St. Mary band director fired for gay wedding plans

(UPDATED WITH FULL STORY)
Alissa Widman Neese
Jan 11, 2014
Sandusky Central Catholic School forced its band and choir director to resign this week, shortly after officials learned he and his boyfriend recently became engaged to be married.
 
Brian Panetta, who is in his fifth year of employment, initially received a letter of termination Jan. 3, which stated he was fired for violating the moral and religious teachings of the Catholic Church.

This letter came just hours after Panetta approached the school’s president about his engagement, to discuss if an end-of-the-year resignation would help avoid any conflicts concerning his gay relationship, he said.

On Thursday, however, Panetta met with school administrators, a priest and representatives from the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, who offered more information and agreed he could resign instead of having a termination on his record, he said.    

“I’m satisfied with their explanation, and right now I’m just praying for understanding and strength,” Panetta said. “It’s hard for me to walk away, but it’s what’s best for me personally, and I hope my students will understand that.”

Panetta and his fiancé, Nathan David, started dating while attending the University of Dayton five years ago. They plan to wed in July 2015.

Their relationship 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.

“This community has been like a family to me, and I’ve always had nothing but support,” Panetta said. “I never had to hide.”

After David popped the question on Christmas Day, however, Panetta said he knew things could get complicated.

All Sandusky Central Catholic School employees must sign a contract stating they will live a lifestyle according to the Catholic faith, he said.

“I knew if we ever wanted to get married, it would limit my time teaching at the school I love,” Panetta said. “When I met with the diocese, they basically told me my engagement is a public statement of my support for equality for gay marriage, which the Catholic Church does not support.”

Panetta identifies as Catholic and attended Catholic school for grades K-12. He said working at Sandusky Central Catholic School was an ideal first job.

In his four and a half years working there, Panetta grew the school’s band from 18 to about 50 members, and also produced similar numbers for its choir. He oversaw band for grades 5-12 and choir for grades 7-12.

Panetta said he still doesn’t feel his work is done, but he understands why he is no longer permitted to work at the school. After Thursday’s resignation agreement, he said he feels he is stepping down with the school’s support.

He distributed a letter to the school community Friday that announced his resignation and his engagement to David, in which he called himself a “proud and gay Catholic”

“The hardest part was not getting to speak to (my students) about it, so I’m thankful for that opportunity,” Panetta said. “Everyone knows about my lifestyle, and I always thought the best way to handle this was to be upfront, honest and proactive. I just wanted to provide clarity about this situation”

It’s unknown who will take over Panetta’s job, as students resumed classes Thursday after winter break extended three extra days because of bad weather.

After the Register left a message for Sandusky Central Catholic School president Melody Curtis on Wednesday, she responded within minutes with an emailed statement.

“Mr. Panetta is no longer employed at Sandusky Central Catholic School,” the statement said. “We do not discuss personnel situations with the media.”

Two days later, however, she emailed a revised statement, which she also distributed to the school community.

“It is with great sadness that we extend to you that Mr. Brian Panetta has resigned his position today as director and coordinator of music at Sandusky Central Catholic School,” it said. “Although parting ways is never easy, especially in the midst of a school year, we would like to thank Mr. Panetta for his devotion and service to the school, and the gifts and talents he brought to the music program.”

The statement also provided a link to Panetta’s letter, both of which will be available on the Register’s website.

The school hired Curtis as president this past summer after adopting the president-principal administrative model for the first time. She was previously executive director of Monroe Catholic Elementary Schools in Monroe, Mich., and has almost 15 years of experience in Catholic education.

Sally Oberski, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, which oversees Catholic schools in Northwest Ohio, said she couldn’t offer any additional comments about the situation when contacted Thursday.

A Catholic school’s decisions involving personnel are “local decisions,” and the diocese’s role is simply to be available for consultation if the school desires it, Oberski said.

“The school has a governing board, a president and a principal, and it’s a local decision,” Oberski said. “There’s nothing more I can tell you than what the local leadership has told you.”

Because Sandusky Central Catholic School is not funded by taxpayer dollars, it is not required to release personnel files or other documents to the Register.

Click here to read letter from school's director

Click here to read letter from Panetta to students

Click here to visit Brian Panetta's website

Comments

Julie R.

@Teeter/Diedre Cole: Best comment.

cody6202000

I'm thinking about posting a change.org petition later this evening, if I can get my thoughts put together on how it should be worded. If anyone from around here wants to help me with it, fire me a message or something...

