Shoreline Catholic school not renewing teacher's contract because she is marrying a woman

A Catholic school teacher in Shoreline says she is losing her job next year because she is getting married to a woman, and now parents of students are outraged by the school’s decision.

Karen Pala works as a kindergarten teacher at St. Luke School in Shoreline. Her attorney, Alex Hagel, tells FOX 13 Seattle she has been with the school for four years, but this will be her last year teaching.

Hagel says the school’s head pastor, Father Brad Hagelin, is refusing to renew Pala’s contract because she is marrying a woman.

The school would not respond to any questions. However, FOX 13 Seattle obtained a letter Hagelin sent to parents explaining his choice:

In the letter, Hagelin says Pala is not just a teacher, but a minister. Hagelin said her life choices do not align with the church teachings enough to be a good role model for students.

"In these difficult situations, a pastor might find himself unable to sign a new yearly covenant (contract) in good conscience," he said.

"I’m so disappointed. He had a real opportunity to lead in this area, and he chose a different path," said former teacher Tracy Rathke. "I think it’s a swing and a miss for him, and it’s a really sad way for him to leave 11 years at this parish," she added.

Rathke tells FOX 13 Seattle she taught at St. Luke School for 25 years. She worked alongside Pala. She says this decision goes in the opposite direction of what she taught students at the school for decades.

"No matter how you wrap it, it’s hate, and it’s not something that I want my former students to live in, it’s not something that I want the kids that are going through this school right now to live in. It’s not the message that we should be sending," she said.

Across the street from the school, a house has a banner hanging, which reads "We love Ms. Pala."

Outside the school campus, support is also growing. More than 1,100 people have signed a petition to reinstate Pala to her role. 

Parents of St Luke students have created a group they are calling LUKE. It is a nod to the name of the school, and also an acronym for Love, Unity, Kindness, and Equity. The group is demanding Pala get her job back. They also want the employee handbook to add language to protect marital status from discrimination.

Hagel, the attorney for Pala, tells FOX 13 Seattle they plan to appeal the decision to Archbishop Paul Etienne. 

The archdiocese tells FOX 13 Seattle they do not comment on employee matters.

They provided a statement from Etienne regarding the complexity of the decision based on sacrament teachings versus social teachings:

As with all employment-related matters we do not share details to respectfully protect the privacy of everyone involved. However, details around this situation have clearly emerged, maybe leading to some rumors, and cannot be ignored. 

The reality is that we live in a tension. After more than a year of study in 2020-2021, the covenant taskforce concluded that there is no clear, consensus for how to apply the covenant clause. (See final report here.) 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.

Because there isn’t a single defined answer, we must dialog like Jesus did. This is why the application of our covenant clause is handled at the local level to allow for this dialog and discussion to provide a deeper understanding of our teachings and expectations.

Supporters of Pala tell FOX 13 Seattle they plan to rally outside the school this weekend.