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Unmarried Catholic teacher fired over pregnancy says she will pursue legal action

An unmarried teacher at a Roman Catholic middle school in Montana who was fired after getting pregnant says she is pursuing legal action.

Patrick Haggarty, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese, 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.

"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 Tuesday.

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 drew criticism from local Catholics who said the move conflicted with the message of Pope Francis. Francis baptized the child of unwed parents last month inside the Sistine Chapel, The Montana Standard reported.

Some Catholics on social media were calling for Haggarty to be fired.

Evenson’s 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.

Click for more from The Montana Standard.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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