I've seen this happen in a few other places in Ohio, most notably Columbus, but this one, as someone who lives in this area, seems to be firing me up a bit more...

Dcfred20036

There is case in Seattle where a beloved principal was fired for getting legally married to a person of the same sex. But get this, this is the shocking part: the school told him he could say if only he divorced his spouse....

cody6202000

Saw that a couple days ago...these cases are getting quite a bit of traction, and all for the better, I say... :)

Doug7880

If you are a teacher at a school that is run by the Catholic church. Think about it you must know what is going to happen. It don't matter if someone thinks it is right or wrong you know it's going to happen.

SamAdams

Come on, everybody. This is about a CONTRACT!

Most of us sign some sort of a contract when we're employed. People are fired (or not hired) because they fail a drug test. IT'S IN THE CONTRACT! People are fired because they fail to perform (or perform adequately) the job duties IN THE CONTRACT! In this case, there was a morals clause IN THE CONTRACT.

I'm not suggesting that Mr. Panetta is either an especially good or an especially bad man because he happens to be gay and was lucky enough to love someone enough to want to marry him. All that I'm saying is that certain conditions, prohibitions, etc. were IN HIS CONTRACT, and he violated it. I would assume Panetta actually READ the contract before signing it...

Freedom of religion, WITHOUT government coercion, is in the Constitution. That means some religions believe certain things that others of us don't, and that they're free to do so. In some cases, it means that playing cards or dancing is sinful. In other cases, it means that driving a car or owning an XBox is against the rules. I don't agree with those things, either. But then, I'm not a member of those faiths.

Panetta chose his church. He chose his job. And he ALSO chose to violate his contract. Is it unfortunate? Yes. But it's not up to ANY of us to demand that the Catholic Church violate the contract in turn, OR that it make an exception to what some consider a core belief.

Mr. Panetta, I'm sorry you're dealing with this, and I truly believe that this is St. Mary's loss. But I respectfully suggest that you seek employment elsewhere, preferably some institution that appreciates and respects you for your talents, and you for who you are. And I respectfully suggest the REST of you offer St. Mary's the same courtesy!

justmy2centsoh

Does anyone have a copy of the contract which spells out these actions and resulting actions?

Alissa Widman Neese's picture
Alissa Widman Neese

Private schools aren't required to release documents to the Register or anyone, because they're not public records. But I do reference the existence of a contract in the full story in today's Register.

Northstar

There are 3-4 cases in Ohio in the last couple years. The court ruled on the side of the Catholic Dioceses in those areas. It is a standard contract which everyone signs when they are employed and I believe they need to renew every year.

Not all of the cases involved this exact scenario.

None the less a contract is a contract...the situation is very sad. Brian will be missed , but I was very surprised the school even allowed his letter to be sent to all. And I applaud them for doing this, and bringing out the true reason for his departure and stopping speculation. This allowed him to leave with his head high and respect as many have already commented on.

I wish they could bring him back. It is a contract with the Toledo Diocese. It is not SMCC, they wanted him to be able to stay.

So send your comments to the Diocese, or get involved with a committee for change who are working directly with the Vatican, similar to the group who are asking for women to be ordained as priests, and many other groups.

Personally, I feel that since this has come to light that there are a handful of other staff who need to be released for violating the same contract. You have to treat equally if you are enforcing the contract now.

happyfeet64

I understand it is in his contract, but 5 years later? He and his partner had attended numerous events together and it was known he was in a relationship, why do this now? Because he formally announced his intention to marry? Has anyone also remembered we have not overturned the marriage act and Ohio doesn't have to legally acknowledge a same sex marriage as a civil union in this state? Ago, whether his intention are to marry, he still can't-so legally that is a moot point!

thinkagain

Changing societal standards brought about by moral relativists, have championed this lifestyle.

Jesus never compromised on the moral law. Neither should we.

Men lusting for other men or women lusting for other women are not the natural affections God created men and women to have for one another.

Marriage is ordained by God to be between a man and a woman. The idea of two homosexuals marrying is an offense to the God who created marriage.

God demands righteousness and morality, but rather than give up your disobedience, you’re content to follow the wide path that leads to destruction.

If the church stops judging, we will no longer be able to distinguish good from evil, we will buy into the politically correct idea of moral relativism, and we will bow down to the devil’s wishes to deceive us.

