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Dioceses defend against in vitro suits filed by fired teachers

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Both the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., are defending themselves against lawsuits filed by Catholic school teachers who were fired for pursuing in vitro fertilization treatments.

In the Indiana case, Emily Herx is suing the diocese after being fired from her teaching job of eight years at St. Vincent de Paul Grade School in Fort Wayne. She had asked the pastor, Msgr. John Kuzmich, for time off so she could pursue in vitro fertilization treatments with her husband. The diocese has not yet filed a response to the suit, but diocesan spokesman Sean McBride told Catholic News Service May 3 that Herx was not fired but rather did not have her contract renewed.

Herx’s suit alleges that Msgr. Kuzmich called her a “grave, immoral sinner” — a claim the priest denies — and said she would cause scandal if word got out about her planned in vitro treatments.

The suit said Herx appealed to Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend. It added he told her, “In vitro fertilization … is an intrinsic evil, which means that no circumstances can justify it.”

The diocese issued two statements in response to the lawsuit.

“The diocese views the core issue raised in this lawsuit as a challenge to the diocese’s right, as a religious employer, to make religious-based decisions consistent with its religious standards on an impartial basis,” said an April 24 statement, adding that it denied Herx’s claims of sex, pregnancy and disability discrimination.

“The diocese has clear policies requiring that teachers in its schools must, as a condition of employment, have a knowledge of and respect for the Catholic faith, and abide by the tenets of the Catholic Church as those tenets apply to that person,” the statement said. “The diocese requires that its teachers serve as moral exemplars. Those requirements, and others, are expressly incorporated into diocesan teacher contracts.”

In an April 26 statement, the diocese defended Msgr. Kuzmich, saying his “record of exemplary pastoral ministry as a priest of this diocese for nearly 47 years has been a model of truth in charity.”

In Cincinnati, Christa Dias also filed a discrimination suit after being fired from her job teaching computer classes at Holy Family and St. Lawrence schools in Cincinnati for taking in vitro treatments.

Dias, who is single and not Catholic, has a 14-month-old daughter as a result of taking the treatments.

Now 32, Dias told The Associated Press, “Nobody should control my right to have a child.”

“What’s at stake here is really very simple: Parents who pay to send their children to a Catholic school have a right to expect that those children will be educated in an environment that reflects Catholic moral teaching. That’s why our standard school contract specifies that employees will abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church. That’s the contract that Ms. Dias signed and she violated the contract,” said archdiocesan spokesman Dan Andriacco.

“The contract states that the employee will ‘comply with and act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the policies and directives of the archdiocese,’” he added. “That clause applies to all employees, male or female. Ms. Dias was terminated for violating the contract that she signed.”

While a January Supreme Court ruling upheld the firing of a teacher at a Lutheran school because she was considered a “ministerial employee,” U.S. District Judge Arthur Spiegel, who waited for the ruling before determining Dias’ 2011 lawsuit could proceed, recently ruled that Dias had no ministerial duties.

 

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