Editorials

Was St. Therese teacher fired for being pregnant, or for leaving first-graders unattended?

Teacher fired from Kansas City Catholic school sues diocese

A former teacher at St. Therese Catholic elementary school says she was fired because she was pregnant and unmarried.
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A former teacher at St. Therese Catholic elementary school says she was fired because she was pregnant and unmarried.

A former first-grade teacher at St. Therese Catholic School in Kansas City was not let go for having a baby while unmarried, according to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. In a court filing, the diocese argues that the real reason is that the teacher “left the children in her classroom unattended and unsupervised on a number of occasions.”

These occasions had nothing to do with her pregnancy and in fact predated it, a diocese spokesman said Tuesday.

Michelle Bolen, a former teacher at St. Therese, is suing the diocese and the school’s principal, alleging that her contract was not renewed because of the “scandal” of her pregnancy.

If that were true, it would be both wrong and about as off-message as a Catholic school could be.

But diocese spokesman Jack Smith said that while he couldn’t get into the details of personnel matters, the pastor at St. Therese, Father Joe Cisetti, “actually wanted her to stay on” through the end of the school year “because she was pregnant, so it’s the opposite. The court record will show what really happened here.”

Bolen alleges that the school did everything but pin a scarlet ‘A’ on her, shaming and shunning her after she and her fiancé told Cisetti, who is also her own pastor, that they were expecting a child.

The lawsuit also says Cisetti at first warned her to hide the pregnancy, and later revealed it to the entire school staff in an “invasive, humiliating, public letter” that described the situation as “less than ideal” because she was not married.

The official teaching of the Catholic Church, of course, is that abortion is an “intrinsic evil” — and that there’s really no such thing as a “less than ideal” pregnancy, regardless of the circumstances in which a child is conceived.

The suit claims that Cisetti intimated that while she’d done the right thing in keeping her baby, had she instead “terminated her pregnancy, the school would not have to deal with whispering and the ‘scandal’ of an unmarried teacher being pregnant.”

On St. Therese’s website, Cisetti posted this message in response: “It is not the policy nor the practice of St. Therese Parish or School to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy...I trust that those who know me also know of my commitment to the dignity of human life, born and unborn. I further trust they know the same of Mrs. Carol Lenz, our former school principal.”

In the court filing, the diocese says that Bolen had been put on a corrective performance improvement plan for issues including “misrepresenting the extent of her past tardiness,” being insubordinate after complaining about another teacher — one who taught Bolen’s own child — and sharing confidential information with another parent.

We don’t have long to wait to know which version is more accurate: A jury trial on the suit is expected to start on Monday.

But for now, we’ll do as Cisetti asked in his message, which says that “wisdom, charity and prudence require both sides of a story being heard before a decision is made.”

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