Fired for having a baby?

Fired for having a baby?

I was going to comment on another one of those “parochial school teacher fired for extramarital sex” stories. In this case, a teacher at Archbishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, Mass., part of the Fall River diocese, was let go after he admitted to having fathered a child out of wedlock. The story is full of inaccuracies, which isn’t surprising given that it was reported by Laurel Sweet, the same reporter who so butchered the story on Justice Antonin Scalia’s “obscene gesture.”

However, Ed Peters has beaten me to the punch by analyzing the various statements made in the article and measuring them up against reality, particularly this lede:

“When he confessed to impregnating his new girlfriend, the Catholic Church refused to marry a devoted parishioner, then last week fired him from his teaching position at Bishop Feehan High in Attleboro for choosing fatherhood over abortion or abandonment.”

For one thing, the story makes it sound like the Catholic Church is one monolithic institution and that his parish priest’s decision not to allow him to be married in the church is related to his employment situation. As Ed points out, there’s a good reason why a priest may ask a couple in this situation to delay. An out-of-wedlock pregnancy could be grounds for annulment later on and so it is prudent to move carefully and deliberately in this situation.

Update: An interesting factoid. The article says the girlfriend/mother of his child is 21. But sources in Fall River tell me that the girl is actually 19. Which means she was how old when the relationship started? Was she a student at Archbishop Feehan? The teacher, for the record, is 27.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
  • I wrote about this when I first heard the story. So many things were missing, when I heard it on Fox 25.

    I was watching Fox 25 last night and this morning, regarding a high school football coach at Bishop Feehan in Attleboro resigning who had a child out of wedlock against Church’s policy. This scenario would have a different outcome if he acted with love prior to sexual intercourse, and not out of duty afterwards.

    I deal with many couples through pre-cana, many cohabitating, some already having children, and even a few who are already married civilly. What makes their situations different? It is the aspect of love. These couples love each other. They realize that God’s sacrament of marriage is missing in their relationship, and they want to reconcile with that missing piece and make their relationship whole.

    One major component of the Fox 25 interview was there was no mention of the mother. Where was the mother? She wasn’t an egg donor or hired to incubate this child. Here lies the difference and understanding of Church’s policy. Christ taught to love prior to the act of sexual intercourse, to ensure not just the financial support of a possible child, but to emotionally care for the entire family, including the mother.

    It is the wrong message to send to young men that sex is all right as long as you don’t pressure the woman to get an abortion, pay child support, and visit every other weekend. That is not love as Catholic Church teaches, that is providing a minimal legal obligation. This man was not young. He looked like he was in his late 20’s early 30’s. Also he was an alum of this Catholic school where he taught, he admitted he knew the rules.

    Marrying “just” because you got your girlfriend pregnant is also wrong. If you don’t love her enough to consider marrying not pregnant, then you shouldn’t marry a young woman just because she is. Marriage is a gift you give to each other, not to the children. Any children from your relationship are the outcome of your love for each. If you don’t love her enough to be the mother of your children, then maybe you should consider not having sex at all until you know whether or not.

    Many times with so many couples not knowing the full understanding of marriage, really do love each other, move in, and even have children. Many people are mislead that marriage is obsolete, and don’t realize that it is available to them in the Church. It is a shame that the message of love within sexual intercourse goes absent

    This writing was from my own blog entry

  • The Herald article was most likely originally submitted in fat purple crayon.

    That being said, there was a similar case in the Diocese of Syracuse – Catholic history teacher and coach impregnates girlfriend. They cohabitate and do not marry (appropriately). Girlfriend puts ad in paper announcing blessed event with group photo of trio with common address.

    Principal of High School (and the rest of the city) sees 1/8 page announcement.

    Daddy fired on the spot, now works in Home Depot.

  • ”…she was how old when the relationship started? Was she a student at Archbishop Feehan?”

    Well, Dom, I’d ask the sources in Fall River to do some more digging. Because we don’t know until we DO know, now, do we?

    My dad taught at a rural high school in Ohio when he met Mom. She was 16. He didn’t give her a second glance until she graduated (or so he tells us). He asked her out that summer. When they married, she had just turned 20. He was nearly 27. Coming this June, they will have been married for 54 years.

    Anybody got a problem with that?

  • The questions were asked rhetorically of the journalist who should have asked them and put the answers in her story. Seriously, doesn’t the mother of the child seem like a ghost in the story.

    As to your parents’ story, 54 years ago, an 18-year-old was a much different creature then and it was a very different world.

    Speaking right now, in the current climate and culture, I would have a problem with a 27-year-old teacher asking out a former student the summer after she graduated. It would not be appropriate and would send the wrong message to all the students. HEck, I have problems with college professors dating students at their colleges.

