Conscience and Protection

It is also a very bad week for the Catholic hierarchy. Ireland casts a shadow on the whole Church and dredges up anguish of cover-up and sex scandals of past years. One particularly damning letter appears in the NY Times, and who can say any of the criticism doesn’t pierce through to the heart of things (except that I refuse to concede “church” to the hierarchy):

The newest report on the unimaginably thorough abuse of children by the Irish Catholic Church suggests an institutional Catholicism that is nearly unredeemable.

The moral compass of modern Catholicism has only one true north — institutional self-preservation. Everything else is relative. It will not do to argue that “most” priests did not in fact abuse children. The fact is that the entire hierarchy (which constitutes the definition of “church”) has been and remains complicit and therefore utterly compromised.

Indeed, as conservative Catholics call for job loss, the president of ND and the editor of L’Osservatore Romano, to name a few, they are also calling, and rightly so, for conscience protections for others.

A reader called my attention to another battle over employment a few weeks ago. I didn’t have much to say about it then, but in light of recent events and the blogofuffle over the president’s proposed policies and all, I thought the connection needed to be made.

It has happened on occasion that I have landed in trouble with a boss for taking what I thought to be the moral high ground. It has never led to my loss of job, except once, perhaps. It might have been a major straw in one deteriorating situation both boss and I eventually concluded mutually we needed to end. A colleague was faced with a cutback in her job, from full-time to part-time, and a distribution of her responsibilities to other employees. There were, I thought, valid questions about her effectiveness. I also thought that it was the responsibility of our employer to make clear what his expectations were: revise or highlight the job description as needed, offer specific goals that must be met, set timelines and deadlines and explain everything.

The matter was raised at a staff meeting and it was very uncomfortable. The boss denied wanting to cut back or fire the person. Somebody was lying, and it was clear to every person in the room. The employee kept her full-time job for another several months before moving on. Given that the consequences for lying about the boss in front of other employees might be a serious termination offense, as time went on, a silent finger of accusation was pointed up, not down.

Now, I don’t know that my asking for clarification on this mess contributed to my own job situation. It certainly didn’t help matters that I said I believed a person should have a chance to redeem her- or himself in job performance. And that I asked a few uncomfortable questions. I mention this tale to relate that I have lost a job under shadowy circumstances, so I’m entirely sympathetic for conscience advocates.

Some Catholics might think the cause of Ruth Kolpack veers into conscience protection. While I’m somewhat sympathetic there, too, I’m not 100% convinced. Bishop Morlino had every right to ask her to refrain from public dissent from church teaching, especially in a role as a catechist. I’m not sure he was right to link her continuing employment to a renunciation of her thesis. I wasn’t in the room with those two. I don’t know what demands were made, what concessions were offered, and who said what.

At any rate, the Catholic hierarchy, as an advocate for conscience protection, is in a tough place. Doctors and nurses don’t work for them. So it’s easy enough to say nobody should lose a job because they did or tried to do the right thing. The bishops are probably right to keep a low profile on this one.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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