FYI: I’m still learning. I sent this post to a teacher I deeply admire and who was the first person to tell me I should write. She gave great constructive criticism that the “back story” was missing on this post.
So here it is…
We sent our daughters to the local all-girls Catholic high school. This August, a talented educator was removed from her position as a Chemistry teacher. She explained to local media that her dismissal was the result of her violation of the school’s contractual morality clause and directly resulted from the choice she and her partner made that she would carry their baby conceived in a manner defined as “non-traditional” by the Catholic Church.
Local media, both print and broadcast, widely shared the story. Social media was ablaze with commentary. The school administration offered no comment. As a business owner, I can appreciate why management chose not to comment on a personnel issue. However, appropriate silence fueled flames and created controversy. The school’s religious order offered a politically correct missive that will, most likely, come back to haunt them. I grew tired of reading so much criticism and was empowered by the many voices that understood the administration’s choice but were fearful to step into the social media debate. So, I built a blog. And this was my first post.
This essay has quietly existed in my computer for weeks. I was disappointed with the IHM’s vague response and the articles and op/ed pieces that followed as recently as this morning. I am a huge proponent of the dialogue suggested in the IHM correspondence, however, I wish someone would stand up and say, “Marian’s administration made the only decision they could when faced with this obvious breach of contract.” I wish someone would say, “I stand with Marian High School.”
In my own way, this essay does just that.
Confessions of a Cafeteria Catholic
My Church is flawed. And so am I. But I sleep soundly at night believing that our God is compassionate, understanding and forgiving.
In the firestorm that has followed the dismissal of a talented Marian teacher, my focus has not been on public opinion, but on the opinion of the two young women who I have been blessed with as daughters.
My oldest, a member of Marian’s Class of 2013, was fortunate to have Ms. Webb as a teacher. I believe Ms. Webb played a major role in fueling my daughter’s decision to study Human Science in the pre-med track at Georgetown.
My youngest daughter, a junior at Marian, was anxious heading into this school year; conscious of the volume of work she knew lay ahead and the tremendous weight this year bears on the college options that will follow. To say this controversy has added to her anxiety would be an understatement.
My daughters are free thinkers. Over the years, their classroom discussions at Marian have mirrored our dinner table tradition of great conversation, dialogue and debate. And, admittedly, there has been more than one occasion where I have shared an opinion that falls in contrast to the Church’s position.
I am a Cafeteria Catholic. And some day I will stand before God and enumerate the Church rules, crafted by man’s theological interpretation of scripture, with which I take issue.
I pray God will be understanding. I believe, should I be found wrong, God will be forgiving.
Having established that…
I believe that Barb Webb is a talented teacher and was an asset to the Marian community.
I believe that a baby who enters the world loved by two parents in a committed relationship is a really, really lucky baby.
I also believe that Marian, as a Catholic school, is bound to operate within parameters defined by the Catholic Church. For Marian’s administration, some decisions must be black and white. Demands for Marian to pick and choose the Catholic teachings to which the institution adheres would negate Marian’s classification as a Catholic school.
As a Cafeteria Catholic, I can live within the grey. And I can invite my children to appreciate and respect the grey. But as a parent with considerable investment through tuition, philanthropy and volunteer service hours, I expect Marian to be steadfast in their position aligned with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Warts and all.
Those calling for Marian to change their administrative policies are in essence asking for them to abandon their definition as a Catholic school.
One might suggest that this is not question of change, but of choice. Quality educational options exist in our community–for both educators and students– where teachers are not asked to sign contracts that include a morality clause.
But if it is a question of change, those who truly want to challenge the moral teaching should direct their fight to Rome. And yet, so many comments posted on social media state, “This is why I’ve left the Church.”
No one has ever initiated change by walking away.
Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Barb Webb was a phenomenal teacher. But so is her successor. He has a fascinating story that began in the corporate world until he felt a call to teach. And now, having made the choice to move from a public school to a Catholic school, it is truly his vocation.
They can both be the change they wish to see in the world. And the intersection of their professional lives has expanded the conversation at my dinner table to include terms like “at-will employer” and “morality clause.”
The reality is that Marian is a very accepting environment that supports the faculty and is committed to providing tools for their success. I remember earlier this year reading about shockingly conservative contract language proposed by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and thinking, “How fortunate we are that Marian is so much more open minded.”
And, yet, here we are, vilified.
Over the last few weeks, I have found myself thinking about Ms. Webb’s mom. I think about the joy she must have felt as her daughter spoke of her students’ successes, of finding a partner with whom to share her life and of learning of her own impending promotion to grandma. If the tables were turned, how I would have counseled my daughter when she accepted the job at Marian or when she reviewed the terms of her employment contract?
I wonder if Ms. Webb’s mom has thought about me at all? Or the moms of any current Marian students…young women who don’t need to be taught that life isn’t always fair because they’ve already learned that lesson…repeatedly.
They have grown up under more pressure to succeed than we ever knew as children. And throughout the course of their young lives, these students have faced things that have robbed them of the innocence of childhood. They have buried parents, siblings and peers. They have witnessed the unpredictable path of disease, the violent impact of tragic accidents and the heartbreaking surrender to depression and mental illness. They have lived with social media that has documented their joys, fueled their anxiety, defined their social status and pressured them down many roads…including one of political activism.
I was content to limit this conversation to my dinner table. Until the morning when my daughter, who should have been concerned about an Anatomy exam, began her day by saying, “Oh my, now Perez Hilton is tweeting about Marian.”
Your fight, Ms. Webb, is not with your former employer, a Catholic school, but rather with the Catholic Church that dictates the doctrine, morals, values and social teaching that serve as the foundation of the school and the template from which your employment contract was presumably drafted.
My fight is now for my Marian daughter. To do everything I can to help her focus on academics, to ease her anxiety over where her priorities should be in the face of public controversy and to help her find her own way within the Catholic Church…be it black and white, or some shade of grey.
But not fifty shades of grey…I mean, for God’s sake, we’re Catholic.