"The ministerial covenant is signed by all employees of the Archdiocese of Seattle. It hasn't been updated in several years, so this taskforce will review its language and how it is applied at Catholic schools across the archdiocese," Nuzzi told CNA. "What is important about the title 'ministerial covenant' is that every Catholic school in the country, including all in the Archdiocese of Seattle, considers teachers to be ministers of the Gospel and witnesses to the faith."
Ministerial language is not intended to "clericalize" lay teachers or obscure the lay state, he said.
"Lay leaders not only help run our Catholic schools, they help run our entire archdiocese," Nuzzi said. "This taskforce is focused on Catholic teaching and the Catholic faith – not on clericalization. In calling our teachers ministers, we are saying they are public, contractually committed, inspired examples, worthy of emulation, not clerics."
The task force will meet 12 times from August 2020 to June 2021. Members are asked to maintain confidentiality about all deliberations.
In a statement from the archdiocese, Nuzzi described Catholic schools as a "vital part" of the Church's mission. He said he was "enthusiastic" about the task force and "its potential to help shape a brighter future for youth, children, and families."
The Seattle archdiocese covers the territory of western Washington State. Almost 580,000 Catholics are registered with a parish and make up over 15% of the area's population.
The people of Washington state tend to be more secular than other Americans. Those without religious affiliation make up the largest group, about 32%, if small sections of atheists and agnostics are grouped with 22% who self-identify as "nothing-in-particular." However, 61% self-identify as Christian. Evangelical Christians make up about 25% of Washingtonians, 17% identify as Catholic, and 13% as mainline Protestant, the Pew Research Center reported in 2019.
The task force was announced in February after the Seattle archdiocese saw a controversy in which the facts are disputed. Two teachers at Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, Washington either resigned voluntarily in order to contract same-sex civil marriages with different partners, or were forced out of their positions.
Michael Prato, president of Kennedy Catholic, said in a February statement that the two teachers approached him in November 2019 to share their desire to civilly marry their same-sex partners.
The teachers had voluntarily signed a covenant agreement to "live and model the Catholic faith in accord with Church teaching," Prato said. In light of the agreement they signed, both chose to resign, he said. The school worked out a transition plan and financial package for the teachers.
"I hired these teachers and I care about them very much. I still do," Prato said. "I wanted to make sure they felt supported, and so we discussed several options including the possibility of finishing out the school year."
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Groups of students staged protests in support of the teachers. Students, as well as parents and alumni of the school, also staged a protest outside the diocesan chancery in Seattle.
The two teachers' attorney, Shannon McMinimee, said the teachers were forced out. She said they "were hoping to have a dialogue with the school about their desire to be their authentic selves and not hide that they were engaged and not hide who they were engaged to."
"And that -- what they thought would be a conversation with their principal turned into being called into the presidents' office and being told that the superintendent of the archdiocese school system wanted their keys the minute they found out they were gay and engaged," McMinimee said, according to KING 5 News Feb. 21.
Archbishop Etienne addressed the situation in a Feb. 19 statement.
"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," he said, stressing that the end goal of accompanying people in faith is "to help people embrace the fullness of the Gospel message and integrate the faith more deeply into their lives."
"Those who teach in our schools are required to uphold our teaching in the classroom and to model it in their personal lives," he said. "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."