Should Catholic Schools Be Able to Fire Teachers Over Fertility Treatments?
Emily Herx was a popular literature teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, until she used her medical leave for in vitro fertilization. Herx lost her job and says a church official called her a “grave, immoral sinner.” When she appealed to Fort Wayne Bishop Kevin Rhoades, he told her IVF was “an intrinsic evil, which means that no circumstances can justify it.” The federal government saw things a bit differently. Herx filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and won — paving the way for a civil lawsuit.
That’s the short version of the story. But according to Reverend Richard Sparks, the full truth is a lot more complicated.
Sparks is a priest at Old St. Mary’s Church on the South Side of Chicago. He knows the nearby Fort Wayne diocese, where he almost served as a pastor back in the 1970s. He also holds a Ph.D. in bioethics, which means he spends a lot of time tiptoeing through theological minefields. But he believes the Herx case was less about Church teachings than about politics.
Sparks spoke to me over the phone about sexuality and “personhood,” Augustine and Aquinas — and the “Rick Santorum-like Catholics” who are steering the Church further and further to the right.
Let’s get one question out of the way first. The Catholic Church is led by celibate men. How can priests understand the issues married people face when they’re struggling with infertility?
There’s this notion that celibate priests don’t understand sexuality. But in my experience, some of the people who are the harshest and most conservative are married Catholic scholars. Certainly, on this issue, married theologians like William E. May, Germaine Grisez, and John Haas have been much stricter than most Catholic priests would be. We priests deal with a lot of parents and families and have a lot of empathy for them.