Fort Wayne- South Bend Diocese Responds

Teacher Believes She Was Fired After Receiving Fertility Treatments

By Scott Sarvay
By Rachel Martin
By Max Resnik

April 25, 2012 Updated Apr 26, 2012 at 6:44 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – A former-teacher of St. Vincent de Paul School is suing the Catholic diocese claiming that she lost her job after school officials learned she was undergoing fertility treatments to become pregnant.

It's a local story that's the focus of national attention from the NBC Today Show and Good Morning America—a Fort Wayne Catholic school teacher fired for violating the Catholic Church's policies. Emily Herx has been undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments—something the Catholic Church considers unnatural.

Emily Herx and her husband have been undergoing IVF treatments since 2008. Herx is diagnosed with a medical condition that's caused infertility. Herx was a language arts teacher at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School in Fort Wayne. According to reports, Herx says she informed the principal of her treatments upon signing her teacher contract in 2010. Reports also say the principal did not object or alert her that IVF was against Catholic teachings until over a year later when she was asked to meet with Msgr. John Kuzmich. On April 25, 2011, Herx was informed that her contract will not be renewed for the 2011-12 school year.

Herx is suing the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese for violating the Civil Rights Act by sex discrimination, according to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. The lawsuit also says it's a violation of the American Disabilities Act, which considers infertility a disability, under law.

The lawsuit could prove a tough one, as religious doctrine doesn’t always mirror civilian law. In January, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the "Ministerial Exception" which says "churches and other religious groups must be free to choose and dismiss their leaders without government interference."

The Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese released a statement (below) saying they have clear policies that a teacher must have a knowledge and respect of the Catholic faith and abide by their policies. But court documents say, Herx was never required to go through religious training, nor was she required to be ordained by a Catholic priest. Herx says her infertility did not hinder her ability to do her job.

Herx, who was employed as a literature and language arts teacher at the school from 2003- 2011, requested time off from teaching in order to receive IVF treatment. The response she got from her request was from Msgr. Kuzmich, the priest of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.

At that meeting, attended by Herx, her husband and father, Msgr. Kuzmich called her a "grave, immoral sinner" and added that if news of her IVF treatments got out it would cause a "scandal" for the church, according to her civil complaint.

Msgr. Kuzmich allegedly said the church disproved of fertility treatments because they require the creation of additional embryos that are ultimately destroyed, a violation of Catholic teachings regarding the sanctity of embryonic life.

According to her civil complaint, Herx explained that no embryos were destroyed during her treatment, but diocesan officials were not swayed.

The following is a statement from the Fort Wayne- South Bend Diocese:

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend is saddened by the lawsuit filed against it by a former teacher at one of its grade schools. The claims made against the Diocese in the lawsuit allege matters of sex, pregnancy and disability discrimination. The Diocese denies any such discrimination occurred. Rather, 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.

The Catholic Church has a deep pastoral concern for husbands and wives struggling with infertility. The
Church promotes treatment of infertility through means that respect the right to life, the unity of marriage, and procreation brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act. There are other infertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization, which are not morally licit according to Catholic teaching. The Church teaches that every individual embryo has the right to life. The process of in vitro fertilization very frequently involves the deliberate destruction of embryos or the freezing of embryos, which the Church holds to be incompatible with the respect owed to human life. Furthermore, the Church teaches that it is morally unacceptable to "disassociate procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act" and insists that procreation not be reduced to mere reproduction.

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 Diocese requires that its teachers serve as moral exemplars. Those requirements, and others, are expressly incorporated into Diocesan teacher contracts.

The Diocese does not intend to comment on the specific allegations raised in the lawsuit that was filed against it. However, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades believes it important that the Faithful understand that the Diocese does not take its obligations as an employer lightly. At the same time, the Diocese understands its obligation to uphold Church teaching and defends its freedom to do so. Bishop Rhoades asks the Faithful to join with him in prayer for the swift and just resolution of this matter - - one that affirms the Diocese’s ability to exercise its lawful rights consistent with Church teachings.

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