Catholic Church has school's back on firing

Sandusky Central Catholic School's forced resignation gains national attention, outraged alumnus creates blog to follow story.
Alissa Widman Neese
Jan 13, 2014

The Catholic Church broke tradition Monday, releasing an official statement in support of a band and choir director's recent departure from Sandusky Central Catholic School.

Meanwhile, a group of outraged alumni are assembling on a blog and social media, expressing support and aiming to springboard the story to national media outlets.

Brian Panetta, who was in his fifth year of employment with Sandusky Central Catholic School, was forced to resign this past week after announcing plans to pursue a gay marriage next year.

He initially received an unsigned letter of termination indicating he was fired, but school officials and representatives from the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, which oversees the school, later agreed he could resign.

Click here for all Register coverage of this story.

Panetta, who identifies as Catholic, plans to marry his fiancé in July 2015.

A newly created blog, hirebrianback.blogspot.com, is advocating for Panetta's rehire. It also links to a change.org petition, which netted more than 200 signatures and supportive comments in its first day.

"Everyone loved him, even people who aren't in favor of gay marriage, because they loved him as a person and a teacher," said alumnus Fred Staffeld, who is managing the new blog from Washington D.C. "We're outraged by the hypocrisy. Instead of firing others who are breaking rules, they only fired somebody who was just upfront and honest about who he is."

Staffeld graduated from St. Mary Central Catholic High School in 1982, during what he calls the "glory days" of band, when John Kustec, now a Perkins Schools employee, was his director.

Panetta reminded Staffeld of a young Kustec, because he ignited passion in his students and more than doubled the once dwindling band's size.

When Staffeld received mixed messages about who was responsible for Panetta's abrupt resignation, and later learned the truth, he felt inspired to take action, he said.

"I've received some angry messages about creating a circus of this," Staffeld said. "If this school didn't want a circus, it shouldn't have discriminated in 2014. It's going to create a firestorm."

The story has since picked up national attention, most recently being featured on Advocate.com and LGBTQ Nation, two of the world's largest websites for gay rights news.

Panetta issued a public statement about the matter Friday, which permitted the Catholic Diocese of Toledo to respond today, according to its statement. The diocese typically doesn't comment on personnel matters, in order to protect individuals, it said.

"In light of the Church's clear teaching on sacred marriage and the fact that Mr. Panetta himself has publicly indicated his marriage plans are contrary to Church teachings and are the issue at the heart of this matter, the leadership of Sandusky Central Catholic School properly determined that his employment could not continue," the diocese stated. 

"When Sandusky Central Catholic School informed the diocese of the situation, the diocese fully concurred it was the correct decision and in keeping with the terms of his teacher-minister contract," it concluded.

Click here to read the full statement.

The statement offers little, if any, new insight, as the diocese's spokeswoman offered a brief comment this past week, in which she also stated Panetta's forced resignation was a "local decision," and the diocese only offered consultation.

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

After he became engaged on Christmas Day, Panetta told school principal Melody Curtis about his wedding plans, anticipating the pair would agree an end-of-the-year resignation would be the most appropriate way to ensure no conflicts resulted. He received his letter of termination later that night.

His five-year relationship with his now-fiancé, Nathan David, was not a secret, as David often attended school events and met several students and their families, Panetta said.

Panetta has no plans to take any legal action against Sandusky Central Catholic School.

He cares deeply for the school, its faculty and its students, and only wants to perpetuate the truth about why he can no longer teach them, he said.

He is currently a graduate student at Bowling Green State University. He plans to graduate in May and seek employment elsewhere, possibly near his hometown in North Carolina, or David's hometown in Illinois.

Sandusky Central Catholic School issued a news release this past week about the matter, simply stating Panetta had resigned. It also provided a link to Panetta's statement, in which he called himself a "proud and gay Catholic."

 

Other Catholic school firings circulate in national media

Sandusky Central Catholic School's forced resignation of its gay band and choir director addresses a hot-button issue constantly circulating in national media.