  • Therese,

    That is like saying you need to be married, before you are in love. You need true love before marriage. They got one part down, they love each other let’s not shut them out of God’s love, because they jumped the gun. 

    Yes, You can make love though sexual intercourse without being married. Is it in wrong form, yes. It is terribly wrong to lump all sex (both selfish and unselfish) together.

    There is definitely love. I had to struggle with this. This is what confused me as a sexually active teenager, and many adults who are even married who think sex and love are separate. Then realize it is one.

    It is not the fault of these couples who fall in love and have sex outside marriage. The fault lies within us! We need to explain how God is involved in our love for each other. Not just to teenagers who are not sexually active, but also to cohabitating adults.

  • Renee,

    How can couples living in mortal sin get married in the Church?  Don’t they have to renounce sin first?  What you revealed was shocking to me.
    I had no idea this would knowingly be permitted.

    If a man and woman are cohabitating, (living in sin) how can they even attend pre-cana?  How could they even receive the Eucharist at their wedding?

    If these couples are in pre-cana they should be asked to leave for the sake of those who are truly preparing for the Sacrament of marriage with right and holy intentions.  It is scandalous to them and a mockery of the Sacrament.

  • “Speaking right now, in the current climate and culture, I would have a problem with a 27-year-old teacher asking out a former student the summer after she graduated.”

    I’m not sure it would have been any more acceptable then, except that it was a farming community, and Mom was rather mature for her age. And Dad was sure to get her father’s approval from the get-go.

    Then again, at the Catholic high school I attended in the early 70s, a male religion teacher was seeing a female student. The parents were outraged. The principle said his hands were tied. (She might have been 18, the teacher was a wannabe-hippie, and the principle was definitely an idiot.) Our story today does sound suspicious, and it all seems to hinge on whether she was still a student. It might keep him from getting a job at any school at all.

    My parents’ coming of age was definitely a different time and place, by the way. At this rural public high school, there were two nuns teaching, can you believe it? The Ursulines had a motherhouse nearby, and they worked cheap (just the way the superindendent liked it). And this was an area where Baptists and Methodists were not above calling us “Catlickers.” What can I tell ya?

  • Anyone involved in the church cannot be compelled to reveal their interior conscience.  This goes for the seminarians in formation and for couples approaching marriage.  Accordingly, we cannot play bedroom police when people are being subjected to the pre-nuptial interviews with the priests/canonists preparing them for marriage.  A good example of this phenomenon is the question about children.  Preparers should educate the engaged couple about church teaching and encourage/model it strongly; however, we don’t ask the betrothed if they are going to adhere to Humanae Vitae in every letter of the law.  What we ask them is more nuanced, such as are you willing to accept any children God sees fit to bless you with?  The couple must obviously answer yes that at some point they intend to have children, since that is the natural end of marriage and if they refuse that end they cannot be married; however, we cannot compel them to publicly state all sin they have been committing.

    There’s room for serious improvement in this model I feel; however, there is not room for draconian steps of examining every little action and response for any hint of dissension or disagreement.  Sins the couple might commit in the future aren’t yet sin and cannot in the present prevent them from marrying each other.  As previously stated the church is just the witness to this sacrament, the couple actually minister to each other in the rite of marriage.


  • The best bet is just for the priests and the lay helpers to be crystal clear about what the Church teaches and what is helpful in a Christian marriage and what is not.

    Couples will get the message and eventually conform or leave.  There really is no need for confrontation.

    Nobody likes being a hypocrite and there are 26,000 different Christian groups out there.  We just need to hear the Truth on a consistent basis and that goes for us married people.

    From the report I saw the teacher was sounding like he admitted to it all.  Still, I’m not sure what good it does to fire him…unless of course he said to the headmaster, flat out, that marriage is not important.  Then, he needs to be shown the door.  The key here is contrition and no reporter is ever going to find that out.

  • Good comment Thomas.  The path to walk between forgiveness and correction is difficult to discern at times.  None of us should underestimate the pastoral problems this situation must have presented to the school and pastors involved.  It’s never easy dealing with the (always messy) consequences of sin.

  • Thomas Coolberth hits the nail on the head. How can they know WHY cohabitating is a sin, if they don’t attend pre-cana. Our job is to educate, what marriage and love is.

    How can people know if we deny them the oppotunity to learn? Pre-cana is a time for reflection. Just because you are engaged, marriage isn’t definite. Many couples after pre-cana realize they really don’t love each other and call off the wedding. Sometimes we joke that that is a sucess story, saving someone from divorce. 

    I currently do the Natural Family talk at our pre-cana. In most cases the engaged couples think it is the Rhythym method. They never knew how realiable it is, or the Church’s teachings on the sexual body. It takes several years for couples to come to terms the contraception mentality is wrong. The Billing Ovulation teaher tells me, some couples hold on to that NFP brouchure for years before attending her class. Do we shame them for not coming sooner, or do we help them learn the Church’s teachings?

