’t there a teacher shortage in much of Ohio? Why is she still unemployed? Is she a fully qualified teacher, or just a “teacher’s aide”?

    Two: She was fired in October. Where is the discussion of the law on new employees, who often have a trial period in which they can be dismissed?

    Three: a discussion of her expectations that the church would pay her salary during an extended maternity leave when she had worked less than six months might also be considered part of the story.

    Four: Artificial insemination is expensive, and not usually covered by insurance. Who paid the doctor’s bill?

    Was she really pregnant by “AI” or is she saying that to make her case stronger against the church, since an immoral relationship would justify having her fired, but she could claim she wasn’t aware that the church also forbids Artificial insemination and testtube babies…

    I suggest that they need to “follow the money” here.

  • Frank Lockwood

    This was the most interesting paragraph in the story, at least to me:

    Initially, the schools fired Dias for being single and pregnant. But when they were informed that could violate state and federal anti-discrimination laws, they changed the reason for the firing to being pregnant as a result of artificial insemination, which they said violated Catholic teachings – and her employment contract with them.

    The writer of the article seems to be implying that the church — or at least its legal team — is violating the Cathechism of the Catholic Church. Specifically

    2482 “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.”281 The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: “You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”282

    2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

    2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.

    2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.

    2486 Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships.

  • Bern

    Yes, it’s a hatchet piece and IMHO deservedly so. Sounds like the schools and their attorneys blew it; from the start they would have been perfectly within their legal rights to expect a teacher to abide by a contract that did not ask her to do anything unethical or illegal. But I wonder if the nature of the issue–reproduction–wouldn’t raise a bit of stickiness legally. Can an organization require that an employee agree to handle her/his reproductive lives by the rules of the organization, even if the the employee does not belong to the organization? It’s obvious from the Catechism the RC church cares in great and specific detail about how and into what milieu a child is born. Another question a lawyer might raise is whether the organization applied these rules consistently, with consistent outcomes, which is the basis for testing any employers’ grounds for dismissal. I suspect there will be a settlement between the parties, and soon, but the questions are still interesting.

  • Stan

    Martha, if the case of the priest did not involve pedophilia, then why would the Church make a cash settlement in the case? The accuser apparently was over 18 when he made the accusation, but the alleged events obviously occurred before he was 18.

    But even if it were simply a case of the priest having consensual sex in violation of his vow of chastity, wouldn’t that give “scandal” as much as or more than a woman having a child via artificial insemination?

    It is all well and good to say that the Church is simply enforcing a legal contract (though if the contract is not uniformly enforced, there is real question about its legality, and that presumably is why the priest’s alleged scandalous behavior is pertinent), but even so: how is it possible to deem moral the Church’s willingness to strip a mother and child of their livelihood and in the same breath proclaim that their actions are in furtherance of “family values”? In pitting the cuddly baby against the mean old church, the journalist is actually raising an important question.

  • Stan

    A correction to my post above: the accusers were 18 at the time the alleged misconduct occurred and were students at Fenwick High School, where the priest was a teacher. To my mind, the fact that they were students of the priest (or at least at the same school at which he was a teacher) raises questions of criminal conduct even if they were above the age to give consent to sexual relations. A person of authority who abuses someone in his or her charge may well be guilty of a criminal offense even if the the young person is technically of age.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Since there was no criminal investigation of the priest, one may assume the laws of that state don’t address teacher/student relationships, or that the competent legal authorities didn’t find the evidence compelling. A cash settlement says nothing, since a settlement is common irrespective of guilt or culpability. I’m more interested in why the other case didn’t lead to a settlement.

    All of that aside, the priest presumably repented of his acts, while the teacher is celebrating hers.

    My biggest problem with stories like this is they present single parenthood as a valid lifestyle choice rather than a sometimes unfortunate reality.

  • Just visiting

    “My biggest problem with stories like this is they present single parenthood as a valid lifestyle choice rather than a sometimes unfortunate reality.”

    Why can’t it be both? Or, more accurately, why can’t “single parenthood” be good or bad as the case varies?

    As for pregnancy discrimination, it does exist. Women in numerous countries have filed suits against employers who, on the sole basis of their pregnancy, hindered or even terminated their careers.

    The question insofar as this case concern relates to whether or not the Catholic Church can involve itself in the lives of its employees to such an extent that pregnancies which don’t fit the church’s moral teachings are grounds for termination. Not knowing the details of employment law in that state, I’m not inclined to be that optimistic on the Church’s behalf.

  • Suzanne

    My biggest problem with stories like this is they present single parenthood as a valid lifestyle choice rather than a sometimes unfortunate reality.

    Do you honestly believe that it’s the job of journalists to help you invalidate lifestyle choices that you disapprove of?

    For better or worse, single motherhood and artificial insemination are fairly mainstream activities in this culture. What would you have newspapers do? Ignore that? Go back to the “good old days” of calling babies “illegitimate” or worse?

  • http://!)! Passing By

    As it happens, I spend my days working with really poor people and am aware, by experience, that the reality of single parenthood is not a pretty white middle class professional with her boutique baby. The stats on children from single-parent homes are clear with respect to mental health, poverty, and crime.

    I expect journalism to reflect reality, even if it doesn’t fit smug middle-class sensibilities and simple-minded orthodoxies. For my money, when we quit romanticizing single-parenting-by-choice, we will be able, as a community, to provide support to single-parent families where tragedy (death or a necessary divorce) has created the situation.