On Friday, the same day Panetta issued a statement about his resignation, Michael Griffin, a gay teacher at a Catholic school in Pennsylvania, was fired after filing for a marriage license with his partner. 

The pair had a civil union and the teacher wore a ring, and as with Panetta, school administrators knew he was gay. 

Their relationship didn't become a problem until Griffin emailed school administrators about his marriage license, which they interpreted as a public statement.

Earlier this month, Mark Zmuda, a gay vice principal in Washington, was also fired for marrying his partner. School officials suggested Zmuda get a divorce to keep his job, but he rejected the idea, he said.

Students have rallied in support of Zmuda and actively protested his departure, staging a sit-in and then walking out in solidarity, effectively shutting down their school. They have also rallied a social media campaign and crafted an online petition with now more than 32,000 signatures.

The most prominent firing case in Ohio involved a Catholic school in Columbus, whose officials fired lesbian teacher Carla Hale for listing her female partner in her mother's obituary in The Columbus Dispatch this past year.

Comments

Nemesis

So, you're saying that the First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances does not apply to people who have religious convictions?

John Harville

"...peaceably to assemble and petition...."
No one I can find is saying anything about this.

Nemesis

Truth or dare is - scroll up and follow the context.

Dcfred20036

Attention Panther band members: this is a letter meant for you, which was received via the Hire Brian Back blog:

Hi. I'm a recent graduate of a Seattle-area Catholic high school, and I wanted to let you know that there are a ton of us who support you. Just before Christmas break, the vice principal at one of the other Catholic high school in our Archdiocese was fired when it was found out that he had married his same-sex partner. Living up to Seattle's reputation for liberalism, the student sit-in at Eastside Catholic soon spread to other schools, and now there is a whole movement of young people who refuse to let this go. I only heard about what happened with you guys on tumblr and I don't think it's been widely reported, so not many people over hear have heard, but I strongly urge the Sandusky Central students to visit the KeepMrZ2013 page on Facebook or the blog on tumblr to get in contact with a huge group of people who stand with them and want to change the world. I don't know if this is the most effective way to get the word out to you guys, but I couldn't find any way that I might contact the student body or a group opposed to Mr. Panetta losing his job. I promise that you will find overwhelming support from your fellow Catholic school kids out here in Washington state if you just say hi on the movement's Facebook page. We're behind you 100%.

Dcfred20036

Alert: Story being reported in Europe- this has now gone global!

sugar

Global???? wow

John Harville

It is time for Melody Curtis to resign and apologize to the SCCS community - and especially to the students who unwillingly have been thrown into the midst of global inspection.

If he hasn't already, Joel Miller (Perkins 2001) should marry quickly within the church to remove any doubt or wonder

Dcfred20036

I'm not sure how the St Mary school board operates these days, but they better start providing vigorous oversight of the school's administration. Going forward, the problem St. Mary is going to have is that in bandgate they kept referring to the contractual violation that cost Mr. Panetta his job, fine. And if other employees are in violation of some clause of the contract too, then the school needs to be consistent and fire those people too. Because if they don't, then is not only hypocritical, but also discriminatory. Recently, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati lost a case in Federal court. The school claimed the contractual thing, but the jury did not buy it. Lack consistency can be a problem.

DickTracey

John, are you saying that the new band director hired by St. Mary's has a baby momma, not a wife?

John Harville

I didn't SAY anything. I advised he should "live the Catholic lifestyle" before people start doubting his chastity.

Still investigating how a person can hold both PUBLIC and CATHOLIC school contracts to do the same work.

Also find it fascinating he was so 'available' especially since Melody had changed her profile to list herself as Music Director at SCCS.

Nemesis

Is there a reason to doubt his chastity? If so, then state it openly - your endless innuendo is tiresome.

"Still investigating how a person can hold both PUBLIC and CATHOLIC school contracts to do the same work."

The same way a painter can accept a contract to pain the classroom walls at SCCS and another to paint the walls in City Hall - are you TRYING to be obtuse?