Truth is hate to those who hate truth.

cody6202000

Take the church and leave it where it belongs: we have no need for your moral pretense in our legislature, and that's *exactly* where religious groups would most rather this sort of idea lead.

When, if memory serves, 85% of the public already feels that we have protections in place against workplace discrimination against LGBT persons (and, also, when nearly 40% of LGB persons and 80% of trans persons) are experiencing harassment and discrimination on the job...

We're failing as a culture, and it sure as heck ain't the LGBT community's fault...besides, how can we both be so powerful as to shape culture AND be discriminated against in such high levels? Right-wing cognitive dissonance?

44846GWP

I was wondering when you would start your b.s., such a BIGOT. If there is a hell, you will be there for sure.

Rosa

If the Pope says "who am I to judge", how dare the bigots at St. Mary's judge. DESPICABLE!!!

Pure good love is better than toxic love and all the affairs that are OKAY. Makes my skin crawl....

JMOP

The Pope is not God, nor would Pope Francis marry a gay couple. Why? The Pope wouldn't go against the Bible.

SKULLNBONES

What a sad, outright demonstration of bigotry on the school's part. Also, un-Christian. No wonder 12 percent of Americans are former Catholics. Run in the other direction!

xtensionofme

Once again, proof positive why I am & will remain ATHIEST! What hypocrites.

William Jeffers...

If I were a woman, I would be a lesbian. It's not a "choice"; we are born the way we are and we need to accept everyone in that light.

Peninsula Pundit

It's not a 'choice' for pedophiles, rapists, etc, either.
They're born that way, as well. Almost all wish it weren't so.
There is no difference.
Have fun 'accepting' them.

44846GWP

Bigot.

PyrkinsPyrate

If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. (NKJ, Leviticus 20:13)

Does anyone really need to praddle on about Jesus and love and how he would have accepted the sodomites. If God's own words commanded his followers to put gays to death would Jesus follow his father's words or try to appease modern people that want to revise and invalidate the Bible and reduce it's authority to the unnatural desires of decadent perverts.

Matt Westerhold

Wow.  What a horrible and ugly point of view. 

the unsilent majority's picture
the unsilent ma...

Is that verse in the bible? Yes. While the last part of his comment is a bit misworded he has a valid point. Would jesus go against his own fathers word and accept gays? Does it say in the bible that if god denies gays jesus would deny his father? No! The problem ive always had with people of faith....sounds pc..... is they cherry pick bible verses to fit situations. How about the verse that forces women to marry their rapist? You cant have it both ways. You either follow the good book or you dont. If you dont follow it your not being a true follower of gods word. No where in the bible does it say once society is modern the old testament no longer applies. In fact you can find several conflicting opinions on old testament relativity in the new testament. Mind you im not a religious person but I respect the churches right to fire someone who goes against their teachings. I also respect panettas choice to be engaged to a man. The church will ultimately become irrelevant if it stays the course on this issue. That's a fact! As the older people leave/pass away, the church will be forced to change or young people will turn their backs on it.

thinkagain

A biblical illiterate runs amok once again. Have no fear, thinkagain is here.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 can be viewed as merciful to the woman, who, because of the loss of virginity, would be considered unmarriable. In that culture, a woman without a husband would have a very difficult time providing for herself. Unmarried women often had no choice but to sell themselves into slavery or prostitution just to survive.

the unsilent majority's picture
the unsilent ma...

Again cherry picking

thinkagain

It was your cherry…

J. Hartman

lol, ok, that was damn funny!

Bottom Line

Matt, I couldn't possibly have any less respect for you. Constantly pushing your own personal agenda.

cockynurse

What's wrong, Matt? Political correctness run amuck allowed, but no religious beliefs without being condemned?

You're the one who clearly thinks this story was appropriate. Bashing the Catholic church and school to sensationalize this occurrence for sales and hits. Such a shame. People have been fired for other reasons that do not coincide with the churches teachings. WHERE'S YOUR STORY ABOUT THEM?

Privately funded religious organization. Get over it.

DickTracey

@cocky Spoken like a true Catholic!

They want all of their dirty laundry swept under the rug!

Put on your rose colored glasses, don't look, don't tell, ignore the problem! (send the priest to a different school, don't tell the police)

Blame Matt for your churches Neanderthal thinking?

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