  • “Anyone involved in the church cannot be compelled to reveal their interior conscience”.

    What if they are revealing it voluntarily?  What if they go to pre cana and tell everyone they are living together and have every intention of remaining in this state until and after the ceremony?  Can the Church administer the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to such individuals without in some manner participating in a violence against the sacrament of matrimony? 

    I would think it would be scandalous to others in the program and certainly a mockery of Church teaching.and God’s grace. 

    I don’t think the Church is acting as the “bedroom police” in such a situation but as the guardian of the truth and our Catholic Faith.

  • “When they come to the Church for maraige why do they come?  Status?  Church wedding?  Sense that they are living incorrectly?  Time to get the children baptised, first communion?  Why do Catholic’s divorce at the same rate as the rest of the country?
    Why do people who live together before marraige divorce at a still much higher rate no matter what religion they claim?  Because the unloving act of fornication damages us forever”

    At first yes, many people do come to the Church for all of those reasons, but that is why we are there to teach them what marriage is. People know something is missing, but they don’t know what it is. I see very loving unselfish couples (w/children and cohabitating), who need to be taught the Sacrament is there for them. They don’t know who God is or have a distorted view of Church’s teachings. We can’t be critical of them or blame them for that. What we can see is the wanting the smells and bells as church, the first step in understanding the Church’s teachings. 

    The divorce rate, has more to do with no fault divorce in our state laws then anything else and that people see no difference between cohabitation and marriage. Men mostly move in thinking they are trying the woman out, women think moving it is a step towards marriage. Nothing technically changes when you get married when you cohabitate. Especially non-Catholic marriages where there is no education on sacrifice and commitment. So people think they can just walk away, as if they are still live in boyfriend/girlfriend.

    I could cite factoids left and right. Never mind the divorce rate; 86% of all cohabitating relationships end within three years! Ouch! But just telling people not to live together or wait for sex is subverting the message of the Church. Being a Catholic is not a do/don’t checkoff list, it is wisdom and understanding of God’s love.

    As with natural family planning women just don’t get off the Pill, because the Church says so. You stop contracepting because we speak truth with our bodies. There is a alot of unloving selfish fornication that occurs within the Sacrament also, just because you’re married taking advantage of your spouse’s body is a mortal sin. People who contracept have high divorce rates too.

    As for the football coach, any guy who would parade his daughter on the news to shame his faith because he didn’t something wrong in the first place probably would make a crappy husband. As much as I would like to see mothers and fathers get married, I’ve seen one too many 40 or 50 somethings get divorced after the children finish school and claim “I only married her, because she was pregnant.” Wouldn’t the motivation be, “I only married her, so I could lead the school to another football championship.”? Eck…

    If you teach individuals no matter their status, virgin/non-virgin cohabitating or not, the wisdom of God’s love makes the Sacrament of Marriage fall into place in that understanding.

  • “But just telling people not to live together or wait for sex is subverting the message of the Church.”
    Renee, it’s time for you to resign your position as instructor.
    When Our Lord mentioned ‘the blind leading the blind’, he was not holding it up as an ideal.

  • Oh, I forgot, it’s a NEW CHURCH, NEW RELIGION, not the same one as at Antioch, right?  Sorry.

  • I think they should have been allowed to marry. I don’t understand this new belief that you wait. If you “love” someone enough to have a child with them, you love them enough to get married. The tough part is the commitment.

    So what now? The couple lives together? Though the article doesn’t specifically say that. A scandal, a state of mortal sin- sure. Why aren’t they in counseling to prepare them for marriage?

    I’m oldfashioned. Get married, create a family, make a commitment for the baby’s sake. It sounds like they wanted to stop acting selfishly and the Church told them to be selfish. Don’t marry. Wait. For what exactly. Marriage, the sacrament is the glue and the graces that can keep the family intact for the child’s sake and for the elimination of scandal.

  • Ok, I’m really upset.

    What I said was

    “But just telling people not to live together or wait for sex is subverting the message of the Church. Being a Catholic is not a do/don’t checkoff list, it is wisdom and understanding of God’s love…. As with natural family planning women just don’t get off the Pill, because the Church says so. You stop contracepting because we speak truth with our bodies. There is a alot of unloving selfish fornication that occurs within the Sacrament also, just because you’re married taking advantage of your spouse’s body is a mortal sin. People who contracept have high divorce rates too.”

    If you have concerns with my argument, address those concerns. To call me a heretic is uncalled for. In all honeslty I don’t know what you are even refering to.

    Mary, that is the unknown part of the story. We don’t know if they cared for one another or if it was a casual sort of hook up thing. It is really upsetting, because this coach was an alum of the Catholic school, he was educated about the dangers of recreational sex. While I on the other hand in public schools was taught a condom would save me from everything.