John Harville

DIOCESAN ADMINISTRATOR: “the role of the Administrator is to essentially maintain the operations of the diocese—to keep the status quo—and provide for the needs of the faithful until the next bishop is named by the Holy Father.” -DIOCESAN WEBSITE

The status quo does NOT allow for terminating contracts without suspension and hearing... check Diocesan rules. I have contacted the Diocese about the actions of Melody Curtis. I will ask that they investigate her actions in light of Diocesan policies on employment and termination. I already have raised questions about the legality of the contract language with regard to federal laws.
.... and I used my legal name in the process.

sanduskymom

John - The school has moved past this and Brian understands why this happened. Why can't you do the same? If the Catholic faith doesn't agree with your personal beliefs, there are many other faiths to choose from. Let it go!

Dcfred20036

Sanduskymom, john just feels strongly about it. He will move on when he is ready to. Hey, everyone gets their say- what a wonderful thing!

John Harville

This issue is so much larger than the school - which BTW has not moved on.

This is about FREEDOM OF SPEECH. It's about people speaking for the Church who have no idea for what the Church stands - you leading the pack.

It's about Sandusky parish priests and deacons who have not been heard at all.

The contract is illegal, it forces employees to give up First Amendment rights, and it illegally profiles individuals AND forces people to live dishonestly. The contract doesn't say one cannot participate in surrogacy, in-vitro, live in adultery, support abortion - just not be PUBLIC about it.

In other words, be dishonest.

And where do you and Melody and others get the right or knowledge to proclaim the Brian is unchaste? Do you have personal knowledge that Brian and his fiancé have consummated their relationship? Did Melody DARE to invade his privacy and ask that question?

I think I've probably been Catholic - religion, maam, it's not faith - longer than you have been alive. I've been Catholic since the days of the Pater Noster and the Ave Maria. I have watched - and participated in - the Church changing its beliefs.

This too, will change. It's just time to push the issue.

Nemesis

"This is about FREEDOM OF SPEECH."

No, it's not. No government body is restricting anyone's speech here. A private organization has set standards for participation in its activities, as all such organizations are entitled to do. I recommend you inform yourself on what does and does not constitute a violation of 1st Amendment rights. A prominent defense attorney and former federal prosecutor named Ken White has done an excellent job of explaining the difference between the government and private entities in this respect at his blog popehat.com (NO relationship to Catholism in any way, merely a name he and his co-bloggers found catchy.) In light of your opposition to basic Constitutional liberty in this case, I'd be interested in your perpective on it, since liberty is the central theme of the entire site.

"It's about people speaking for the Church who have no idea for what the Church stands"

Well, since the church has openly published for what it stands (and, although I contend with you here, I must commend your avoidance of using a preposition without an object) and you're contending against that, one has to wonder if you're projecting. Why don't you tell us, clearly and concisely, for what the Church stands?

"The contract is illegal, it forces employees to give up First Amendment rights"

FORCES? Did he sign it at gunpoint? There is no force here. He willingly, and by his own admission, knowingly signed it.

"The contract doesn't say one cannot participate in surrogacy, in-vitro, live in adultery, support abortion - just not be PUBLIC about it. In other words, be dishonest."

You mean, like the contract most employees of federal intelligence services sign? Why don't you head on down to Langley and let them know their contracts are illegal?

"And where do you and Melody and others get the right or knowledge to proclaim the Brian is unchaste? "

His announcement of his engagement is his statement of his intent not only to be unchaste, but to live a life of ongoing commitment to unchastity.

"Do you have personal knowledge that Brian and his fiancé have consummated their relationship?"

Do you have knowledge of any intent on his part to marry and then perpetually refrain from consummating it?

Finally, given that your beliefs are clearly at odds with the Catholic Church, you REALLY ought to just go find a church with which you can agree and join it. The Episcopaleans, with whom you seem in much better alignment, would be very happy to have you, seeing as they have lost over 10% of their membership since making exactly the doctinal changes you advocate.

Dcfred20036

The Pope said, "I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security," -I think he would be very happy with this vigorous discussion, people. He is calling on the faithful to save the Church from itself. And in a small way, this is part of the process. One school, one diocese at a time!

