BUTTE (AP) — An unmarried teacher at a Roman Catholic middle school in Montana who is a Havre native has been fired after getting pregnant, the Diocese of Helena confirmed.
Patrick Haggarty, the superintendent of Catholic schools for Montana, said Tuesday that Butte Central teacher Shaela Evenson "made a willful decision to violate the terms of her contract," which requires her to respect the moral and religious teachings of the Catholic Church in both her professional and personal life.
Evenson graduated from Havre High School in 1995. Her firing captured national attention Tuesday night, with stories appearing on The Associated Press national wire and on cable news shows.
"The Catholic moral teaching is that the sacrament of marriage is a holy union between a man and a woman," Haggarty said. "And we certainly believe and we teach our children who attend our schools about the sacrament of marriage. That's as old as our church. Not only do we teach that to the children kindergarten through 12th grade, but we're held to that standard as well."
Evenson told The Montana Standard that she is pursuing legal action, but deferred other questions to her lawyer. An email from her attorney, Brian Butler of Cincinnati, said he was not available to answer questions until later today.
Butte Central elementary and middle school Principal Kerrie Hellyer told the Standard that Haggarty dismissed Evenson on Jan. 10. She taught sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade literature and physical education for just over eight years.
"She was an excellent teacher," Hellyer said.
The diocese doesn't investigate the personal lives of its employees, but it was forced to act when it learned about the pregnancy, Diocese spokesman Dan Bartleson said.
"A Catholic school teacher enters into an agreement not only with the district but with parents and teachers ... to follow a lifestyle in line with Catholic teachings," Bartleson said.
The firing comes after a Catholic school in a Seattle suburb drew attention in December for forcing out a gay vice principal.
Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish, Wash ., said Mark Zmuda was aware of Catholic doctrine and violated his employment agreement.
The firing drew criticism from some Butte Catholics who said the move was in conflict with the message of Pope Francis, the Montana Standard, Butte’s daily newspaper reported this morning.
Last month, the pontiff baptized the child of unwed parents inside the Sistine Chapel. And in September, Francis called an unmarried Italian woman who’d chosen not to have an abortion and offered to baptize the baby himself.
Some angered Catholics took to social media and called for Haggarty to be fired. Others sent Twitter messages supporting Evenson under the hashtag #JusticeForShaela, the Standard reported.