Exactly one week after protests rocked his school’s hallways and front steps, Mike Prato, the president of John F. Kennedy Catholic High School is out – for now.
Seattle Archbishop Paul D. Etienne requested that Prato take a leave of absence until the end of the school year, according to a Tuesday announcement from the Seattle Archdiocese’s Office for Catholic Schools.
The archbishop’s move “was out of respect and concern for” Prato, the announcement said. The archbishop named Father Bryan Dolejsi as interim president, effective immediately. An archdiocese spokeswoman stressed that Prato was not fired.
The news followed days of widespread media attention and protests at the school over the resignation of two teachers who were engaged to same-sex partners. Teachers who work at schools affiliated with the archdiocese are required to sign a contract that the school can revoke “if the teacher’s life-style is incompatible with Catholic moral values or if his/her conduct is at variance with Catholic teaching.”
Many who protested last week in front of the school and the Seattle Archdiocese office said church doctrine on same-sex partnerships is outdated. They also questioned whether the church would enforce the contract against employees who deviate from Catholic teachings in other ways.
In a letter to the school staff, Etienne acknowledged the protesters indirectly. “It is abundantly clear to me that our Catholic schools are serving a much broader community than in the past,” he wrote. He added that he was creating a special task force to examine how to apply “universal church teaching locally.”
The teachers’ resignations seemed abrupt to those who learned about them last week, but the action was in the works for some time, their attorney Shannon McMinimee said. In the fall, the teachers, Michelle Beattie and Paul Danforth, told the Burien school they planned to marry their same-sex partners. The archdiocese, through the school administration, then relayed that their contracts would not be renewed for the next year, McMinimee said.
McMinimee said the teachers are “pleased to see that there is potential for reach and important change moving forward.”
“They are proud of the students who so eloquently and passionately advocated for change,” McMinimee wrote in a text message.
Last week, thousands mobilized online and in person demanding the reinstatement of the teachers and a public apology. A GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $36,000 in donations to help the teachers who resigned.
As of Tuesday evening, parents and students were still making sense of the personnel news. Some took to a Facebook group that formed around the protests to wonder whether Prato’s leave was just a way to placate the public after the backlash against the resignations.
Others gave the church the benefit of the doubt. Kim Ahlf, a parent of two Kennedy Catholic students, said she was “hopeful” because of how quickly the archbishop moved and the tone of his letter, but she’s still “not sure what to make of it.”
Aidan McMahan, a senior at Kennedy, said he was “happy, but not satisfied,” adding that he would like to see other administrators at the school leave too. The school has been quiet since the protests, he said, but students are planning more activities to keep attention on the issue.
“Kennedy pushes us to be leaders in our communities,” said McMahan. “I don’t think they were expecting us to use those skills on them.”
In his letter to staff, the archbishop said he was listening. “I have heard your voices and read your letters,” he wrote. Dolejsi and the superintendent of Catholic Schools, Kristin Dixon, went to the school and “listened to the concerns of the teachers and staff” last Friday. Dolejsi was previously a chaplain at Kennedy Catholic.
“We as a church need to understand that people in our culture are coming to Catholic schools with various expectations” the archbishop said in the letter. “However, we must remind everyone why Catholic schools exist. Our primary mission is to form people with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ.”
Helen McClenahan, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the plan as of now is for Prato to come back next school year.
“This has been a very stressful situation and out of care and concern for Mike Prato and the school community this action was taken,” she wrote in an email. “It’s important for people to know that he was not terminated.”
Prato could not be reached for comment.
KUOW reported that the school’s admission director stepped down; as of Tuesday evening, she wasn’t listed on Kennedy Catholic’s staff directory.