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Shoreline Catholic school parents back gay teacher allegedly ousted over her engagement

caption: The main cathedral for the Seattle Archdiocese is the St. James Cathedral.
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The main cathedral for the Seattle Archdiocese is the St. James Cathedral.

In a letter addressed to parents, a kindergarten teacher at St. Luke School in Shoreline wrote that she won’t be returning next year. The reason, Karen Pala said, was her same-sex engagement to her fiancée.

Pala said she wasn’t offered a renewed teaching contract by the private Catholic school — a decision made by the school’s pastor, Father Brad Hagelin.

“[Father] Brad does not approve of my upcoming marriage and feels it is best for the St. Luke community if I no longer teach at St. Luke,” Pala wrote.

Parents and advocates have called the decision a case of anti-LGBT discrimination, creating a petition calling for Pala’s reinstatement.

“This action is not only discriminatory but also violates the principles of equality and justice that we hold dear in our community,” the petition reads.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition had garnered over upwards of 1,100 signatures in support of Pala.

KUOW couldn’t reach Pala for comment.

St. Luke officials declined KUOW's request for comment, instead routing KUOW to the Archdiocese of Seattle. But school administrators did send a letter to the St. Luke community that parents shared with KUOW.

"Our pastor decided not to renew one of our teacher’s employment covenant (contract) and she will not return next year," school administrators wrote. "At a Catholic school, the school commission does not advise on employment decisions; the pastor is ultimately responsible for all school matters including employment."

Administrators neither confirmed nor denied that Pala's sexuality was a factor in the decision.

The local Catholic school community saw a similar falling out over the ouster of two gay teachers at Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien in 2020. That prompted the Archdiocese of Seattle to issue a report in 2021, which, among other things, highlighted a need to ensure people in same-sex marriages weren’t discriminated against.

RELATED: LGBT teachers 'pushed out' of Catholic high school, families demand reinstatement

In a written statement to KUOW, Seattle Archdiocese head Archbishop Paul Etienne said his church is at an impasse.

“The reality is that we live in a tension. After more than a year of study … there is no clear consensus for how to apply the covenant clause,” he wrote.

“Some people may place a greater emphasis on our moral teachings, while others may place greater emphasis on our social teachings. Both applications are legitimate, and yet, each is incomplete. Therein lies the expression of our human experience – we are incomplete.”

Also in the Archdiocese report is a survey in which respondents — 80% of whom identified as Catholic — ranked their top concerns regarding issues facing schools under the Archdiocese’s purview. Only about 15% of respondents said they believed being in a same-sex marriage should disqualify a person from being employed by a Catholic school.

But that doesn’t translate to real policy yet, the Archdiocese said.

For Pala's part, she told St. Luke parents she'll continue teaching through the end of the academic year.

“This news has been extremely difficult for me,” Pala said in her letter. “I am a faithful practicing Catholic and I was ready to spend the next 30 years of my career at St. Luke. I love this community and I love teaching at St. Luke School.”

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