    And yes, I would like journalism to contribute to social well-being, not just make individuals feel good, no matter how much self-righteous indignation that generates from some quarters.

  • Suzanne

    So we don’t write about the white middle class professional and her baby (leaving out the sneering “boutique)? She doesn’t perpetuate the image of single parenthood that you see, so it’s illegitimate (so to speak) to bring her up? Despite the fact that she’s filed a lawsuit and so is an actual player in a real news story?

  • Just visiting

    Exactly. Single parenthood may not be a good state in many cases, but there’s no evidence to suspect that it’s always a bad thing.

    A “simple-minded orthodoxy” would seem to me a belief system that allows for no variegation, as opposed to a belief system that does allow for diversity.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    It appears, Suzanne, that you want journalism to validate a lifestyle of which you happen to approve. And of course, it’s poor black people who suffer from normalizing single-parent families, and they aren’t a demographic that raises advertising rates, so we retreat into mindless irrelevancies that it not “always a bad thing”. Please, the statistics are what they are.

    Children are not lifestyle ornaments. They are human beings.

  • sari

    “Children are not lifestyle ornaments. They are human beings.”

    Yes. We concentrate so much of the me, that we forget what’s good for the we. I’d love to see articles that speak to single parenthood’s real cost to the *child*. The woman profiled in the article spoke about how having a baby fulfilled *her* needs without addressing the long term effects of her decision, starting with unemployment. Every study suggests that two parent households are better for children than single parent, even in the absence of poverty, mental illness, etc. It may not always be a bad thing, but overall it’s less beneficial to the child, and that’s what should really matter.

  • John Pack Lambert

    It did not take me very long to find a clear answer. Here is a Catholic Answers Forum on the Roman Catholic Church’s view on articficial insemination. http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=69736

    This makes it clear:
    1-That the Catholic Church objects to all artificial insemination, even when it is used for married couples.
    2-The Catholic Church holds out having a mother and a father clearly in place as the ideal.

    This lady’s valuing of having a child for her own fulfilment over analyzing what sort of family life is in the best interest of the child also could easily be seen as a self-centered view at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

    Christian schools firing female Muslim employees for wearing headdresses has been upheld. A religious school can fire an employee for religious reasons. This is not just when employees are limited to the religion of the school, but only conditioned on the employees being religious at all.

    The fact that this case has not been thrown out for having no potential for standing at all is disturbing. Federal law makes it 100% clear that these schools can fire employees for religious reasons.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Tioedong,
    Even if she is telling the truth that the preganancy resulted from AI, the issue of where the money came from is a good one. This may point to things that look suspiciously like adultry if they were actually explored.

    The reporter clearly failed to wonder where she got the money for such a treatment. This is suspicious in and of itself. This is a very one sided story, but not surprising with the strong bias against the Catholic Church by the American media.

  • R9

    Sari:

    “The woman profiled in the article spoke about how having a baby fulfilled *her* needs without addressing the long term effects of her decision, starting with unemployment”

    It’s a weird kind of logic tho, in this case. “We disapprove of single parents, one reason being because it’s a non-ideal child raising situation, so we’ll fire you and make your situation even worse.”

  • Suzanne

    Passing by,

    Actually I don’t want the media to validate anything. I want it to report on an interesting story. You, apparently, want the media to collude in hiding that which you disdain away from view so that nobody gets the wrong ideas. And that’s simply not journalism.

  • sari

    R9, What should have been done? From a purely business standpoint, she violated the stated employee code of conduct, one which explicitly forbids certain behaviors. With full knowledge of the potential consequences, she chose to push forward anyway.

    This is a problem in our society, the belief that the individual’s fulfillment takes precedence over societal needs. In this case, and others, members of the media validate the primacy of the individual and villianize any organization which seeks to impose behavioral constraints, in this case the RCC. Other articles criticize governmental agencies which seek to tie behavior to benefits. I don’t see this as an impartial article which fairly presents both sides. And I think the church’s actions appropriate, given that she violated her employment contract -and- would have been a poor role model for her students.

  • R9

    And firing an expectant woman sets a good example? They’re doing their own little bit to *uphold* the problems surrounding single parenthood while at the same time condemning it. I just find that loop in the logic process to be amusing (in a sad way).

    I get that they were in a difficult situation given their rules and teachings. I’m also all for questioning the morality of those rules.

  • Stan

    I find it very interesting that so many defenders of the church’s firing of this woman do so because she allegedly violated her employer’s code of contact. I suspect that some of the same people who approve of the employer firing this woman defended the suit filed by the woman who was fired for violating her complany’s policy by refusing to allow a transgender Macy’s customer use the woman’s dressing room.

  • sari

    R9,
    I understand your point, though an employee who so blatantly disregards the rules once will almost certainly do so again. How hard would it be to fire her (again) after she was reinstated? Almost impossible. She’d sue for retaliatory dismissal. There’s no good outcome given the church’s policies and the woman’s total disregard for same. I wonder if reporters dug into her employment history or sought her performance reviews to see if she had had other problems.

    Stan, I feel the same way about the Macys salesclerk, though, as a female customer, I would prefer men to use the men’s dressing room. If Macys provided an employee code of conduct and the woman hired on anyway, then she took the job with full knowledge that her job description might include sticky situations that conflicted with her church’s teachings.

    Both these stories were about living with choices.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X