    A family is also mother and father, as husband and wife. Even when the children grow up, the couple is still a loving family. Even when children are little, couples are still husband and wife and need a little private time to love one another.

    You enter the marriage free and willingly for love of the other. If you are not giving your whole self to your spouse, and doing it for the child’s sake and fear of scandal, then there is no sacrament and then a decade or two later your infront of a tribunal judge for an annulment. 

    I’m not advocating premarial sex or cohabitation. Sex and living together blurs our ability to make a free and willing decision on who to marry, because you are already knee deep into the situation. I’m saying we need to reach out to these people, they need our help. Either they need to get married if they do indeed love if other, or educated them to stop their unhealthy habits (yeah, sin).

  • This kind of thing happened a lot when I was in high school. You’d have a popular and handsome young male teacher and then suddenly he’d be gone. Eventually word would get back that he’d been messing with a student.

  • James wrote:

    “That’s not so.  With respect, you’re confusing different kinds of love.  All that required for a baby is lust.”

    Dear James,
    We are not talking about a situation that involves only lust. In fact the couple presented themselves to the Church and requested marriage. They were turned away.

    It seems strange and counterproductive to me that couples who are contracepting, shacking up, already have children are permitted to marry but a couple who are expecting a child are turned away.

    Furthermore, the sad reality is that this couple’s involvement did not end with lust because the mother did not have an abortion, take the morning after pill but carried the baby and gave birth. That is love, true Christian love. The father and mother love the baby and are raising the child.

    What is more beneficial to the child? To have married parents at its birth whe have received all the graces of the Sacrament or to have 2 single parents with less of a commitment present at its birth? Clearly married parents are better.

    This couple could end up in front of a tribunal in 20 years but just think- the baby had 20 years of married parents. And that is no small thing.

  • You know what? I think at this point it’s impossible to know what’s really going on with this couple. We have an incomplete news report, which implicitly takes a shot at the Church, we don’t know the circumstances of the couple’s meeting, at least not firsthand. And more than that, we don’t know what’s gonna happen next.

    Using generalities with respect to preparation for marriage is fine. But most of what we’re dealing with regarding this couple is hearsay.

    Something to keep in mind while we think we have it all figured out what their story is. Oh to be a fly on the rectory wall…

  • James wrote:

    “The best resolution, in my mind, would be for the two to honestly make the decision to truly love the other for all their lives, and to marry (even if that was not what they had intended), for the love of the child.  Such would be most unselfish and most loving.”

    I couldn’t agree more. But unfortunately, we don’t know (as David wisely pointed out) and I am cynical enough and have seen these circumstances before. A young couple, in love & lust conceive a child and want to marry. I would be hard pressed to turn them away. Of course you would require premarital counseling, explanation of the Church’s teaching, etc. before the Marriage but it seems to be the new trend to turn these couples away with a flat no. I don’t understand it and I don’t agree with it.

    To me they have already demonstrated some element of sacrificial love- they are raising the baby (not aborted or even adopted out) and have experienced some of the trials of pregnancy, childbirth and the father has lost his job. You almost wonder if they family would not have been better served to let them marry so he could keep his job.

    I think there is something to be said also for allowing a marriage to avoid scandal.

    Personally I think a child coming into the world is an incentive rather than an impediment to marriage but I know that view is not widely held anymore.

    To say that you are not making a free act of the will just because your girlfriend is pregnant seems to be a stretch to me.

  • Thank you James. I do understand that love is a decision. I’ve been married for 18 years.

    And I do understand that the decision to marry is a decision to love and express that love sacramentally. And a child is best served by having married parents. Is it easier to abandon your child and its mother when married or without the benefit of marriage? Clearly marriage gives the child some support and stability and permanence that is not present in a shack up living arrangement.

  • I’m not sure the priest said they couldn’t get married at all. I suspect, rather, he counseled them to go slowly and be sure they are prepared for the sacrament.

    I could certainly understand an argument that it might be best to wait until after the birth to make a final decision. I’m not sure I’d feel confident making a permanent decision to get married while the hormones of pregnancy are raging and all the attendant stresses and pressures of preparing for hte major life change that is having a baby. (Says the 8 months pregnant woman)

    Dom and I were required by our pastor to wait six months between engagement and marriage and we did not have the kind of complications and pressures such as a baby. We were required to go to a pre-Cana retreat and meet with our pastor to talk with him so that he could be sure we understood the Church’s teachings on marriage. (And mind you at that point we both knew the pastor well and were both attending daily mass together.)

    Certainly married parents are the best thing for a child; but marriage is too important to rush into unprepared and that preparation should take some time. In the case of people who are manifestly not abiding by the Church’s teachings on marriage, I can certainly understand any priest who insisted on the couple taking things slowly to discern whether their true vocation is marriage to each other.