A Catholic diocese in Montana is defending its decision to fire one of its unmarried teachers due to her pregnancy, arguing that she "made a willful decision to violate the terms of her contract."
The Diocese of Helena terminated the employment of Shaela Evenson, a teacher at Butte Central, on Jan. 10 after receiving an anonymous letter about Evenson's pregnancy. Evenson previously taught literature and physical education to Middle School students for the past nine years at the diocese school.
The diocese then released a statement Tuesday, defending its decision, saying Evenson violated her work contract, which requires employees to live their professional and personal lives in accordance with Catholic church teaching.
"The Catholic moral teaching is that the sacrament of marriage is a holy union between a man and a woman," Patrick Haggarty, superintendent for the schools in the diocese, said in a statement. "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."
Haggarty added in an interview with The Montana Standard that he is "OK" with the diocese's decision to fire Evenson.
"It's not easy being a Christian or a Catholic in today's world," Haggarty said. "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."
Evenson has reportedly hired Cincinnati-based attorney Brian Butler and plans to pursue legal action against the diocese for her firing. Butler told MTN News Tuesday that he is going to file a discrimination charge with the Federal Equal Opportunity Commission, claiming the diocese violated Evenson's civil rights by firing her for her pregnancy. The attorney previously made headlines for defending a Catholic school teacher in Cincinnati who was fired after becoming pregnant.
Although the diocese has defended its decision to terminate Evenson's employment, some local members of the Butte community are taking to social media to criticize the school's decision, using the hashtag "#JusticeforShaela."
"Disgusted to see the treatment of my longtime friend. Great teacher, even better person," tweeted Ryan Divish, a sportswriter for the Seattle Times.
"Sad to read about such closeminded decisions being made by the Catholic Diocese of Helena," tweeted Sean Ryan, a sports broadcaster for Montana Tech.
Another Catholic school in Seattle, Wash., recently made headlines for reportedly forcing out its vice principal, Mark Zmuda, after he married his gay partner in December. The Eastside Catholic School Board said in a statement after Zmuda's firing that the vice principal "was aware of Catholic doctrine and further knew he was not in full compliance with his employment agreement."