The firing of Brian Panetta as the St. Mary Central Catholic High School band and choir director is one sad story, on so many levels.
The saddest part, perhaps, is the school had the courage to hire Panetta nearly five years ago likely knowing from the beginning he was gay. That was a courageous step for a Catholic school, and Panetta thrived as director, doubling the size of the band and giving it back its “Panther Pride.”
From a believer's perspective, one might think God had a lot to do with Panetta getting hired in the first place; he served those students for 4½ years and nobody has even suggested he did not serve them, and their families, well. He, and they, both appear to have prospered from the experience.
Men and women who don't have faith often envy those who do and wish they too could be believers. From a non-believer's perspective, however, the decision to fire Panetta might appear to be a man-made occurrence in defiance of the universe, in defiance of God.
Click here to read related articles and watch interview with Panetta
It wasn't an easy decision for the school and church doctrine appears to mandate that Panetta be cast aside and sent away from the parish he loved and the parish that loved him. Panetta could have stayed as long as he didn't make a “public” statement about who he really was, as long as he agreed to deny his own self-worth in front of the God who created him, and the world.
It's difficult for many to understand that hide the sin-use the sinner hypocrisy. It creates an image of Panetta being cast out in shame from the great institution St. Mary's is, and always has been, despite past difficulties with real sexual misconduct involving priests.
There also likely have been gay parishioners who gave a lifetime of devotion to the church and school, and past staff members at St. Mary's, who, as long as they denied their own sexual identities, were allowed to “sin” and prosper in the faith.
Making good people hide their true selves, for people of faith, must be like forcing them to deny God's perfection in creating them differently than he created others. And it's likely those past people of faith struggled with that every day of their faithful lives.
Understanding God is easier, perhaps, than understanding church doctrine, and the decision to fire Panetta does appear to have come more from outside Sandusky, and even outside the reach of the Toledo Diocese..
Again, these were difficult decisions made in the clash of 2,000-year-old tradition and belief system against the modern enlightenment that every person — regardless of orientation — has the right to love and marry the person they choose, and to love God.
But the battle over words that ensued after Panetta was fired, over the terminology to describe the separation and who made the decision, also seemed disingenuous. It was a speak the lie-hide the truth approach. Panetta was fired. Period. If they agreed to let him return, he likely would be at the school Monday morning.
Initially, school officials seemed to want to make it clear that Brian resigned, and was not fired. But firing someone one day and giving them the chance to resign a week later or remain fired is still a firing. It's sad that the “public face” they hoped to portray is not the “true face.”
There was a similar word game as to where the decision was made, with the Diocese initially suggesting it was a local decision, and local school officials suggesting it was forced by the diocese. In the end, the edict likely comes from Rome, and the men and women involved here appear to have tried their best to do what they felt compelled to do.
And one last time, these were difficult decisions in a changing world involving a religion that cherishes its traditions and beliefs and is slow to change or evolve. Local decision makers and the Diocese missed an opportunity to speak truth and foster a change that many — including Catholics — believe is needed.
Panetta seems to be a person more clear in his convictions who knows who he is, as a man, as a teacher, as a Catholic and as a musician and future spouse to Nathan than most of us do.
And he should know, his presence in Sandusky has changed us and sparked a conversation that might never have happened without him. It is truly a teachable moment, as he suggested, and the lessons for his students, especially, and for the community at large, will be reviewed and considered by many for a long time to come.
Watch the "between the Lines" interview with Panetta