Fired for Sin in the Year 2012


You may have heard the story of Emily Herx, a language arts teacher at a Catholic school who was fired after the school learned she was using IVF in an attempt to get pregnant. IVF is not allowed by Catholic teaching because the Church believes that life begins at conception, and in the IVF process embryos are often destroyed which is counter to their pro-life stance. In accepting a job at a Catholic institution, Emily had to agree to follow “tenants of the Catholic faith”, even though she herself is not Catholic.

I’m not even going to argue that one. Let’s pretend that it’s okay for the work environment to intrude upon your personal and private business. I am also going to preface this post by saying that right now we only know Emily’s side of the story, so there may be more going on here than meets the eye, but if the facts hold up I’m going to stay appalled.

As soon as her employer found out about her IVF treatments, despite eight years of apparently exemplary performance according to her annual job reviews, she was was not offered a new teaching contract. I’ve never seen a school that can afford to throw away great teachers, but apparently this one can, because Emily was not even given a chance to make things right with the school and keep her job.

What this story boils down to is that a woman in 21st century America was fired from her job for sinning. Not for sinning with a student. Not for talking about her “sin” to students. Not for teaching her students anything outside of Catholic teachings….No, she was fired for sinning in her private life. Well, who in that school hasn’t sinned in their private life? Are you telling me that no one working at that school is using birth control? No one is having premarital sex? No one is cheating on a spouse? No divorcees? What about mass every Sunday? Lying? Taking the Lord’s name in vain? Where does one cross the line of their particular sin being a fireable offense?

I find it hard to believe that every other employee at that school is following all of the tenants of the Catholic faith, even the priests, nuns and other religious, yet they have contracts next year. In fact Herx claims that it is well known that there are members of the staff who have had vasectomies, use birth control or are divorced. Yet according to her statement, it was she who was fired and even characterized as a ” grave, immoral sinner” by the church pastor.

Are you $%&&%&* kidding me?!?!?!?!

This is a woman who, along with her husband, is struggling with the personal, emotional and financial ramifications of infertility. They have made a personal choice that their family is not yet complete and that IVF is the best way to complete their family. They are NOT Catholic. She is not a priest or even a religious educator. How is it okay for her to be fired over this issue and how is it okay for her to be called out as a sinner?

It smacks of “The Scarlet Letter” and is even more egregious in light of the Church’s sex abuse scandal. It boggles the mind that an institution that covered up decades of child molestation  and even reinstated priests who were known pedophiles under the banner of repentance and rehabilitation, can take it upon themselves to administer such a harsh punishment on a woman who, by all accounts, was unaware that IVF was even against Church teachings.

The double standard would be laughable if it weren’t so awful.

My Mid-life Crisis of Faith (or How I Broke My Father’s Heart)-Part 2

I’d left the Catholic Church and all of the tradition I’d grown up with. I guess I could have left it at that and been just another of the many people who have left for one reason or another, after all a lapsed Catholic is still a Catholic who could potentially return to the church like the prodigal son. But no, I felt I needed some type of spiritual home which meant changing my religious identifier altogether.

But where to go? Clearly, my options were very limited. Protestant was out. Islam was out. Judiasm (reformed) was intriguing but they’re not really looking for converts. Buddhism sounded good, but there’s a shortage of Buddhist temples in the Dallas area. Decisions, decisions…..then I remembered a former co-worker of mine who had been Unitarian Universalist. I didn’t remember much about our conversations about her faith but I do remember her talking about how inclusive and open her church was.

So it was off to Google. Where I found the Unitarian Universalist principles:

  • Protecting the inherent worth and dignity of every person
  • Justice, equality and compassion in human relations
  • Acceptance and encouragement of each individual’s spiritual journey
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
  • The right of conscience and the democratic process
  • The goal of a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.
  • Respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part.

Yes, yes and more yes! I needed more information so I found a UU church in my area and attended a Sunday service; it was a revelation. If you get the impression from the principles that this is a hippy-ish type of group….you’re kind of right. There were definitely some members who looked like they fit the bill. There were also older members, and young families, a whole range of people. They were welcoming and very interested in what had led me there. They shared their stories with me, some very similar, others very different.

The best part, and what I had come to hear, was the sermon. The readings were taken from a Jewish rabbi’s essay, a quote from the great Sufi poet Rumi and Walt Whitman. I can’t remember ever being as connected to what a minister was saying than I was at this service. I have always believed that there is wisdom in all cultures and traditions both spiritual and secular and that we cheat ourselves when we don’t learn from as many sources as we can find.

Rumi-Mystic Sufi Poet

Walt Whitman-American Poet and Essayist

And it has been in this place that I feel comfortable and like I can be myself. It does’t matter how my thinking changes and evolves because all manner of belief systems are embraced. Many members come from Christian and Buddhist backgrounds. Many would identify themselves as Secular Humanists. There’s a smattering of pagan/nature worship followers, and even some atheists. We’re all just looking at the big questions of life without someone else telling us they know the answer. It’s about the wonder of not knowing and feeling that it’s impossible for any human to comprehend fully the greatest mysteries of the universe. In other words, a room full of agnostics.

