SUNBURY — A brief filed at the Northumberland County Courthouse on behalf of the Diocese of Harrisburg claims Naiad Reich, a unwed pregnant woman fired from Our Lady of Lourdes Regional in December, is attempting to use coercive powers of the state to invade the religious autonomy of the church.
By filing an injunction to reinstate her position, lawyers for the diocese, Sister Mary Anne Bednar and the Most Rev. Ronald W. Gainer said Reich is asking the court to substitute its own judgment on matters concerning morality and scandal that may differ from those defined by the church.
Reich was terminated from her position on claims of immorality and scandal after revealing to Bednar, OLOL principal, that she was pregnant and had no immediate plans to marry her significant other.
Lawyers for the diocese argue that “scandal” to the church has a theological meaning differing from the term used in the secular world. It’s argued that “scandal in the theological sense includes the giving of example that leads others to place their own eternal salvation in jeopardy.” As a teacher entrusted with the educational mission and ministry of the church at Lourdes, Reich’s cohabitation failed to avoid a scandal in the eyes of the “impressionable young people” seeking her guidance, according to the brief.
The brief claims Reich broke her signed contract with the school, which stated the employee “is expected to conduct himself or herself at all times in accordance with Catholic morality and the rules and regulations of the school and the Diocese of Harrisburg and to avoid any embarrassment or scandal to the individual school or the diocese.”
Reich broke both diocesan policy and her contract by refusing to marry despite being pregnant and cohabiting with her significant other, the brief stated.
Lawyers claim Reich’s brief, filed by her attorney Tim Bowers, lists the main cause of termination to be her pregnancy out of wedlock, but they stand firm that had she agreed to have gotten married, “the pregnancy would not have resulted in termination of employment.”
At the injunction hearing before Judge Hugh Jones March 29, Bowers questioned Bednar if Reich would have been terminated had she agreed to marriage, to which Bednar responded, “Probably not. No.”
Through the injunction, Reich is seeking to be reappointed to her position and her have full salary and benefits, which she is currently receiving, reinstated with the position. Reich is receiving her salary through the end of the school year and will maintain her benefits through July 31, by which time the baby will be born.
Therefore, they argued, Reich has not suffered any loss or injury due to the firing. Additionally, Reich was only under a one-year contract with the possibility of having her employment extended, but not guaranteeing a return for the 2019-20 school year.
Bowers argued at the injunction hearing that Reich had no postpartum or health insurance for herself or the baby.
It’s argued on behalf of the defendants that more injury would be done in reinstating Reich than in upholding her termination. By reinstating Reich, “the Catholic school will be forced to violate its religious beliefs and it would cause substantial disruption with the OLOL faith community, whereas any pecuniary injury resulting to Ms. Reich can be remedied.”
Jones will render a decision on whether to grant reinstatement within the next two weeks.