Metro Weekly

Seattle-area Catholic high school accused of forcing two LGBTQ teachers to resign

Archdiocese insists the teachers resigned from their jobs voluntarily and chose when they wanted to resign

Kennedy Catholic High School – Photo: Facebook.

A Seattle-area Catholic high school is being accused of forcing two LGBTQ teachers to resign from their jobs because they were involved in same-sex relationships.

English teacher Paul Danforth and girls’ soccer coach Michelle Beattie, of Kennedy Catholic High School, in Burien, Wash., resigned after it was revealed that they had recently gotten engaged to their same-sex partners.

In a statement sent to parents, Kennedy Catholic High School said the teachers “voluntarily resigned their position,” but did not elaborate on why Danforth and Beattie chose to resign, reports CBS News. Neither teacher has spoken publicly to the media.

“[Danforth and Beattie] are highly capable, gifted, and qualified teachers, who have served our community with dedication and humility,” the statement read. “Their loss will be felt deeply by their students and the entire community. We are thankful to Paul and Michelle for their years of service.”

But Sean Nyberg, Danforth’s fiancé, sent a statement to KOMO News anchor Steve McCarron saying that the teachers were forced out.

“While the parties directly involved will not comment, I have no obligation or desire to remain silent,” Nyberg said in the statement posted to McCarron’s Twitter account.

“Both religious institutions and democratic governments have placed a value on marriage for much of our history, touting the community and societal benefits these relationships provide,” he said. “However, in our case, Paul is no longer employed because I had asked him to marry me and he said yes.”

The departure of the two teachers prompted King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove to post a message on his personal Facebook page calling what happened “a reminder of the blatant discrimination that continues to exist in our community against members of the LGBT community.”

Councilmember Joe McDermott, who was raised Catholic, also weighed in on the controversy, worrying that it would send a negative message to Catholic youth who are LGBTQ and might be pushed to suicide because of feelings of isolation, sadness, or depression.

“By forcing the resignations of two teachers over their sexual orientation, Kennedy Catholic and the archdiocese of Seattle tell young people — especially LGBTQ students at Kennedy — is that being LGBTQ is wrong,” he said in a statement.

Earlier this week, some Kennedy students held an hours-long sit-in and a rally to show support for Danforth and Beattie. Some parents and alumni also protested outside the offices of the Archdiocese of Seattle.

“When people have injustice against them, you stand up for them,” said Jen Southwell, a parent of two students at Kennedy Catholic High School. “And it’s just amazing that the church is not doing this right now.”

“I want to know from the Archdiocese why it was so sudden?” Kennedy senior Maggie Fine told KOMO News after the sit-in and rally. “Why no one else had a say in this?”

“I think the questions regarding the future as to if a circumstance like this will ever happen again and what laws and what contracts are allowed,” said Audrey Porter, another senior.

See also: Indianapolis Archdiocese criticized after calling for the firing of two gay Catholic schoolteachers

But Kennedy Catholic President Michael Prato pushed back against allegations that the teachers had been “forced” to resign. Prato issued a statement in which he sought to clarify the Archdiocese’s policies and “ensure that people understand [the teachers’] departure is not due to their sexual orientation.”

“As a Catholic school, we have a deep commitment to incorporating Catholic teaching into all elements of our curriculum, activities and life as a school community. We take the responsibility of passing on the faith to our students very seriously,” Prato said. “In light of this, every year, all teachers at Archdiocesan Catholic Schools, including Kennedy Catholic High School, are asked to renew their covenant agreements. This agreement outlines the importance of teaching the Catholic faith to students and asks all teachers to agree to live and model the Catholic faith in accord with Church teaching.  By signing the agreement, teachers voluntarily agree to abide by this requirement.

“In this case the two teachers proactively came to me in November to share their desire to marry their same-sex partners,” he added. “We discussed this decision in the context of their covenant agreement, and they voluntarily resigned.

“I hired these teachers and I care about them very much.  I still do. I wanted to make sure they felt
supported, and so we discussed several options including the possibility of finishing out the school year. We gave them the option to select the date they wanted to resign, and they indicated they wished to resign prior to the winter break in February. We worked with them to arrive at a mutually agreeable transition plan and financial package to assure they would be supported in their transition.”

Archbishop Paul Etienne also issued a statement, reiterating that the resignations were voluntary and noting that teachers in Catholic schools are expected to uphold Church teachings and serve as role models to their students by adhering to those teachings in their personal lives.

“Pastors and church leaders need to be clear about the church’s teaching, while at the same time refraining from making judgments, taking into consideration the complexity of people’s lived situations,” Etienne wrote. “We are always called to compassion as we journey with our people. The end goal of walking together in faith is to help people embrace the fullness of the Gospel message and integrate the faith more deeply into their lives.

“The church teaches the fullness of the Gospel. Those who teach in our schools are required to uphold our teaching in the classroom and to model it in their personal lives,” he added. “We recognize and support the right of each individual to make choices. We also understand that some choices have particular consequences for those who represent the church in an official capacity.”

Archbishop of Seattle Paul Etienne – Photo: Facebook.

Nyberg, who attended Tuesday’s rally, told KOMO News he was impressed by the show of support for the teachers from hundreds of students.

He added that he’s not expecting the Catholic Church to change its position on same-sex marriage, but hopes that the archdiocese will listen to the students’ concerns.

“We’re not looking to overhaul the entire church,” he said, referring to the covenant agreements that teachers agree to abide by when hired. “There’s just a few policies that we would like clarified and maybe looked at again with a more current set of glasses.”

He says he hopes the protests against the teachers’ departure will spark a constructive dialogue with the archdiocese. 

“I think the biggest fear about this whole situation is that the Archdiocese rides this out with no comment and no changes and no opportunity to listen to these students — maybe face-to-face — and then maybe it just kind of fades away and nothing happens,” he said.

Nyberg regrets that Danforth and Beattie never got to say goodbye to their students, and had a message for those students upset by their departure.

“[Paul] loves you,” Nyberg said. “Michelle loves you. They’re watching. And they miss you.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include additional comment from the Archdiocese of Seattle and Kennedy Catholic High School.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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