My favorite UU t-shirt says:

I’m a Unitarian Universalist: The bedrock of my faith is the unshakeable belief  that your guess is as good as mine.

So that was that. I’d found my new place to spend some quiet reflective time, but now I had to tell my parents about my change of heart. I could think of a lot of things I’d rather do than have that conversation, and I felt like a little kid about it. (Amazing that I’m about to turn 40 but my parents are still my parents.) I talked with my mom first and she was surprised but not particularly upset. My dad however was a whole different story and I wasn’t even the one to actually tell him. I guess my mom brought it up one day and he was just devastated. She later told me not to bother trying to talk to him about it, because he was so upset he didn’t want to even discuss it with me. (I should mention here that my sweet dad is still an alter boy. This is the level of commitment we’re talking here…and please, no jokes.) It wasn’t until almost a year had passed that we were able to sit down and talk about my defection.

In retrospect, the timing couldn’t have been worse. I was visiting family in the days surrounding my grandmother’s passing and everyone’s emotions were on edge, but then again isn’t it always when someone has died that the conversation turns to things like religion and God and heaven? Things got heated but were both able to say what was on our minds and express the hurt that we both felt, him at my throwing away what he sees as an identifying characteristic of our family and me at his belief that this was a frivolous and poorly thought out decision. I wish I could say  there was a great meeting of the minds, but that’s not the case. I didn’t sway him and he didn’t sway me. We haven’t talked about it since, but at least we were able to understand where the other one was coming from, and while I may never get my dad to cross the threshold of my UU church, I know he loves me regardless of whether I consider myself Catholic or not. (However, I wouldn’t put it past him to be saying rosaries for my return.)

Thank you for reading my story and for all of the kind and encouraging comments you have sent me on this blog, on my Facebook page and through e-mail. I can’t tell you how much the support means to me. If you like this or any other post, please share it, and follow my blog on this site or through my Facebook page. And since you’ve been so kind I’ll leave you with this quote from Khalil Gibran:

My Mid-life Crisis of Faith (or How I Broke My Father’s Heart)-Part 1

So, now it’s time for me to get personal. I’ve had some friends who’ve read my blog ask me publicly and privately about my characterization of myself as a “former Catholic“. It’s not a story I’ve shared too freely, even with family and friends, because of all of the emotion it stirs up.

It turns out, like many other things in my life, I take my religion in moderation too. Not a great follower of organized religion,  and not an atheist…….nope, I’m hopelessly agnostic.

I grew up in a Catholic family and as a young adult , I found a parish that kept me “in the fold” for many years. The parish priest was a cool dude. He wore sandals constantly. He spent all of his sermons talking about social justice and giving the poor a voice, in politics and society in general. Things I could really get behind.

He was one of the first, and only, whistle-blowers in the clergy sex abuse scandal in my part of the country. He didn’t seem overly concerned with birth control or homosexuality; he always said that Jesus didn’t talk about that stuff and neither would he and then he’d go right back to his social justice work. He made it possible for me to ignore the fact that I fundamentally disagreed with a lot of what my church told me I was supposed to believe. So, I stayed in my comfort zone, I rationalized away my doubts, and worse I condemned myself for having those doubts in the first place.

Then, I moved to Texas.

At first I thought that it would be easier to be Catholic here. Church is such a huge part of the culture and social life of Texans that I thought it would be a great way to get myself and my kids involved and I was looking forward to being a part of a vibrant parish. So I went out and found a huge parish, with a married priest (an Episcopalian priest who converted to Catholicism), and I thought that I had found the perfect place to continue my family’s religious traditions.

Well, not so much.

Not that it was a bad parish. From what I could see, the families are very involved in the life of the church and in volunteering and trying to live their faith. But this was not the easy breezy church I was used to. These folks take their Catechism very seriously, and I was often reminded that there are certain beliefs that go along with being a Catholic and if you don’t believe those things, you can’t really call yourself a Catholic.

Hmm. Food for thought there, but then again old habits die hard so I tried……I really, really tried to stay a part of the Church. Ultimately though, I had to be honest with myself and admit, that if I were to put a checkmark next to every Catholic or even mainstream Christian teaching I truly  believed, there would be very few checkmarks.

So I left. With a lot of tears. With a lot of soul searching. With a measure of guilt. With a sense of being unmoored. And I started on a journey away from the faith I grew up with and into the faith I could actually claim as my own.

So I hope the words of e. e. cummings are true.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.

I feel like they’re true, and next time I’ll touch on where my journey has taken me so far and about the reaction of my family….which as you can tell from my title, was not what I’d hoped.