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Ouster sparks community support

Alissa Widman Neese • Jan 16, 2014 at 4:04 PM

Area residents flocked to social media Saturday to voice opinions on the forced resignation of a local school’s band and choir director, an act prompted by his plans to pursue a gay wedding with his partner next year.

A majority of comments on the Register’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed appeared to be in support of Brian Panetta, an esteemed director who was forced to resign this week during his fifth year of employment at Sandusky Central Catholic School.

Comments also sparked several heated debates about Catholicism and gay marriage.

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Many readers speculated Panetta could take legal action against the school regarding the situation.

But when contacted Saturday, Panetta made it clear he will not pursue any legal action against Sandusky Central Catholic School, for “numerous reasons.”

“First and foremost, I care deeply for the school, its faculty and especially the students,” Panetta said. “Secondly, I just want the truth to be understood and for there to be no confusion as to why I can no longer continue my work at SCCS. This is a teachable moment and I am a teacher above all else.”    

On Jan. 3, Panetta told Sandusky Central Catholic School president Melody Curtis that he and his partner were engaged to be married. Panetta told Curtis an end-of-the-year resignation might be the most appropriate way to ensure no conflicts occurred regarding his gay marriage, he said.

All school employees must sign a contract stating they will live a lifestyle according to the Catholic faith, Panetta said.

He received an unsigned letter of termination just hours after the discussion, stating he violated the contract and the church’s teachings.

Almost a week later, however, an agreement between school administrators and representatives from the Catholic Diocese of Toledo allowed him to resign instead, reversing the initial decision to fire him.

The Register first reported the story Friday night and in less than 24 hours, it netted more comments than any story posted to its website this week.

“I’m usually proud to be a Panther alumni,” said Charlene Hunscke Allen, one of the first commenters on the Register’s Facebook. “This is not one of those times.”

Many school supporters referenced Panetta’s contract, which he knowingly violated with his engagement.

In response, others addressed the complicated issue of Panetta’s contract, and questioned whether school employees violating other Catholic teachings should also be fired or forced to resign.

Panetta’s five-year relationship with Nathan David, his fiancé, wasn’t a secret to the Sandusky Central Catholic School community, as David often attended school events and met several students and their families, Panetta said.

“The contract doesn’t say, ‘you are allowed to be gay, but you’re not allowed to get engaged to the same sex,’” a commenter on the Register’s website said. “He broke the contract the minute he signed it, and they did nothing.”

Regardless of their opinions, most students and parents who knew Panetta spoke of his dedication to the school’s band and choir, which he more than doubled in size during his time at the school.

“I can speak for the entire student body that Mr. Panetta was one of the greatest teachers at that school,” Brandi Budd said on the Register’s Facebook. “It’s a shame because that school will never find a teacher that will care and love his students like he did.”

Saturday evening, 13abc Action News in Toledo aired a clip referencing the Register’s story and also linked to it on the news station’s website, where it gained significant traffic.

Who am I to judge?

Sandusky Central Catholic School’s decisions involving its band and choir director come at a pivotal time in the Catholic Church’s history.


Pope Francis, elected this past March, was quoted often in 2013 for his progressive, groundbreaking comments regarding several divisive issues, including gay marriage. His blunt message, as most theologians interpret it: Catholics should spend less time arguing about these issues, and more time loving others.


In July, when asked how he would respond if he learned a cleric in his ranks was gay, Francis responded, “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?”


“You can’t marginalize these people,” he said.


In September, Francis spoke of the Catholic Church’s need to make the church a more welcoming place for all, specifically by placing less emphasis on its “small-minded rules” about abortion, gays and contraception, according to an Associated Press article.


During the statement, he said it is “not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” and asserted the need to emphasize compassion and mercy over condemnation. “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all,” Francis said.


Section 2357 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states homosexual acts are contrary to natural law, because they do not allow the creation of life, and cannot be approved under any circumstances.


Sections 2358 and 2359 state individuals with homosexual tendencies are called to chastity, and must be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity” because of their inclination, which is “objectively disordered” and “constitutes for most of them a trial.”


“Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,” section 2358 states.

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