John Harville

AMEN.
And the change is not coming - it's upon us - as surely as we can take the Host in hand and sit on all sides of the altar and not recognize a nun by her habit and have women ministering.

Coming soon to a Church near you; WOMEN PRIESTS.

And you'd be surprised how many gay men have been married in full mass before a priest (possibly also gay) in a Catholic Church and have fathered children and are doing an excellent job - with their knowledgable wives - rearing those children. Isn't it sad the Church makes them lie.

sanduskymom

The church does not MAKE them lie. They CHOOSE to lie.

John Harville

WRONG. AGAIN. Does it hurt there in Panther Dynasty?

There presently are teachers on the staff who are living in violation of the contract...adultery, cohabitation, surrogacy - even in-vitro parenthood.

The persons who hired some of them even know of their status... but they are FOM (Friends of Melody).

Keep dancing as fast as you can.

Nemesis

If there really are so many other similar violations being ignored, and the inconsistency is what bothers you, don't you think it would be more productive to pursue rectification of those cases where the policy is not being followed than harping on the one case where it is?

sugar

Why drag other poor souls into the mix? The mistake SCCS made was that they terminated a beloved instructor, forgot to tell the Pep Band not to come to the game on Sat Jan 4 hence allowing the word to go viral. They have made many administrative mistakes, now it is coming back to haunt them.

Nemesis

I'm talking to Harville, who has continually cited these supposed exceptions and complained of inconsistency. If you have no problem with the inconsistency, then my comment doesn't apply to you.

How would you have had them handle it? As a big secret in the dark of night? The Church is pretty candid about its doctrines.

sugar

Frankly at this point I have no idea what you are trying to say, and I don't believe you do either.

sanduskymom

Hmmm....again, just not true! I HEARD the pep band play on January 4th. They sounded great - and there was never a plan for them not to play. There was no "mistake" in forgetting to tell them to come to the game. If you or your grandkids aren't happy....no one is forcing you to stay part of the school. It's time to move on, this debate is petty and boring!

sugar

Sandusky mom if you would have read any article or listened to any of the interviews you would be aware that the Pep Band was supposed to be cancelled, they had no band director. I am sure that they sounded wonderful. These posts are done in anonymity for a reason, because of threatening people like you. I feel sorry for the person you believe I am because in all your Christian like behavior I am sure you have some evil retribution planned. Go to confession you need it.

sugar

You do know no one is forcing you to come here and read the petty boring debate. Honestly, sigh

sanduskymom

Sugar, Sugar, Sugar....I HAVE listened to the interviews and read the articles. Have you? BRIAN wanted it cancelled after his initial termination - NOT THE SCHOOL!!! They had a student who served as a director during the football season step in and lead that night. All was well. There was NEVER an intention to cancel. Please, before you continue blogging, make sure you have your facts verified and not just base your comments on rumor or conjecture. You've already blogged plenty that is just NOT true! Furthermore, I am not threatening you. You send your grandkids to a CATHOLIC school. Other people very generously sacrifice and contribute so that children who want a CATHOLIC education can get one. I'm merely pointing out that if you are so unhappy with the leadership's expectation that educators model a Catholic lifestyle, then there are many other choices in education for your kids that may be a better fit. No one is forcing you to stay, just like no one forced Brian to sign a contract. It's that simple!

sugar

Blogging? This isn't a blog and I don't have a blog, this forum is here to allow people to express their opinions. I happen to like debating, it's a pastime. Now I certainly would never suggest I knew who you were, nor do I care, your insinuations and poorly veiled threats are NOT modeling the Catholic behavior that you are swearing to and defending. More shame as you are not representing YOUR school or faith with Christian like behavior. Now be gone.

sanduskymom

Keeping in mind this issue is much bigger than SCCS.....I'll ask this as simply as I can. Why would you pay to send your grandchildren to a CATHOLIC school if you so strongly disagree with the church's expectations of the educators / staff? You have many other fine educational choices, with terrific band instructors, that are free - just not Catholic!

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